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We Asked an Urban Gardener How to Compost Your Food Waste

Make haste to reduce food waste!

For the uninitiated, composting might seem like a practice that only the eco-conscious would follow, but the fact is, it’s a growing trend in Singapore.

But, what does it involve exactly? To put in simple terms, it’s “a process that converts your food waste into plant fertiliser”, according to Olivia Choong, an urban gardener and local environmentalist.

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Olivia's backyard

“It (composting) is definitely becoming more popular here. I see so many people looking up on how to do it,” shares Olivia, who has also written her own guide on the subject. We asked her for some beginner tips as well as how to find the best composting method for you and your home. So, read on!

But first, why should you start composting?

Did you know that Singapore households throw away 26,000 tonnes of food annually? That’s a mind-boggling 68 million plates of chicken rice or 88 million servings of fried carrot cake!

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Hence, by composting you’ll be able to help with the situation – even if it’s by a little bit. (Hey, your effort matters, okay?) Not only will it allow you to do your part in reducing our environmental footprint by cutting down on the need for food incineration, you’ll also help prevent Pulau Semakau – Singapore’s only landfill – from running out of space.

And if you’re a plant parent, composting will give you a constant supply of nutritious food (read: rich fertiliser) for your kids!

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What method(s) can I use to start composting?

There are numerous ways to get started, but Olivia recommends the following two as they are suitable for local high-rise homes:

1. Bokashi composting - Good for beginners

Bokashi bins are a composting tool used in eco-friendly Japanese households, and the term translates into ‘fermented organic matter’ – which is precisely what these containers house.

“Bokashi bins are airtight and bacteria is introduced inside to break down any food waste that’s in them,” explains Olivia. “The waste is left there for a few days and it usually doesn’t smell if the leachate or ‘compost juice’ is drained properly.”

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Also, if you’re concerned that these bins will take up too much space in your kitchen/service yard, you won’t have to. Olivia says: “You don’t have to worry too much, these bins aren’t very big and that makes them suitable for apartment dwellers.”

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Source: Urban Composter

If you’re keen, you can purchase an Urban Composter Set (that comes with a Compost Accelerator spray to make the bacteria work faster) or you can make your own! All you need are two bins: one big and one small. Drill 20 to 30 holes at the bottom of the smaller bin and place it inside the larger one, which will let you to drain off any compost juice easily.

2. Vermicomposting - Recommended for gardeners

For those who have a phobia of insects or creepy-crawlies, you’ve been forewarned. THIS METHOD IS NOT FOR YOU.

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Vermicomposting has got everything to do with bugs, specifically worms and black soldier fly (BSF) larvae, which are responsible for breaking down food waste in a vermicomposting bin. Moreover, their castings (or ‘worm poo’, if you prefer) can be steeped in water to produce ‘worm tea’, which according to Olivia, can be “very nutritious for your plants”.

How do I choose a compost system that’s right for me?

There are many factors to consider depending on your lifestyle, but these four points are the essentials that Olivia recommends thinking about:

a. Consider the amount of food waste you create

For those who rarely cook, you’re unlikely to have much food waste, so a composting bin might not be the most efficient method of recycling for you. Still, if you’d like to do your part, you can store fruit and vegetable peels in your freezer before passing them on to your local community garden to be recycled as compost.

b. How much space you have at home

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Source: freshsprouts

While most composting containers, like the aforementioned Bokashi and vermicomposting bins, are compact enough to fit comfortably in Singapore homes, it doesn’t change the fact that square footage is a premium here – hence, size matters when selecting your bin of choice.

c. The amount of time you have

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Maintaining a vermicomposting bin requires time and effort as its contents cannot get too wet. Excess moisture can cause the decomposing material to become anaerobic, which means there is insufficient oxygen for the worms inside the bin. If anaerobic bacteria exists in the ‘worm tea’ used to water your plants, it could kill them.

d. How comfortable you are with insects and other (possibly) icky stuff

Admittedly, because they rely on organic methods of breaking down food waste, both Bokashi and vermicomposting bins can be unpleasant for those who aren’t used to them. One alternative would be to get a Smart Cara, which is a food dehydrator that can break down anything cooked or raw. That said, getting one will set you back at least $1,299!

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Finally, to sum things up, here’s a summary of the features of each composting bin!

Type of BinSmart CaraBokashiVermicompost
Fits in small spaces
Low maintenance
Lower price tag

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