All I want for Christmas… is a compost bin!

Guest editorial by Laura Barron

Christmas is just around the corner and that means drinks, presents and a whole lot of food! While it’s great to enjoy a feast with friends, the silly season can also lead to a lot of food waste. There’s only so much you can do to avoid creating food waste unfortunately, but you do have control over how it decomposes – if you have the space, you might want to consider making a compost.

Why is food waste a problem?
In 2021 Rabobank-Kiwi Harvest Food Waste Research surveyed just over 1500 people about their food habits and found New Zealanders waste 8.6 % of their food, at a cost of $2.4 billion annually.

Why is this a problem? Well it’s not just the waste of money, but food waste is a problem because when organic matter goes to landfill there’s so much other trash around it that it doesn’t have enough oxygen to break down properly. Instead, in landfill what’s called anaerobic (literally without air) decomposition of food happens, and methane and carbon dioxide are both produced as a by-product of this anaerobic decomposition.

Fortunately, there is a way to make sure these greenhouse gases don’t escape your food waste, and to gather nutrients that can feed your garden and see your flowers bloom – you can give composting a go!

How to compost
Firstly, we understand that not everyone has access to a garden or space in which to compost, and that’s okay – if you don’t have room for a compost, perhaps you could suggest the idea to one of your neighbours or get a community compost going!

In order to compost, you need a bin or container – you can buy these from the shops or make your own. This container should be open at the bottom to allow microbes to enter – they’re what will break down the organic matter. There should be enough ventilation to allow for air to flow through, but you’ll also want a cover to stop any rats or mice getting in.

Once you’ve got your compost bin sorted, you can start adding to it. In composting there’s two types of matter – green and brown. Greens are nitrogen-rich materials such as food waste and grass clippings that break down very quickly. Brown matter is carbon-rich material that’s dry, including paper and brown leaves. This type of matter takes longer to break down but the nitrogen-rich greens aid the process. You want to have a good mixture of both to enable a good rate of decomposition – ideally about 40% green matter and 60% brown.

You should stir the compost about once a week to allow air flow – if your compost bin is full, don’t add any more food for now, instead stir it more often to allow more air which will quicken the decomposition process.

It will take about six to eight months until you have compost ready to spread on the garden – this is the dark crumbly material at the bottom of the bin that is no longer identifiable as food scraps.

And there you have it – doing your bit for the environment while also helping your garden grow! In January’s edition of Beautiful News we’ll continue with the composting theme by showing you what can and can’t go in the compost – you might be surprised at what can go in there, it’s more than just food!

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