Tag Archives: compost

Small Space Composting

I try really hard to be as green as possible, but when it comes to composting, I’ve not been able to get beyond buying those green biodegradable compost bags at the supermarket and tossing them into the big brown compost bin provided by the local council a few times a week. Basically I’m letting someone else do my composting for me, and then when I want compost for my plants at home, I go buy the expensive bagged up stuff from the garden centre. (So ridiculous!) So I asked fellow green blogger Kayla Kamp if she’d write something for me on composting, which is one of her areas of expertise. If you’re anything like me and are a beginner at composting and/or you live in a small urban space, the idea of composting can be a challenge. (Rotting food, worms, ewwww.) So my challenge to Kayla was to write something for people like me – beginners who don’t have a lot of outdoor space (or even any outdoor space at all).

I know I’m looking forward to learning more about composting and if you want to learn more too, Kayla blogs over at Ever Change Productions with the idea that we should create more and consume less. For the past 6 years, she’s been striving to inspire others to make use of their waste. Learn more about her story here.

Why You Should Compost – Even Without a Garden

With more people than ever moving into smaller spaces, it’s becoming increasingly important to share the good news that small space composting is possible!

A few years ago I got the composting bug. It seemed like a great way to reduce food waste and to take the next step in my young environmentalist journey. However, there was one small problem – I lived in an apartment.

I did have a little patch of grass that I used for a minuscule container garden, but I knew with all the composting myths that starting a compost bin would be out of the question. Plus, I didn’t have the skills to build a bin or the money for a composting tumbler. But once I get an idea in my head, it holds on tight, so I set out to find a way to a small space composting solution. For cheap.

Optimal Bin Size & Why It’s Important

Before we get too much further into this, let’s go over some composting basics.

The optimal bin size for a home compost pile is 3 square feet (1 square metre). Anything smaller might not heat up high enough to breakdown all the materials or it might lose heat and slow down the process. Air naturally penetrates a pile 18 to 24 inches (45 to 70 cm), which makes a 3 square foot (1 square metre) bin a manageable size.

A larger pile tends to hold too much water, which may create an anaerobic environment. It’s also much harder to turn, so it might be too much for some to manage without special equipment.

Today, there are some pretty creative ways to compost even if you don’t have access to that outdoor space.

What to Compost

Deciding what to compost depends on what composting set-up you use. For example, a common backyard bin needs a certain amount of carbon to nitrogen ratio to decompose efficiently. These are often referred to as greens and browns, but if you use a Bokashi fermenting process, you’ll only need nitrogen-rich ingredients. Worms need both carbon for bedding and nitrogen for food. But there are certain foods they can’t eat and certain bedding materials cause the bin to heat up as they break down.

Carbon, often referred to as browns, are the dry materials and nitrogen are the green, fresh materials. In a common outdoor compost bin, greens provide protein and moisture for organisms. The browns allow airflow throughout the pile and provides energy for organisms. To start off your pile it’s safe to add the same amount of brown material as you do green. The ideal ratio is 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen.

Piles with too much nitrogen tend to smell sour, because the excess nitrogen converts into an ammonia gas. Carbon-rich piles break down slowly because there’s not enough nitrogen for the microbe population to thrive. See this list of comprehensive composting materials for inspiration.

Small Space Composting Options When You Have No Garden

If you don’t have a backyard, you might think small space composting isn’t an option. Fortunately, that’s not the case. Depending on whether you have a balcony, there are a few composting options that don’t require a yard or garden.

Worm Bins

Some people might prefer a wormless composting system, but plllleeeease give the worms a chance. They’re such hard workers and really easy to manage. If you manage the bin correctly, they won’t even bother you. They’re as happy as can be, just to hang out and eat without saying a word.

Worm composting, or vermicomposting, is perfect for composting indoors. All you need is small plastic tote. I’ve even made a vermicomposting system using three cat litter buckets. You can read more about my vermicomposting system here.

If you decide to go this route, here is an affiliate link to Uncle Jim’s worm farm. They have great customer service and products. I will get a small percentage from each sale at no additional cost to you.

Pros

-Fits in small spaces
-Doesn’t need to heat up
-Doesn’t require turning
-Worms do all the work
-You get to play with worms! (This could also be a con, depending on your point of
view)

Cons

– Materials you can compost are limited
– They can’t eat some foods and some bedding materials will heat up the bin

Electrical Composter

Now this might blow your mind; it certainly did mine, but there is something called an electric composter. And if you have a serious aversion to any to the creepy crawliness of composting, then this might the answer for you. Seriously, this thing is so low maintenance. With a few hours and pushing a couple of buttons, you can have finished compost.

Pros

– You have finished compost in hours
– Perfect for people who don’t have much to compost
– Doesn’t require carbon-rich materials
– Can compost meat and dairy

Cons

– Can’t compost many scraps at a time
– Requires electricity
– Fairly expensive composting system
– Doesn’t have as many nutrients as traditional compost

Bokashi Buckets

Bokashi Buckets don’t follow other composting rules. Most of these other methods use aerobic decomposition. The bokashi system uses anaerobic, meaning it doesn’t use air to complete its decomposition cycles. The anaerobic component of bokashi buckets, means it doesn’t compost all the way. Instead, it ferments. At the end of the cycle, you have to bury the fermented ingredients, which might not be ideal for apartment dwellers. You can learn more about the bokashi bucket here.

Pros

– Fits in a small space
– Doesn’t require carbon-rich materials
– Can compost meat and dairy

Cons

– Doesn’t produce finished compost
– Requires burial to finish the composting process

Composting Options When You Have a Small Garden

If you have a rental home, duplex or even some apartments, you might be lucky enough to have a small yard. Although, the former options are totally open to you, you might have a couple more composting options.

Like I mentioned before, the optimal compost bin is only 3 feet (1 metre) wide. Before you set up any kind of composting bin, be sure to ask your landlord. There are tons of benefits for compost in the short term, but the long term benefits far outweigh any benefits of synthetic fertilizer.

Compost Bin

The optimal compost bin is 3 feet by 3 feet (1 square metre). You can build your own compost bin with unlimited materials, such as scrap wood, fence panels, even garden fence wire.

If you have the space, a compost bin is the best option because it’s the optimum size.

Other systems have other ways of dealing the lack of proper space, but a compost
bin is the perfect set-up.

Pros

– Can be made with any kind of structure
– Efficient compost

Cons

– Requires more space than some other systems
– Requires proper turning and water maintenance

Compost Tumbler

If a compost bin is out of the question because of space or other reasons, a compost tumbler is a good substitute. The tumbler requires similar conditions to a standard
compost bin.

Pros

– Easier to turn
– Doesn’t require a lot of space
– Doesn’t require permanent alterations in your yard

Cons

– More expensive than a compost bin

Green Cone

A green cone uses solar power to speed up the composting process and is able to compost 2 pounds of food per day. Not only does it compost more food in a shorter time frame, but also it can compost vegetable scraps, raw and cooked meat or fish, bones, dairy products and other organic food waste such as bread and pasta.

The Green Cone Composter has a basket installed below the ground, which forms the base for an above ground double-walled solar chamber with an access lid. The Green Cone Composter stands 26 inches above ground level and extends 18 inches below ground level. Access is through an 8-inch diameter hole in the top of the solar chamber, which is sealed by a hinged lid with a security catch.

Learn more about the Green Cone Composter here.

Pros

– Composts food quickly
– Doesn’t require carbon-rich materials
– Composts up to 2 pounds of food per day
– Can compost vegetable scraps, raw and cooked meat or fish, bones, dairy
products and other organic food waste such as bread and pasta

Cons

– Requires a yard
– Requires a hole in the yard

Small space composting is possible! If you’ve been looking for a sign to start composting, this is it! If you’re not quite sure, which of these composting options are best for you, take this free composting quiz. I’ll be checking back on this post, so feel free to leave any questions you have below.

Zero Waste Challenge – Roundup

So here we are at the end of the Zero Waste Challenge and nearly a month has gone by since it ‘officially’ finished, allowing me time to reflect upon the experience.

Week One

The first week was a learning curve, realising just how much non-recyclable plastic waste my local supermarkets (Sainsburys and Waitrose, I’m looking at you) use.  I emptied out a glass jar from my pantry and assigned it to collect all the non-recyclable and non-compostable garbage we would use in a month.  With one exception to this rule being the dirty nappies from my toddler.  No way I’m saving those up for a month!  (Although we use cloth nappies, we also use biodegradable nappies for night, but because they contain human waste after use, they have to go into the garbage rather than the compost bin…according to my friend’s bin man).  At least they will have decomposed in 4-5 years rather than 500 years like regular disposable nappies.

Week Two

Week two was more about changing my practices as a consumer and being more confident in demanding that my purchases create less waste.  I just started finding the whole experience less…well…less embarrassing to be honest.  So I now make sure that the fishmonger and butcher just wrap my purchases in paper (which they do anyway) but I ask them not to put them in a plastic bag afterwards and instead I place them in a washable bag.  I found that the most cost effective way of shopping with less packaging was by making a menu plan, creating a list and then going to the local village shops.  We are fortunate to have a local organic green grocers which also sells a lot of Middle Eastern foods, a fishmongers, a butchers and if you like wine, there is a shop which sells wines on tap from barrels and you can bring your own bottles to fill up.  I like using the local shops too because you don’t need to buy big packs of food and can order just as much as you need for your menu plan.  This helps reduce food waste.

Week Three

By week three I noticed that we were creating a lot more recycling, compost waste and bits of paper to go into the fire basket. I guess this was a by-product of me making sure that any packaged goods I did buy were in recyclable packaging. I think we’ll have to deal with that at some point, as even creating lots of recyclable waste still isn’t ideal. I was also finding it really frustrating to realise that there actually weren’t any bulk food stores around to get dry goods. I am from Canada and most of the supermarkets in my home country have a bulk foods section and there is even a great chain of bulk food stores that have been around since I was a kid, called the Bulk Barn. I don’t think I ever really appreciated it that much…until now when I realised that the only bulk food shops around  here are the big Whole Foods in Kensington (where I used to do my bulk food shopping when I worked around there), Unpackaged at Planet Organic in Muswell Hill and The Dry Goods Store in Maida Vale.

You also have to remember that even the most self righteous of zero waste shoppers can never be truly zero waste. Even those bulk foods come packaged somehow. So if, like me, there isn’t a local bulk food store in your area, there is a good argument for getting a bunch of likeminded local friends together and doing some bulk ordering of some pantry staples you use a lot of in your kitchen. You’ll just need someone who is a bit organised to pull it all together and you’ll need a good set of scales for dividing the order up fairly!

Week Four

I got really DIY-ey this week. Throughout the month I had been making the zero waste baby wipes for my toddler, but at this point I needed to replace some of my own personal care items and made a batch of my homemade deodorant (recipe coming soon!), as well as making my foaming hand soap  with a new essential oil blend of lemongrass and ginger for summer.  I really love doing DIY personal care items, but for me, they do have to work.   Especially the deodorant!  Unfortunately I haven’t found a homemade shampoo recipe that works well so at the moment I’m still using a commercial brand of shampoo which I like.  (If you know of an amazing DIY shampoo which actually works…tell me about it!)

At this point I also ran out of bamboo toothbrushes, so I made a new order on Amazon.  I don’t know why more people don’t buy these.  The bristles are made from nylon and they are exactly the same as the bristles on a normal toothbrush.  They just have handles made from bamboo rather than the mixed plastic handles of normal toothbrushes which end up in landfill because most recyclers won’t go to the trouble of separating the plastics.  I do appreciate the fact that ordering a toothbrush to come in a large cardboard Amazon box is not the most ‘zero waste’, however right now nowhere local carries the environmentally friendly toothbrushes and I do buy in bulk so at least I won’t have to buy them again until later in the year. Also, for my toddler I get these little Jack N’ Jill compostable toothbrushes for babies with cute little animals on them.

Conclusion

So, I have to say that my husband wasn’t the most co-operative partner in this Zero Waste Challenge and I did see a bit of non-recyclable packaging make it into the garbage can, so in addition to the night time nappy waste, over the month in total we produced a loosely filled 40 litre bag of garbage.  So as a household we were not entirely zero waste this month. However, excluding my husband and baby’s contributions to landfill…I do feel proud that my personal contribution to landfill from the whole of the month of June fit into the space of a Kilner jar.

OLOL Zero Waste Jar

Now, going forward will I chop my garbage up into small pieces and store it in a glass jar every month?  No, probably not.  Will I keep up the additional zero waste practices I’ve adopted over the course of the month?  Absolutely.  And I will continue to add to them as I can.  I’ve equipped our household with a few additional zero waste necessities, like pyrex glass and stainless steel water bottles to ensure we can take enough water on our outings and day trips and also some extra mason jars for food storage, snacks, layered salads and the like.  I already have my favourite glass standard barista size Keep Cup which my husband bought me last year and which I carry with me everywhere so I can get coffee on the go.

I’ve also started doing a bit more “from scratch” in the kitchen like cooking up dry pulses in slow cooker (avoiding tinned and boxed black beans and chick peas) and making my own cashew milk and storing it in glass bottles, thus saving on the high cost of nut milks and also the packaging they come in.

I could feel like a failure and just give up entirely thinking “oh that zero waste thing didn’t work out for me”, but I think that actually we’ve made some great steps this month towards living a reduced waste lifestyle in the long-term and that will have significantly more environmental impact than one zero waste month experiment would have.  And I’m happy with that.  And even my husband is now getting into the swing of things…even though he still thinks some of it is pretty weird.

Zero Waste Shopping

So its 9 days into my Zero Waste Challenge and I’m feeling uncomfortably close to having filled up the jar where I’ve been keeping all the non-recyclable and non-compostable household waste.  (With the exception of the biodegradable nappies we use for overnights on our baby…I’m not storing those up until the end of the month.) Regardless of the outcome, I promise to be honest and to share with you how much garbage our household produces this month.

It has become very clear over the last week what the main culprit is for us: the non-recyclable plastic film that the big supermarkets like Sainsburys and Waitrose use to package EVERYTHING. There is no reason that this film cannot be made from a recyclable  material and indeed sometimes its not even necessary at all.  Ideally as a zero waste family would make the time to go to a bulk food store or join a food co-op, but its been a slightly difficult week or so for us as my husband has put his back out and I’ve been running the  entire household on my own.  So time has been precious, meaning quick trips to the supermarket have been the reality of the situation when it comes to shopping for food.  But that’s fine because most people shop at supermarkets and it means I’ve been having to try to figure out ways of acquiring less garbage with my food while shopping in this type of environment.

Check the label:

I know, I know.  You’re already checking the label to make sure the stuff is GMO-free, organic, yadda yadda yadda, and now on top of all that, you have to check whether the packaging is recyclable.  To be entirely honest with you, if I have to choose between some kind of GMO, canola oil, glucose-fructose filled piece of junk food in recyclable packaging and something organic and healthy in non-recyclable packaging, I am probably going to opt for the latter, with some amount of accompanying guilt.  But usually it doesn’t come down to that.  Just check the packaging for what you’re buying and if it isn’t recyclable, just try to keep it to a minimum.  And obviously, buying ‘real food’ from the bulk aisle helps a lot.

Take your own produce & bulk food bags:

These little produce bags are great and you can shove them inside your main shopping tote, or even stash a couple in your handbag in case you need to do some unexpected shopping while you’re out.  They’re light, so they roughly match the weight of the plastic bags provided by the store, and can be used for any type of fresh produce.  They’re also great in the bulk section of the supermarket because they just as easily hold dried grains, beans & pulses, nuts, flours and even dried fruits (as long as they’re not too sticky).  Finally, they’re also useful in the baked goods section as they will hold loaves of bread or bread rolls and will store them nicely at home too.  You will want to throw them in the washing machine for a short cycle after each use to avoid any cross-contamination.  I liked these organic cotton, linen and silk ones which I found on Etsy and I’ve included the links in the photo credits at the bottom of this article:

Zero Waste Produce Bags.jpg

Take your own shopping totes:

Since the introduction of the 5p per bag charge here in the UK, I think we are all getting better at doing this.  I always keep a foldaway shopping bag in my handbag as well, in case I end up buying something on the hoof while I’m out.  Here’s an article I found on realsimple.com road testing the various brands reusable shopping bags.

When you get home:

At this point you may wonder “Okay lady, I’ve brought home my bulk food packaged in its organic, reusable packaging…now what?”  Well, now you need something to put your stuff in to store it.

Its up to you at this point, but for dry goods I recommend opting for glass storage jars for your family’s health and wellbeing for these reasons.  The easiest solution for a really slick look is head on over to Ikea, choose a design you like which is going to be practical and air tight,  as well as something that comes in a variety of sizes from little jars for peanut butter to mahoosive jars for flour…and then stock up.  But if you are on more of a budget, you can use recycled jam jars (I love empty Bonne Maman jam jars and use them for everything) and mason jars are great too!  You may find larger jars at vintage shops.  I would recommend investing in a wide mouth funnel to avoid the frustration of spillage when transferring from the bags to the jars.

Fresh fruits and vegetables can be placed in the fridge, the fruit bowl or in a wicker storage basket lined with a clean linen cloth, as appropriate for each item.

Jars for Storage

Photo Credits: Pexels (header) Kootsac (silk bags), OhHelloHenry (linen bread bag) and TheLandofWishes (organic cotton bags), Ikea and Mason (jars)