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.
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.
I personally think this is 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.