• Nathalie

Composting for begginers

January 2021.

Hong Kong sends more than 3,600 tons of food waste to landfills every day.

Unfortunately, food waste doesn’t decompose in landfills the way they would in the ground, causing way more arms than we would expect.

What is the problem?

Landfills are usually huge piles of waste where our organic scraps -sealed in plastic garbage bags- can’t have access to bacteria's, fungus, water, oxygen and take longer to decompose into basic organic soil nutrients.

Yet, the longer they take to decompose, the more they release methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.

When in a normal environment a fruit could take 2 weeks to 2 months to fully decompose, researchers found some food looking "fresh" after 20 years in landfills.

[Ever heard of Garbology? I must read this book I just found out about: Rubbish! The Archaeology of Garbage].

Though I had a hard time finding a proper statistic, globally 24 to 40% of household trash are organic matters that could be composted.

What is composting?

It’s a natural way to dispose of our organic (food related) wastes where they naturally break down together making rich nutrient fertiliser to nourish our soils, grow plants, fruits and vegetables. Basically, following the natural circle of life.

2 very simple home composting methods.

In February 2018 I followed a workshop on Rooftop Gardening (beautiful moment detailed in the footnote)*. I specifically went to this workshop to learn a few things on composting and I started composting the following day. At that time, we were a family of three, soon to be four and I just did not realise the amount of food scraps we were generating and throwing away.

The process of home composting is very simple, it doesn't require a lot of time or effort and it's free.

1. You have a garden? Bury it or pile it up!

Do not compost fish, meat and dairy to avoid attracting rodents and pests.

The furthest from the house the better.

How to bury compost:

  • Dig a 20 cm deep hole.

  • Burry your food scraps and organic matter and cover them with soil.

How to make a compost pile:

  • It's best to define its zone with a wood cage.

  • Start piling it up.

  • For faster decomposition follow the brown/green balanced explained a little lower.

I had the luck of enjoying a flat rental in France and the owners had a pile up composter pictured above. It was a great experience to share with my son, my family and friends.

Note: if you rent your habitation and have set up eco-friendly habits from sorting to composting, write it in your description! It could be very attractive to a person who wants to test it before implementing it in their home, and you will make a family like mine very happy.

Balcony composting

2. You have a balcony? Pile it up!

Getting started:

  1. Get a big box. Mine was a 60L box. I’d recommend you take the biggest you can put on your balcony. For reference, fruit peals take at least 5 weeks to decompose.

  2. Make a few small holes on the bottom, on the sides and on the lid for better air circulation (we don’t want to be creating methane!).

  3. Line some paper on top of the holes and fill the box with a layer of soil.

  4. Elevate it from the ground with bricks so it can breathe underneath.

Once the set up is done, help your scraps break down faster with:

The green/brown balance: every time you add some nitrogen rich elements, top them with carbon rich elements.

  • Nitrogen rich elements: fruits, veg, green leaves, fresh flowers, fresh grass, eggshells, tea and coffee.

  • Carbon rich element: dead leaves, dry flowers, wood shavings, shredded egg boxes, shredded cardboard, shredded newspaper and waste paper.

Oxygen: make sure your compost has enough air flow by stirring it with a wooden spoon or stick a few times a week.

Moisture: touch the top of the compost, it should feel moist but not too much.

Tip: you can also cut them or crush them in a mixer before adding them to your compost bin!

Read more composting techniques summed up by HK Composting right here.

I had a good experience balcony composting. It smells like “moist woods” and is easy as long as you follow the above guidelines.

HK Community Composting

I do not compost on my balcony anymore since HKCC came along in march 2019.

I must warn you that I am their official first subscriber and that I find this alternative perfect for my urban life. It’s a monthly subscription, and I just have to drop my compost in a dedicated bin.

But I’ve heard you: why pay a service, the government should be doing for free?

  1. Well, because it's not free and I don't have space to compost in my flat anymore. I am comfortable with the price of the solution.

  2. Invest in the future. More demand for composting will lead to more solutions.

  3. I just can’t let my scraps go to landfills knowing what I know.

The organic waste they collect are taken here in Lantau where they will be converted into biogas and compost.

Tips on Community Composting

  • Make sure to follow the composting guidelines of the system you chose. Not all composting systems accepts the same type of compostable waste.

  • Make sure to read the new HKCC composting guidelines if you are member, they changed earlier this year -no more egg boxes.

  • For convenience, keep a small trash-can for you organic waste on your kitchen counter that you'll transfer in a bigger container when full.

  • I keep my compost in a compostable bag in the freezer to avoid going to the bin more than once a week (I have a freakishly big freezer that was furnished with the flat).

Hope that was useful, do share your experience or your questions with me and if this article was useful in any way, please send it to your friends that are looking for composting advices!



*I wanted to share a little story about that workshop. In 2017, I met a girl named Ming aka Garbage Activist on Instagram as we were both looking for options to reduce our waste in Hong Kong. She told me about the workshop because there was going to be a chapter on composting. So we met there for the first time and had a lovely workshop. On my way home that nigh, I picked up a foam box and in it started my balcony composting adventure.

She started Hong Kong Community Composting with Paige and Renee!

The morality of this story: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead, American anthropologist


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