How to compost in an apartment? Turning food scraps into treasure.

green unripe apple with silver peeler

Composting your kitchen waste is literally making new soil. It is one of the most humble and eco-friendly things we can do to minimise our impact on the environment. We have the power to take our food waste and turn it into a rich in nutrients and goodness fertiliser. Moreover, in the UK, many local councils collect household food waste as recycling from the curbside to turn it into energy.

When the waste is recycled using a method called “anaerobic digestion” (the food waste goes into a container without oxygen where it gets broken down by micro-organisms), our food scraps produce biogas, which is collected and used to generate electricity. Composting, therefore, can be more significant than we think!

According to WRAP, as much as 70% of the food we throw away in the UK (post-farm gate) comes from our homes and ends up in landfills where it produces methane. Methane is an invisible gas which traps heat and aids in the greenhouse effect, accelerating climate change. Methane is 25 times more damaging than carbon dioxide.
By composting, we participate in the natural flow of life, which is recycling vital nutrients back into our soil and also helps in the production of green energy.

The energy created by recycling just 1 banana peel by anaerobic digestion can fully charge a smartphone twice!


Food waste recycling benefits

Food can be recycled either by using anaerobic digestion or composting. Anaerobic digestion, according to the website, is:

“Anaerobic digestion (AD) is a biological process similar to composting, but without air. As in composting, micro-organisms break down organic matter into simpler smaller compounds and reduce its bulk or “mass”. However, unlike composting, which overall always consumes energy, anaerobic digestion can be used to create energy. That is because it produces a gas known as biogas which is taken out to create renewable energy. The valuable nutrients are recycled back into the soil.”

When your local council recycles your food scraps, it does this using the anaerobic digestion process. With this process, they put the food waste in an airtight container where it breaks down by micro-organisms to create biogas for electricity AND a fertiliser by-product that biogas digesters provide.

The second method for food waste recycling is composting:

“Composting ranges in scale from backgarden bins to industrial operations. The basic process is the same: ensuring sufficient moisture, air, and heat for soil microbes (bacteria, protozoa, and fungi) to feast on organic material. Rather than generating methane, the composting process converts organic material into stable soil carbon, while retaining water and nutrients of the original waste matter. The result is carbon sequestration as well as production of a valuable fertilizer. “

What goes into the food bin/caddy that my local council collects for recycling?

  • Meat and fish – raw and cooked, including bones
  • All shells from shellfish, nuts and eggs
  • All dairy products such as eggs and cheese
  • Raw and cooked vegetables and fruit
  • Bread, cake and pastries
  • Rice, pasta and beans
  • Leftover, mouldy or expired food
  • Tea bags and tea and coffee grounds
  • Newspaper to wrap your food
  • Compostable liners

The list above may differ slightly for your area; therefore, it is always best to check the guidelines published on your local council’s website.

How to compost in a flat if local food waste recycling is not available to you

Composting is one of the most sustainable things we can do to help return all those useful nutrients that went into our food in the first place back to nature.

You will need:

  • A composting bin/container (this can be either a bucket or a more sophisticated device that can be bought online). Even better if you can have two bins, one for the finished compost and the other to start the new one.
  • A water mister to keep the compost moist
  • A small outside space/balcony to place your container

Stick to the “what goes in the food bin” guidelines above, and fill your bin with a ratio of 50% food waste (greens) and 50% with items like leaves, garden soil, grass cuttings, newspapers, or paper bags (browns). Turning the new compost often and spraying it with water to add moisture is essential. Once your compost looks like soil and smells earthy, it will be ready to transfer to your house plants or pass it on to friends, neighbours, or given to your local allotment/green space.

People have long used compost to enrich the soil in their gardens and fields. Today, composting is especially useful for managing the growing waste streams generated by UK households. Nothing goes to waste in nature. Everything that dies becomes food for something else. Have you ever tried to compost? Do you have a food waste recycling service at home?

WRAP organisation
Project Drawdown®

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Elena Daniilidou

Elena is an ethical vegan and minimalist advocating for sustainable and slow living.

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