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How To Compost Food Waste

Last night’s dinner leftovers gone bad. Food in fridge got spoiled due to loadshedding. Two-day old veggies, spoilt because they weren’t stored properly. Surplus cake and pastries after serving too much at a weekend party. These and other types of food waste are becoming more and more common, with the WWF reporting that one-third of all food in South Africa is never consumed and ends up in landfills. The government, private business and many individuals have risen to the challenge of combatting food waste by turning to composting.

Undemanding and eco-friendly (since it is carbon neutral), composting is the most basic method of recycling food waste. It also contributes to a circular economy by avoiding waste going to landfill, improving soil health, reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), recycling nutrients and mitigating the impact of droughts. Although common, there is more than one way to compost food waste, which can be daunting to newbies looking to make a small difference in their homes or at work. We’ve rounded up five ways to compost so you’ll never waste another morsel again.

  1. Tech-driven composting

Like everything else in life, composting has gone high-tech, too. Devices such as the iCompost by The Compost Kitchen, allows you to create compost easily, without any mess and in just a few hours. Compost machines dry, grind and cool the waste you add to it, using a specially formulated compost activator to stabilise the material. The result is a no-fuss compost that alleviates odours and liquids, and yields a natural and nutrient-rich soil amendment that can be used in pot plants and gardens within five to six hours. Although compost machines use electricity, the benefits — such as almost instant compost, being odourless, producing little to no noise and being able to self-clean, amongst others — provides more people the opportunity to compost effortlessly.  

  1. Vermicomposting

If you’ve been composting for a while and want to take it up a notch, vermicomposting uses earthworms to eat your food waste and produce a natural, odourless, nutrient-rich fertiliser. The process takes about three to six months, so you’ll need to be both patient and not squirmish around insects. Vermicomposting, i.e. worm composting, can be done outdoors or indoors for those with very little space (think in your garage, basement or even under the sink). Purchase a vermicompost system (a typical system can cost upwards from R1,000)  or create your own with a wooden or plastic bin that has holes in the sides and bottom for ventilation and drainage. 

Vermicomposters need to be raised above the ground for excess liquid to flow out and should contain worm bedding such as shredded paper and cardboard, dry leaves or straw,  and some soil. A typical home system requires about half a kilogram of worms, which you can feed once a week by burying the food waste beneath their bedding. Be sure to keep the moisture level of the bedding similar to a damp sponge and be careful not to feed the worms any animal products, fats or oils. This may mean that a lot of your food waste will still end up in your rubbish bin, or you can add it to a separate compost heap.

  1. Bokashi

Bokashi composting was first developed in Japan, where landfill is not an option. The term ‘Bokashi’ means ‘fermented organic matter’ in Japanese and, true to its name, it involves a process of fermentation where microorganisms known as ‘Bokashi’ are  added to food waste in airtight containers. The microorganisms stop the food waste from rotting and smelling, resulting in a material which is ready to compost without odour, in an accelerated time. 

Bokashi bran can be bought in store or you can make your own at home using water, molasses, milk, rice, an old T-shirt or cheese cloth, and a carbon base (such as shredded paper or sawdust). It will take approximately three weeks for these ingredients to ferment and a further two weeks for the Bokashi bran to be ready for use, so you’ll need to be extra patient with this method.

  1. At-home compost pile

The cheapest way to start your composting journey is to add your food and garden waste to a pile that’s at least one metre high and placed in a shady area, away from direct sunlight. Add a bit of water as you add items so the  mixture can ferment naturally. The pile needs to be turned and watered regularly, and you can add anything from dead leaves, branches, twigs and grass clippings to vegetable waste, fruit scraps, tea bags and coffee grounds. If you have a lot of coffee grounds, you can neutralise it with fire ash. Avoid adding pet waste, meat and fish scraps, dairy items, oils, paper towels and other non-organic matter and chemicals to the compost pile. Once the material at the bottom of your pile is dark and moist, the compost is ready to be used in your garden. 

The City of Cape Town is providing free home-composting containers through 1 December for residents interested in composting at home. Simply head to their website for details on when the programme will be in your area.

  1. Collection services

If you’re not keen on creating your own compost heap or don’t have the space, a collection service is a great way to compost. Essentially, you’ll collect your food waste over a week or couple of weeks, it will be collected and composted. Remember  that around 90% of food waste is water and this can end up being messy or smelly, so try to stick to your schedule or avoid this method when collection periods will be longer than two weeks. Companies such as Clearer in Cape Town and The Compost Kitchen in Johannesburg offer subscription services where you’ll be provided with a food waste collection bin, and the resulting compost will be returned to you.

For more information on food waste recycling and iCompost, visit