Scholars of Sustenance (SOS) are a non-profit food rescue organisation in Thailand working to eliminate food waste and make practical solutions more accessible for the public. During the shutdown crisis, SOS is helping get urgent food packages to neighbourhoods in need. You can support their efforts at their website.
While everyone is helping others by working from home, staying indoors, and cooking meals, there’s an increased likelihood that those activities at home generate waste—especially food waste. Food waste is an immense problem for our environment. Food waste ends up in our landfills, it is unable to decompose completely, and contributes greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. If global food waste were a country, it would be the third highest-emitting country on earth.
Turns out, it’s really easy to take care of your own food waste at home. Firstly, by eating everything you buy, and only what you need. That seems obvious, but up to 40% of fresh produce purchased in the grocery store goes to waste.
You can put your food scraps to good use, no matter where you live, by composting at home. You can turn the leftovers of your food into food for the soil.
Here’s how to put your food waste to good use:
Composting is the easiest way to manage food waste. It’s not fancy, and you don’t need any special tools to do it yourself.
Even if you don’t have a garden or any outdoor space, you can still compost your food effectively whether you are living in an apartment, townhouse, condominium, van, studio—everywhere. You’ll just need a container for your compost. Nature will still do all the work for you, as long as you make sure the conditions are right.
Composting food waste sounds unpleasant. It brings to mind bad smells, rotting food, bugs and other pests. But leaving food scraps in your trash, without doing anything to it, creates even more unpleasant results.
Compost requires three things: moisture, matter, and air. There are two types of matter necessary for composting: green (food waste) and brown (fallen leaves, dry plants, coffee grinds). Green matter leeches nitrogen into the mix. Brown matter reduces the moisture level of food waste and sets the perfect balance for composting. If the balance is struck, decomposition will start. As the waste breaks down, the mix heats up—and this heat (50–80ºC) is what does the magic. The high temperature is a great indicator that things are working. If it cools off, it isn’t cooking. After 30–45 days, your compost should be ready.
Now we can get a little more technical:
There are two main composting systems: aerobic and anaerobic. Anaerobic (without air) requires a closed container without any ventilation, and you need to ensure that as little air as possible gets in. You can pack it with all green matter, and pack it tight. This kick-starts the decomposition process, so you can then move it to your main compost within 7-15 days of starting. Add it to the compost heap or aerobic container with some brown matter and you will see results within a week or two.
Aerobic (with air) requires a ventilated container like a basket or a rice sack. If you don’t have a container with holes in it, or you can’t make holes in it, just stir it up as often as you can. Aeration feeds the composting bacteria that need oxygen to get to work. If you have limited space, a small spot under the sink, at the balcony, or corner of your kitchen is enough for home composting.
You can do it without any unwanted smells or pests. Create your own compost starter by collecting all the ingredients needed: brown matter, a bit of soil, and some manure or fertiliser. You can collect fallen leaves in your garden or use dried coffee grinds as dry materials. Mix all the dry materials together, sprinkle in a little sugar, and blend it all together in a bucket, box, or bag. Keep this mix dry, and use it as your starter.
You can use a sack or a bucket. Composting in a sack is cheap, and makes the process easy with its ventilative quality. Put an old sack, like a rice sack, in a basket. Put a little starter in the bottom, add ingredients in making layers of brown and green matter, and add more starter at the top. Close it tight when it’s full, tie it up, and let it work. If the ingredients are too dry, sprinkle a little water. Keep liquids, soups, and curries out of the mix. If you use a bucket, make some holes in the bucket to allow ventilation, and leave a tray under the bucket to capture any moisture. The process is the same.
Stir the ingredients every couple of days to speed up the process. You should notice the temperature increasing within two or three days. Leave it for up to two weeks, and if the heat is gone, it’s all done.
If you have more space, like a garden or a yard, you can start a compost heap. It’s as straightforward as it sounds—put food waste and dry matter on the heap, look after it, and let it do its magic.
Now, you need a garden to spread your new nutrient-rich compost onto. We’ll give you some ideas of how to plant your own vegetables or garden in a coming series. Until then, enjoy making use of your food waste and considering the environment outside home.