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Pile of fresh compost next to a sieve and trowel, with a spider next to the compost Pile of fresh compost next to a sieve and trowel, with a spider next to the compost

Circular Food Economies for Zero Waste Week

By Sara Venn

Looking at waste on a global scale, there is no doubt that we are polluting the planet with plastics, metals and very little thought and it is also really becoming apparent that it is very difficult to avoid the things we are being told we must when using what we need to see as the global food system.

Food wrapped in plastic,  from meat to veg and pretty much everything in between and too often in non recyclable plastics that we know we must avoid means for many food shopping has become something of a guilt ridden pleasure, so how do we step outside that. And how, when the food is already wrapped up in amounts that might be too much for us, do we avoid food waste, which we know is vital. As consumers, which we really all are, even on a lighter level than many, how do we step outside the system that almost seems to encourage us to be wasteful with it’s BOGOFS and special offers, and make sure our food buying steps outside the linear distribution systems and into circular economies.

The answer of course is local. Local markets and shops are far more likely to let you buy smaller quantities and take your own containers along to use to bring produce home. And if they don’t, it’s much easier to ask them to make that change than it is a large superstore. However, we are all human, and inevitably we all have an occasional limp carrot or lettuce that we end up having no option to throw out, and with gardens becoming smaller and many without any outdoor space at all, how to deal with that waste so often ends up with it being put in the bin. But what can we do?

Composting on a community level would be ideal, or at least ensuring that whilst everyone has access to a bin, that everyone also has access to a compost bin, would of course be the ideal scenario. Many would ask where the compost might be used and why this is important, but if we are to leave our planet i anywhere near the shape it needs to be, surely we need to teach our children that composting is the normal thing to do with food waste? The compost made could be used on community projects, by local authorities in their parks and gardens or even fed back to local producers and gardeners for a small fee.. It would ensure everyone was involved in the important conversation about the health of our soils, and open up knowledge about why soil is so important in the fight against climate change.

Whilst composting on a large scale is wrapped up in complicated legislation, there are of course options for those with no room for a full sized compost bin. Hot composters are slimmer than regular compost bins and so are ideal for the smaller garden, albeit an expense, but if there is no outdoor space are there options? Wormeries quite happily will sit on a balcony and come in a range of sizes from that of a bucket up to full sized composter. Of course they won’t manage huge quantities of food, but if food waste has already been cut by shopping habits changing to local, most families will produce a fair amount for a wormery.  Of course wormeries also provide you with a fabulous plant food, which can be used on houseplants as well as garden plants.

Other options include bokashi bins which are Japanese in origin and effectively pickle your food waste, ready to then go in a compost bin and break down super fast. Obviously it’s necessary to have a route into a compost bin for bokashi but if you know an allotment holder or regularly go to a community garden, or another shared space, it’s likely that it’s possible to find somewhere to take your finished product!

Whatever we do, the more we learn about how our soils are struggling, and the more we realise that mulching with organic matter is vital to ensure we improve soil health and keep it healthy, the more we realise that composting our food waste, as well as minimising it, is a very important community role. Imagine a world where the compost bin sits next to the bin, and is actually treated as a community resource-wouldn’t that be incredible?