Composting is a natural recycling system whereby organic waste is broken down into smaller nutrients by microorganisms. The organic resources released in the food waste can also improve soil health and avoid the use of chemical fertilizers in your garden.
If you live in a house with a garden, a compost bin is an ideal option for recycling food waste. It can recycle a wide variety of food scraps and garden waste, tolerates heat, and can be kept outdoors on bare soil.
If you live in an apartment with a balcony or small courtyard, a worm farm is a more suitable option as it is compact, produces no smell if managed correctly, and can be kept indoors or within a small balcony or courtyard. However, a worm farm can handle fewer types of food than a compost bin and won't tolerate heat as well.
What goes into a compost bin
Effective composting requires a good balance of carbon-rich and nitrogen-rich materials. Think of carbon-rich materials as “brown things” (such as dried leaves, paper, and timber/bark pieces) and nitrogen-rich materials as “green things” (such as food scraps and grass).
Items that can be composted include:
- Fruit and vegetable scraps
- Newspaper and shredded paper
- Grass clippings
- Dead flowers
- Leaves and twigs
- Egg shells (crushed)
- Ground coffee
- Tea bags and leaves
- Animal and human hair
- Old potting mix
There are a few things that can attract unwelcomed guests, such as mice and flies, to your compost. Make sure you don't add any of the following to your compost:
- Dairy products
- Oils and fats
- Pet faeces
- Large amounts of carbohydrates, such as bread, rice and pasta. These high protein items are nitrogen-rich and can be added to your compost in very small volumes in combination with carbon-rich items, like shredded paper and dried leaves.
Follow these three simple steps to have a healthy compost pile:
- Balance nitrogen and carbon content: Roughly 1/3 of "green" materials for 2/3 of "brown" materials.
- Provide good aeration: Mix your compost once or twice a week.
- Keep it moist: Place a hessian sack or damp old cloth or T-shirt over the pile to prevent water evaporation.
Where to put your compost bin
The bin should be placed on bare soil to allow for sufficient drainage in a partially sunny spot of your garden – preferably somewhere cool in summer and warm in winter with good air circulation. It is good to keep your bin away from the house and neighbours, but in a convenient location to empty your food scraps on a regular basis.
Keep your compost covered to stop unwanted pests making a home in your compost.
Getting started with your compost bin
- Layer the bottom of your bin or a heap with a 10–15cm layer of coarse materials from your garden. Small sticks or mulch are perfect.
- Add a layer of finer carbon-rich materials from your garden, e.g. dried leaves.
- Optional: Add a 1–3 cm of soil to help kick-start the composting process.
- Add a layer of nitrogen-rich materials to the pile, e.g. kitchen scraps, grass and flowers.
- Add another layer of carbon-rich materials to the top.
- Water each layer to ensure all materials are moist.
- Cover the pile with a hessian sack, damp cloth or newspaper to keep the compost moist.
- Aerate your bin after 1 week by mixing its content.
How to use compost
- Use sifted compost as potting mix and seed raising mix. Woody leftovers can be used for mulch, or re-added to the compost bin to break down further.
- Add a 2–5 cm layer around the drip line of trees. Spread thinly once or twice a year as a top dressing for lawns. Apply twice a year to Australian natives.
Purchasing a compost bin
Council provides a range of options to start your composting journey!
Visit the Green Living Centre in Newtown to purchase cost-price compost bins and aerators. The Green Living Centre is a joint initiative of Inner West Council and the City of Sydney.
Residents can order a discounted compost bin and aerator through the Compost Revolution program. Everything you need to get started will be delivered to you. Take the tutorial, do the quiz, and order your composting equipment. Please choose carefully as there are no refunds or exchanges.
A wide range of compost bins are also available from local nurseries and garden centres.
Compost Revolution is supported by the Environmental Trust as part of the NSW EPA's Waste Less, Recycle More initiative, funded from the waste levy.
More information on composting
See the Easy Composting Guide (1.1MB, PDF) produced by the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) for more information on composting.
Watch Council's video Composting: It's Easy