Australia has always been well known for its tough climate conditions — conditions that came under the spotlight when our long-lasting drought resulted in devastating wildfires that wreaked havoc all across the country. But despite all that, the Land Down Under has never suffered from a lack of food.
Although recent events mean they have had some knock-backs in the last couple of years, the Australian food and agribusiness industry is booming. So is the diverse range of food service and hospitality industries we are home to. Even those in financial dire straits can get healthy meals from various food rescue charities and community support groups.
But an unknown side effect of these highly developed food systems that produce, manufacture and distribute abundant quantities of food is food waste.
Would it surprise you to know that food waste is costing the Australian economy a whopping $20 billion a year (give or take a few million)? The financial cost is definitely a reason to reduce food waste as much as possible, but it is not the most pressing issue. The biggest concern with food waste is, in fact, the environmental impact.
The food waste dilemma
You probably learned about carbon dioxide and why deforestation is so bad for the environment when you were in school. Without trees, carbon dioxide can’t be converted into oxygen. That's a rather important problem considering that we need oxygen to breathe. But without those trees, carbon dioxide levels are steadily increasing. That is bad because carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas.
When food waste ends up in a landfill, it produces methane gas (yes, the same stuff that cows make!). But methane isn’t carbon dioxide, so what’s the big deal? The big deal is that methane gas has 28 times the global warming potential than carbon dioxide has. Now add in all the resources like the land, water, energy and fuel used to grow and distribute food.
Those are also wasted when food ends up in a landfill. So what can you do? Firstly, of course, avoid wasting food as much as possible. Repurpose leftovers, don’t buy more of something than you can eat before it goes off, and learn how to use the parts of natural produce you normally discard. Even with all that, though, it is impossible to completely avoid food waste.
But not to worry, because those truly inedible parts can usually be turned into compost!
What is compost?
Compost is a natural resource made from food waste. Once the compost is mature and contains a material known as humus, it is ready to be used. This humus is rich in nutrients and can improve the physical properties of soil. This is why farmers and gardeners use it. Some may even skip the soil altogether and grow their plants in pure compost!
Benefits of composting
Food waste in landfills generates methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas. Composting food waste and other organics reduces greenhouse gas emissions, helping to reduce global warming and climate change.
• Compost means you need fewer chemical fertilisers and may mean not needing any at all. In other words, it’s an organic fertiliser.
• Compost helps with soils water retention properties, meaning less water is required to keep plants healthy (it also helps reduce soil erosion)!
• Compost can improve a plants yield, meaning more blooms on your rose bush or more tomatoes from that pot on your kitchen counter.
• Compost provides carbon sequestration. That means it captures atmospheric carbon dioxide and turns it into carbon (just like trees do!). So carbon sequestration is an important part of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
I don’t have enough space for a compost heap
There was a time when wanting to compost meant you needed an out-of-the-way corner of your yard for your compost heap. If your yard was too small or you lived in an inner-city apartment without a yard, then you had to find some other way to get rid of food scraps. That could be either by taking them to a local community composter or sending it to a landfill.
But these relatively inexpensive ideas use composting bins that are small enough to fit under a kitchen counter, under a plant stand or in a hall closet. You can empty these smaller bins into larger outdoor ones, share your compost with friends and neighbours or take the compost to a community garden or local composter.
Worm composting is one of the cheapest, easiest and quickest ways to get started with indoor composting. Called vermiculture, the process produces worm castings. This is used to make worm tea, which can be easily added to any container plants in your apartment. However, we wouldn’t suggest drinking worm tea. It definitely doesn’t taste like the tea from the supermarket!
Just as stackable as plastic storage bins, these oversized buckets can be found at your local big box store, plastic wares store and home and garden centres. You may even be able to get them for free from local bakeries and the like (you’d be surprised how many products are packaged in buckets, so just ask around!).
Again, don’t forget about aeration — or you may end up with a stinky, gooey mess instead of nutrient-rich compost!
Some tips for getting started with composting
Composting requires two types of material to work. The first is materials that produce nitrogen, such as grass clippings and certain food scraps. The second is carbon materials, such as shredded paper, leaves and plain cardboard. There are also some things that shouldn’t be added to compost because they don’t break down into humus.
Things that can be added to indoor compost bins:
• Fruit and vegetable scraps
• Coffee grounds
• Shredded paper (glossy paper or cardboard should be avoided)
• Houseplant trimmings
• Hair (animal or human)
• Empty toilet paper rolls
• Lint from washing machines and dryers (the stuff you clean out of the filter)
• Teabags (unless the teabag is slippery, meaning it contains plastic)
What shouldn’t go in your compost bin:
• Meat, fish, egg or poultry
• Dairy products
• Any type of fat, grease or oils
• Pet waste
No, really — composting is impossible for me
The idea of indoor composting might not appeal to you, maybe because you’re short on time or don’t want to deal with the challenges involved in making healthy compost. And there is nothing wrong with that! Composting is not for everyone. But there are still ways you can avoid sending your food waste to a landfill.
Your first option is to take advantage of composting solutions offered by the government. As of June 2020, only 16% of Australian councils provide FOGO (Food or Garden Organics) or GO (Garden Organics) collection services. You can find them using this interactive map.
Another option is to turn your composting efforts into a social activity by using the Share Waste App. People who keep chickens, have worm farms or are already composting share their details with those who want to avoid sending their food and organic waste to landfills — and everyone contributes to reducing global warming!
Finding the composting solution that works best for you is essential to minimising the environmental impact of your food waste. So, explore the different options and speak to local composters to get advice on possible solutions.
Maybe you could get a group of like-minded people from your apartment block together and start a communal composting initiative. Or perhaps you’ll find that outdoor composting is the better option for you.
The first step to reducing your food waste is to start thinking about ways you can reduce how much food you waste in the first place. This means adjusting how you look at food and ingredients and how you shop for them. The important thing is that you are willing to make the change, because reducing food waste is critical to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. That is just one small part of the much larger plan to counteract global warming and climate change.
Check Out Our Article On Reducing Food Waste In Your Home!