For the past 15 years I’ve considered myself a lazy composter (lazy about how I do it, not lazy as in sometimes I compost and sometimes I don’t), that is until I discovered ‘extreme composting’. Now I’m totally pumped about my composting effort which is funny because all I do is throw anything organic on a heap and walk away. Sometimes I dig a hole or put weeds in a bucket of water but I rarely turn my heap, consider ratios of browns and greens, or use expensive plastic composting units. I also add things that others don’t recommend like bread, citrus, onion, egg shells, meat and dairy waste.

‘Extreme composting’ was coined by David The Good who wrote Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting which encourages people to throw out the rules and return every bit of organic material to the soil. Hey, that’s me. I no longer need to consider myself lazy, I’m extreme! Let’s go with this, after all I am striving for a zero waste lifestyle which is considered extreme by many others.

As a zero waster I follow the waste management hierarchy of Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and then Rot (compost) to reduce my landfill to almost nothing. Even zero wasters who don’t garden, need to find ways to compost to eliminate the need for a bin liner and instantly reduce household waste by 40 percent. Yep, that’s how much kitchen waste authorities believe we throw out with our household rubbish. Seeing how often I empty my kitchen bucket of compostable waste makes me motivated to reduce our food waste further.

You might be wondering why burying organic matter in landfill is different to letting it breakdown in home compost. For a start our landfill sites are filling up very quickly so the less we send there the better. Secondly, when food waste rots in the anaerobic environment of landfill, it emits greenhouse gases like methane. We definitely don’t want that.

So in addition to food and garden waste, what’s an extreme zero waster going to compost? How about bamboo toothbrushes, cotton buds, old wooden pegs, rusty nails, and materials made from natural fibres (e.g. cotton dish cloths)? Pretty much all the natural things we have used to replace plastic in our household but which can’t be recycled. You could compost tissues, paper towels, napkins, newspapers and cardboard but most zero wasters have replaced these disposable items with reusable alternatives and consume reading material digitally.

How would an extreme zero waster compost? Well it does depend on your situation but I want to remind you that composting is a natural process and nature doesn’t need our help to break down organic material. It will happen on its own without a special bin. My wise friend Hannah once said to me “why don’t you just bury your food waste straight into the vegetable garden?” Why not indeed? I found this was a great way to compost while we were on holiday. I snuck into the garden behind our villa and buried our small amounts of food waste. At home I leave prunings behind brushes and forget about them, dry leaves get used as mulch in established garden beds – sooner or later it all disappears and boosts the soil. Even people with small yards or container gardens can bury and scatter organic material without needing a compost bin.

Extreme composting: I buried our food waste in the resort gardens whilst on holidays.
Extreme composting: I buried our food waste in the resort gardens whilst on holidays.

I think it’s important to highlight that a compost bin may not be needed for your situation. Unless you make it yourself, most compost bins are made from plastic which is environmentally damaging. Personally as a zero waster I am always considering if something is necessary (refuse, reduce), if I can use something I already have (reuse, repurpose), or if I can obtain materials secondhand. I currently use wooden pallets that were headed for landfill to make a two bay composting area (eventually they’ll be composted too). When our kitchen compost bucket is full I dump it in the small bay, at which point the chickens race in and take what they like. The chickens do a good job of turning over the soil and leaving behind poo. The second bay is where I leave all the larger stuff from the garden that takes longer to break down. I just leave it in a pile and let nature do her thing.

The chickens have access to my compost bin.
The chickens have access to my compost bin.

I personally think this is all very grexy* and aesthetically pleasing but if you don’t think it will work for you and want to buy something new, make sure you check with your local council for rebates or free compost systems and worm farms.

There’s really no excuse for not composting. There is an option for every situation so do your research. I particularly like resources like Gardening Australia and Sustainable Gardening Australia. Even if you don’t have a garden, lawn or pot plants that would like compost, you could partner up with your neighbours, a school or community garden to ensure your organic waste doesn’t end up in landfill. Also make sure you support your local council’s efforts to deal with food waste and initiatives in your workplace. There’s always a solution as long as people are willing to communicate, share and be the change.

*grexy /greksi/adj. used to describe a sexy or appealing person who is also a greenie.

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23 thoughts

  1. This is great. I love composting! Although I can’t throw my stuff in a pile and leave it because we have bears, deer, cougars, etc, that come a knockin’ if they smell that waste. I keep mine in a big bin. I like this extreme composting, especially the part when you buried organics in the gardens while on holiday hahaha well done

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    1. Oh yes, we aren’t contending with those beasts here in OZ! The main point of extreme composting is that there is some way to compost anything organic and that it doesn’t have to be as hard as it sometimes seems. In the book he goes into composting all the different types of poo including humanure but I’m not that extreme 😄

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      1. Apparently there are worm composting toilets? I would be too afraid of pathogens. You can compost animal manure if the animal is a vegetarian, like horse or chicken, but I would not test anything else.!

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    1. Nope, never. I think my chooks help a lot with that but I haven’t always had them. I used to have a big wooden spud box that I threw everything in, in the front yard which didn’t smell, I didn’t turn it, and I eventually got good compost. It’s slower but it does happen. Never a problem with burying the stuff straight into the veg patch either.

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  2. Woman of same mindset! I follow the rule “if it once lived, you can compost it”. My kids reckon they will cut me up and put me in the compost and then throw my worm farm in on top of me when I croak it. I have 4 different methods going at once and use different styles for different things. Reclaimed Geddye bins are my favourite for including food scraps in as I can vermin proof them (must increase chook numbers). Would never buy a new one as they appear on Ebay etc for next to nothing. The ones I have (plastic bins) are over 10 years old and show no signs of degradation yet. Time will tell, replacement would be with making some from recycled timber. The cheap plastic bins are a waste of money. Great post, again 🙂

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      1. As long as no one gets a stupid idea of sending seeds into the sky in balloons and hope someone finds the seed and plants it when the balloon comes down, I feel balloons are such an environmental hazard where the emotion of something pretty outweighs their impact on the environment. Party pooper personified here! 🙂

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  3. Really enjoyed your article on composting however I’m a little uncertain about letting your chickens rummage through the compost pile. Everything I’ve read on chooks says they should not eat rotting or decaying food…ie: if you wouldn’t eat it don’t give it to the chickens…lot’s of bacteria going on in the compost pile.

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    1. Hi Sue, I’ve seen that written a little bit too but I’ve never known it to be a problem. We did this growing up as kids too. My theory is that animals instinctively know what they need to eat. Why would it choose to eat the mouldy food? If it’s instincts stopped it from eating dangerous food in a wild situation, why would it suddenly eat it if it found it on the ground at my home? They do have access to grass, grubs, and grains too. I could be wrong though, and I’m happy for you to share a link to some information if you’d like. Cheers Tammy

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  4. I’m really interested in the idea of extreme composting. We have a worm farm chute thing that is half-buried in the veggie patch, and another stand alone worm farm, and we send scraps to someone with chickens, but still end up throwing things in the red bin – stalks, rhubarb scraps, & eggplant skin the chicken people don’t want to feed the chickens (and too much for the worms to get through), lemon rinds, onion scraps. We don’t go through many onions, rhubarb or eggplants, so I could definitely bury those, but I thought it was bad to have too much citrus? I’d use 4-6 lemons a week, so it adds up. Also how deep do you have to bury the scraps? TIA!

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    1. Hi Bob, I actually came across this article the other day and it explains what you could do in quite a bit of detail. http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2016/07/20/how-to-compost-food-scraps-directly-into-your-yard-no-bin-requi/?utm_hp_ref=au-reclaim I think often we get told not to compost things like citrus if we want compost in a hurry. I’m not sure, but I’m in no hurry and I know it will break down eventually. With things like bread, dairy and meat, we actually hardly ever have any leftovers for the compost. The chooks take all the bread and any small bits of meat go to the dog. Tammy

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  5. We throw the scraps in with the chooks. They have a large pen with a dirt floor. They eat what they want, turn it all over and poop on it (added nitrogen). We clean out the pen a couple of times a year. Its doesn’t smell, there isn’t much work and you get very high nitrogen compost. In summer you occasionally get flies but I just throw a bit of lime around and that seems to solve that problem.

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