If you follow my blog then you know I care about the environment by advocating reduce, reuse, recycle and repurpose.
I also believe like the United Nations, that time is running out regarding global warming and species extinction.
Climate Change is real, as is the pollution or depletion of the Earth’s resources, especially drinking water and arable land, but also depleting marine life because the world’s oceans are being poisoned.
Many local councils and state governments acknowledge there is a crisis, even if our Federal Government doesn’t.
We have created havoc by over-consumption and disregarding how to responsibly dispose of man-made materials like plastics, radioactive waste and other byproducts of industrialisation and general pollution.
How can an individual help repair the damage to the environment?
The slogan developed years ago for tourists – take only photos and leave only footprints – should be expanded and applied to our everyday life.
Some communities are running out of places to safely put landfill and countries that bought our rubbish (yep – we exported our trash to China and Malaysia among others!) recognise this practice is not good for their populations.
Australia and the U.S.A as the biggest culprits in this region have been forced to rethink and find other solutions.
More than ever there is pressure for citizens to be more pro-active about reducing waste and also to recycle, reuse and repurpose.
Consumers have demanded plastic bag free supermarkets, returnable deposit cans and bottles, no more plastic straws, refillable cups and most of all reduced packaging – and gradually the corporate world is responding.
There is always more to do…
I live in the City of Kingston and am grateful we have a recycling program and they are looking at ways to not only improve services to citizens but educate people on how to reduce their rubbish.
Currently, I pay rates for three rubbish bins: one for recycling of glass, tins, cardboard, paper and some plastics, one for recycling green waste – grass clippings, weeds and small tree branches, and one for general rubbish that goes into landfill.
Can We Recycle More Efficiently?
I was thrilled that Kingston Council is helping citizens learn the alternatives to filling garbage bins.
In the near future, they are trialling an organic food collection, which may happen once a week – and be introduced in January 2020. For progress check the ‘Waste” page on the City of Kingston website and Back to Earth videos explaining the programme.
This new food bin will be a compost bin and it will go to a commercial facility with a 5 day turn around and sent to farmers to fertilise their land.
Contamination will be a huge issue and so the Council aims to have an intensive education program for citizens.
They have chosen this path rather than a compost hub except for access by community gardens.
You Can Be Pro-Active Now
An alternative that can be done immediately is to start your own compost at home and there will be no need to have Council collect your food scraps!
I took advantage of one of the free workshops being run to encourage people to recycle their food waste at home and turn it into compost.
I hope to spend more time in the garden and aim to create a more productive veggie patch and more flowers and want to make my own good quality compost.
Any gardener will tell you great outcomes begin with the quality of the soil – and the best soil is obtained from compost.
Plants grown in healthy soil have fewer problems with disease and pests – and that goes for vegetables as well as flowers.
Good soil contains organic matter – worm castings, decomposed leaves and remains of organisms such as insects, fungi, and bacteria. Replenishing organic matter essential – and what better way than to use your own compost.
Free: Beginners Composting, Worm Farming and Bokashi Workshop
Last Tuesday evening, I attended a workshop on Composting – it was International Composting Awareness Week.
I didn’t know there was such a thing – did you?
The young woman presenting is a Waste Education Officer for Kingston, a consultant to many councils and her wages paid for by JJ Richards & Sons, an Australian owned and operated family business providing innovative waste management solutions throughout Australia since 1932.
It is one of the largest privately-owned waste management companies in Australia and provides recycling, sanitary and green waste collection services.
I believe they may have more or less a monopoly on garbage collection in Melbourne and also operate in other states.
Freya said she was the one leading a team in Kingston, wearing HiVis vests and shorts, who inspect the bins on recycling day. They put a good or bad sticker on the lids to encourage people to do the right thing.
They also sort through rubbish periodically to determine what education packages may be used to determine solutions to our ever-growing rubbish problem.
“If you get a Well Done sticker on your bin, leave it there to encourage others,’ said Freya. “And if you get a Warning sticker, you won’t be fined but please try and do better!”
The bin inspection program her idea, plus the use of stickers. As a multicultural city, Freya said she is aware of a lack of English language skills, which creates a barrier in the community.
Therefore, a message about what can be recycled is often misunderstood if only written in English. The stickers can be understood by everyone.
The clarity of the message will reduce costs to the Council and ratepayers.
When I was young, I remember you got money back on glass bottles and we scoured the countryside looking for abandoned empties to return and get pocket money.
For some reason (most probably someone decided it was less profitable) the practice was stopped in Victoria. I also remember when the girls were in school in the late 80s early 90s, collecting aluminium cans was popular to raise money.
In fact, it was a good fundraiser for many charities but they competed with those on a low income who trawled the rubbish bins.
Returnable deposit schemes work in other states and countries – here is a goodnatured way of encouraging recycling I snapped in the Orkneys – the bins were outside a club.
Freya has also initiated an effective School Program about recycling and composting so hopefully future generations will be more aware, if they are not already, of the fragility of the environment and the need for sustainability.
Many schools in the municipality have vegetable gardens, compost bins, water tanks, worm farms, hens… the children are aware of the importance of recycling to the environment that it becomes second nature.
When I asked about reducing the amount of hard rubbish left on nature strips by people moving out or just dumping stuff, Freya said she is trialling a program in partnership with Diabetes Australia, to pick up and recycle goods abandoned by International Students at end of semester departures and readvertise them to others arriving.
This program once established can be spread throughout Melbourne.
A friend and past student who lives in the City of Glen Eira will be extremely happy to learn this because she often lamented that her street, which has many small apartment blocks, often looks like a tip because of the high turnover of renters, who are invariably international students attending Monash University.
She often commented that much of the furniture and household goods are top quality and could be reused but are left on nature strips to be collected as rubbish.
The Cost To The Community of Dumping
The workshop I attended limited to 30 people because of the availability of space and was booked out but another one will be held on June 27.
I was pleased to see grey heads like mine but also young couples, teenagers and middle-aged – a good selection of ratepayers all wanting to learn more about recycling food waste and other organic matter.
There was a collective gasp when Freya told us that illegal dumping of rubbish was costing Kingston $203,000 per annum until she analysed the pick-ups and discovered there were three streets in Clayton South accounting for $100,000 of that figure!
Security cameras were installed and the cost reduced to $26,000 with the Clayton South area reduced to $10,000. (Whether the cost of installing and monitoring the security cameras is included, I don’t know but it is still a massive reduction!)
Freya said viewing the camera footage to get the car number plates of the culprits to issue infringement notices (and hopefully recoup some costs!) revealed awkward moments.
A truck pulled up and dumped a massive tyre but when the driver saw the camera he retrieved the tyre and drove off – not before his number plate recorded.
Another person was caught doing the toilet on a nature strip!
The car number plates showed that many of the people who dumped were from a mixture of businesses, lived out of town, and were not all locals.
Perhaps we need more provocative murals like this one I saw in Canberra above a row of bins marked for recycling – the quote says:
“Civilization ends at the waterline. Beyond that, we all enter the food chain, and not always right at the top.” Hunter S Thompson
Change Habits To Save Habitats
Bali’s beaches are drowning in litter
Debris piles where no butterflies flitter
Apocalypse fed –
but the solution is not storming Twitter
The main culprit named is plastic
a product we embraced as fantastic
but it resists decay
and won’t go away
The destruction of marine life tragic!
Fast food a convenience we craved
Marketing gurus constantly raved
Junk created ignored
As rubbish was poured
Into the environment, we should have saved.
Who profits from accumulated trash?
Is life on Earth worth less than cash?
Consumers fed lies
While pollution spreads like a rash!
What species destroys its own nest
Where standards should be the best?
‘Away’ doesn’t exist
Rubbish isn’t a mist
We create it, so must produce less!
‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ a catch cry
This must be reality or we all die
The coral withers
Our PM dithers
Climate change deniers watch Earth fry.
To the tourists who boast loving Bali –
Has your behaviour increased the tally?
Of beach debris
Polluting the sea
Leave only footprints when you dally!!
Bali’s problem is really worldwide
from culpability, no one can hide
It starts with a ‘me’
I hope becomes ‘we’
From today let’s take the Earth’s side.
Approximately 50% of the waste that goes into your garbage bin could be composted.
When sent to landfill, food and garden waste produces methane – a harmful greenhouse gas.
This waste represents 3% of Australia’s annual greenhouse gas emissions, therefore, we are all contributing to climate change.
If you compost, the environmental benefits are:
- extend the life of the landfill sites
- decrease greenhouse gas emissions
- reduce waste
If you compost, the gardening benefits are:
- improve soil structure
- chemical free fertiliser
- increase the yield of crops
Freya explained what composting is and how it is created and there were leaflets available to take home, and examples of the type of compost bins. Several participants shared opinions and experiences of the different methods and different bins.
‘I’m not an expert,‘ said Freya as she encouraged people to share their knowledge, ‘and always learn something at every workshop.’
I loved the generosity of those present sharing tips about where to get containers to use as compost bins or worm farms.
Freya had brought along some examples of the bins to show us plus a worm farm, which a lucky audience member won.
Freya explained, with illustrations, how to get started setting up a bin (these leaflets are available from the City of Kingston) and give us the ADAM recipe on how to compost successfully:
You need a mixture of green (nitrogen rich) and brown (carbon-rich) organic waste materials. The ratio being 3:1
GREEN – fresh grass clippings, fruit & vegetable scraps, bread (this may attract mice), tea leaves, coffee grounds, hair, vacuum dust, manure – vegetarian, weeds.
BROWN – tree prunings, dry grass clippings, straw, hay, cane mulch, dry leaves, bark, egg cartons, paper (serviettes, tissues…)
Other useful ingredients: wood ash, lime, egg shells, dolomite, blood and bone, dynamic lifter, soil.
A compost bin replicates what happens in the rainforest. Compost will be ready after 3-4 months.
- Poking and mixing compost helps with aeration and decomposition to produce a good compost mix. Save your back by investing in a Compost mate for $20 to stir everything up!
- to avoid rats place chicken wire under the bin before you start filling.
- weeds can produce seeds – kill these in a black garbage bag first before adding to the compost or you could be spreading weeds throughout your garden beds.
- instead of buying expensive conditioner use crushed eggshells instead – Google and there will be 1000s of opinions and bits of advice!
- remember if you add citrus worms will not go near it
- if you set the bins up in winter, it is colder and so add a few weeks or months to breakdown time
- too many ants in the bin is a sign the compost is too dry so sprinkle with water
- don’t let the compost get too dry and you will prevent fruit fly and other flies
- keep mixing regularly to stop it getting too wet or too dry
- the smaller the pieces the quicker it will break down – blend food or cut up to small pieces
- bins like a lid!
She provided a troubleshooting guide but said if in doubt always return to ADAM!
A Plea for Earth Day
Earth, our planet, may be unique in this vast universe
And yet, we take its bounty for granted
Really, we are running out of time
To heal and save this damaged miracle
How foolish we are to ignore the signs
Do nothing is not an option… Reduce Reuse Recycle
Act now to save ecosystems like the Great Barrier Reef or
Year in year out, climate change will wreak havoc
My knowledge of worm farms negligible and this was the part of the evening I found most interesting. As far as recycling and limiting my environmental footprint is concerned, I have been doing that most of my life.
I had good teachers because my parents lived through the Great Depression and WW2 in the UK and brought us up with the mantra ‘waste not, want not’.
We were a working-class family, Mum saved and reused string, wrapping paper, jam jars; we wore or used things until they could no longer be handed down, or mended; our backyard grew potatoes and other vegetables, plums were turned into jam, hens provided eggs and ate scraps, and if by some miracle there was food left over, instead of compost, it was added to the plates of our pet dogs and cats.
But worm farming?
Didn’t know that was a ‘thing’ until the 1990s. I remember seeing a lot of wriggling worms at Collingwood Children’s Farm when the girls were on a school excursion and I went along as a parent helper. They were not in containers but eating their way through compost between two sheets of dark tarpaulin-like material.
The image has stayed with me but I never thought it was something I’d have at home.
When I worked at Bentleigh, one of my writing students talked about her worm farm but beyond that whenever someone mentions worms I think of a poem by Edward Larson and a song by ‘Unknown’ that I learnt at school and used to sing around the campfire when a Girl Guide:
Ooey Gooey Worm
Ooey Gooey was a worm
A wiggly worm was he
He climbed upon the railroad tracks
The train he did not see…
…OOOOOEEEE GOOOOEEE GOO!
Nobody loves me, everybody hates me,
because I go and eat worms,
Long, thin, slimy ones;
Short, fat, juicy ones,
Itsy, bitsy, fuzzy wuzzy worms.
Down goes the first one,
down goes the second one,
Oh, how they wiggle and squirm.
Up comes the first one,
up comes the second one,
Itsy, bitsy, fuzzy wuzzy worms.
At the workshop, Freya explained the advantages of worm farms:
- ideal for homes with small yards or no gardens and for apartment balconies, courtyards
- designed primarily for food scraps
- low maintenance
- faster process than composting
- produce rich castings (vermicast)
- and produces liquid fertiliser
- it compliments garden waste compost – so keep fruit and veg for worms
- you need 500-1000 worms to start (borrow from friends farms or buy from Bunnings)
- Worms are hermaphrodites
- there are 3 different types of worms for compost: Tiger worms, Indian Blues and Red Wrigglers
- they don’t like sunlight or excess heat
- coffee speeds up the composting process
- worms don’t have teeth so cut food into small pieces or blend it before adding to speed up the process
- worms eat their body weight in 24 hours
- A ring around a worm like a saddle is holding up to 10 worm babies
- worm populations double every 2-3 months
- their life cycle is 2-3 years
- worms don’t smell so can be kept indoors
- if going on holiday leave bigger pieces – it takes worms approximately 8 weeks to munch through average organic waste
- they will eat each other
- drain the farm regularly
- if the worm farm dies it may because too hot so always keep in shade (a dead worm farm smells disgusting! Freya said she’d rather sort through rubbish bins than cope with that smell!)
- add ice cubes on a really hot day
- if worms gather on the lid they are predicting rain
- if in a big ball they are stressed and it’s not a good sign
- if you want them to move into a particular area to remove worm castings then use citrus peels and they’ll move to avoid this
- Worm farms are in layers: always have a dark lid
- separate layers of food scraps and organic waste
- the middle layer is where worms live and travel up through holes for food
- the bottom layer is for worm castings and fertiliser
- drill at least 12 holes to allow worms to move between layers – on a sunny day they will burrow down deeper
- Australian worms cope with drought and are therefore slow eaters so use imported worms from South America to start your farm
- don’t put tea bags with plastic tags into a worm bin
- by a bedding block made from coconut husk, soak in a bucket of water and use this to cover the first layer of your farm – add layers and/or trays one at a time once full of food and ALWAYS blanket on top this will keep out direct sunlight. Can use an old carpet in winter or add coffee to get the worms active
Setting Up A Farm
- Buy or build one from plastic tubs
- begin with 1000 worms (bought or gifted from friends)
- choose a shaded area sheltered from direct sunlight and heavy rain
- line the tray with moist ‘bedding’ or newspaper
- distribute the bedding and worms covering each layer with moistened paper
- let worms settle for a week before feeding them
Keep the worms happy by always maintaining: Drainage, Acidity, Air, Food and Temperature
The final choice of the evening regarding composting was a Bokashi Bucket – probably the least popular method with only myself and two others admitting to having one. I haven’t used mine since I returned from overseas so maybe I shouldn’t count myself.
Bokashi is a convenient and environmentally friendly way to compost kitchen waste and it will compost almost all of your food waste – prepared foods, cooked or uncooked, meats and fish, cheese, eggs and eggshells, bread, fruit and vegetables, coffee grinds and tea leaves and bags, wilted flowers and tissues.
DO NOT put dog or cat faeces, bones or excessive liquid in the Bokashi Bucket – for these items a Biodegradable Cornstarch Bag if used, will help break them down in landfill.
5-Step Process To Use Bokashi Bucket
- Place bin close to where food produced (kitchen bench, under the sink, laundry.) Put drain plate supplied with the kit at the bottom of the bin to allow excess liquid to drain.
- Sprinkle a small amount of special BOKASHI MIX onto the drain plate. Add your food waste/scraps. Even paper and meat.
- At the end of each day, compress the waste with the mashing utensil provided or your own tool if you’ve made a bin for yourself. This removes air pockets and then sprinkle some Bokashi Mix lightly covering the surface of the waste. Reseal lid so that it is airtight.
- Once or twice a week drain the liquid from the bin. Repeat the filling process until the bin is full, which for an average family is just under a month. Feed the garden with the drained liquid (fertiliser) after adding water at a ratio 1:100. (Beware it is very strong fertiliser!)
- When the bucket is full, empty the contents into a small hole or trench in your garden, or add to your compost bin. The waste will be fermented but not broken down, to do that it needs soil. (If you have an inquisitive dog like me, dig that hole deep!)
Rinse the bucket with water, no detergent or soap, drain and repeat process. You may have to check the tap at the bottom to drain does not get clogged. Also shop around for Bokashi Mix, which can be expensive but necessary because it contains effective micro-organisms. It is usually a combination of wheat bran and rice husks that have been sprayed.
The microbes have been organically certified by both NASAA and the BFA if you buy the mix from reputable outlets.
If there is no rotting odour, the Bokashi Bin is working well. The waste inside should go foul in a day or two and even produce white mould. Always mash down well, also drain properly. It is the fermentation process that is turning the waste into a rich soil conditioner
If the mould is green or black and the Bokashi begins to smell, then tip the contents out, wash bin and begin again.
4-6 weeks after the compost has been buried, it may be dug up and used on garden beds.
Of all the composting methods, the Bokashi Bucket is probably the most expensive setting-up and with ongoing costs. However, Freya gave leaflets out (and these can be easily downloaded) with DIY options.
- An ice-cream container works just as well
- You may get a food caddy free from the council when they introduce recycling food waste but the problem with anything free or discounted is that it can end up abandoned on the nature strip.
- Compost Revolution (check online) may give a discount
I think it is safe to say that everyone left the evening inspired and determined – I know I’m certainly more confident in making the right choice and being pro-active in reducing landfill and may restart using my Bokashi Bucket!
There were some great suggestions about DIY compost receptacles – including a worm farm in an old chest of drawers!
Dog Poo – And Other Unmentionables
Polystyrene can’t be recycled in Victoria but the large rectangular containers are good to make your own worm farm.
There is still no recycling of dog poo or even special bins for collection, like in other countries – and even other councils.
Stonnington has special bins and bags available. And I saw many bins in the UK as far back as the 90s.
When I mentioned this to Freya, she said Australia was about 10 years behind many other countries.
Cultural change is slow but I guess we will get there eventually – especially with education officers like Freya and programs initiated by progressive local governments.
Meanwhile, we can all do what we can to REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE, REPURPOSE and COMPOST!
And keep our fingers crossed Federal politicians catch up!