Current Location: Geneva, Switzerland
Since this is the first full year that I will be cooking for myself, outside of my parents’ house and off of a college dining hall meal plan, I’ve been interested in ways that I can start composting. I visited some friends in Milan in June and was thrilled to discover that the city collects organic trash so all they have to do is keep a bin in the kitchen. This is definitely the most efficient way to get people to compost, but it does require significant investment in the infrastructure to do so and also to ensure that what goes into the compost pile is actually compostable.
Typically I do a decent job of avoiding food waste by getting creative with scraps, but I do anticipate there will be some unavoidable waste. I have some constraints: I’m doing a one-year program in London which means I can’t invest in anything too permanent. I also will be living in student-subsidized housing which means I’ll need an indoor option since I don’t think the company I’m renting from will be very keen on a 22 year old student starting a composting adventure in the middle of a graduate student housing building.
The most popular indoor composting option is vermicomposting, which involves a special type of worm that lives in the bin and helps decompose organic matter. To be honest, I’m not super thrilled about this option. As much as I’d like not to be, I’m pretty squeamish about bugs. Therefore, I’ve started doing some research into a worm-free indoor compost system called bokashi.
What is bokashi composting?
Technically bokashi isn’t actually composting. Composting is “organic matter that has been decomposed and recycled as a fertilizer and soil amendment” (Wikipedia). Bokashi, on the other hand, is an anaerobic fermentation process. This means two things: 1) air is not involved and 2) you need to add a bokashi mix of micro-organisms to break down the food scraps. Several articles have described the process as “pickling.”* Basically, compost and bokashi have different end products. Compost produces a soil fertilizer, while the by-product of bokashi is an acidic liquid that cannot be applied directly to plants. It’s so strong that many people recommend that it be used to prevent drain buildup and control septic odors.
The benefits of bokashi composting are its simplicity and lack of smell. All you need is a bucket, food scraps, and bokashi mix. Most sites recommend getting a bin with a spigot so that it is easier to siphon off the liquid end product. Once you have the materials, it seems fairly straightforward to use.
- Add food scraps to the bokashi bin
- Sprinkle bokashi mix on top
- Once the bin is full, seal it for 10-12 days
- Every couple of days, drain the liquid and use it as pre-fertilizer or other home uses
The bokashi mix is sold commercially by several retailers (this one, this one, or this one) but there are also recipes for making DIY compost. There are definitely some drawbacks to using bokashi: you need two bins if you want to compost all of the time since the full bin has to sit airtight for two weeks, the final product is not a “final” product, and you have to continually purchase or make bokashi mix. This is definitely an option I’ll have to consider more once I’m in the UK, especially if I can find somewhere to get a bucket with a spigot.
*Note: If you do science and I am wrong about this, please correct me. I’m trying to understand in ‘real’ terms what all of this means, but I am not a scientist. I took one science class in college, and it was a biology class at a level below intro bio. I got a B.