I know that for most people the hassle and ‘gross factor’ associated with composting your food waste is just one step too far in the attempt to be a greener household, especially if you don’t have access to a lovely big garden! And in many ways, I agree. Dealing with your food waste can be a very unpleasant affair, often resulting in smelly bins and yucky bin juice.
However, in my efforts to try and make our flat a little greener I began to investigate ways in which I could deal with our food waste in a more earth friendly and sustainable way. And the answer to this problem – Bokashi!
What is it?
Bokashi bran is fermented bran that, in anaerobic (no oxygen) conditions, can be used to speed up the natural decomposition of food waste. It helps to cultivate beneficial microorganisms as the food decomposes, speeding the process of fermentation and reducing unpleasant odours normally associated with decomposing food waste. The bran has a yeasty smell, sort of like the malted barley that is used in beer making. The ingredients in Bokashi bran usually include a combination of wheat bran, rice bran, purified and structured water, sugarcane blackstrap molasses, mineral rock salt and probiotics.
How does it work?
Most Bokashi indoor composting systems available in South Africa include two airtight bins, as anaerobic conditions are essential for the bran to do its work, and a bag of Bokashi bran, which I store in a third airtight bin I purchased from Westpack. The Bokashi bins have a grate or filter, with little holes in them, which rests about 5 – 10cm above the bottom of the bin. This allows the food waste to be placed on top of the grate and any liquid to seep through the waste and settle at the bottom of the bin. The bins then have a handy little tap at the bottom, on the outside of the bin, so that you can decant the Bokashi ‘tea’ or leachate (basically bin juice) and remove it from the bin in a relatively pain-free way.
How to use it?
So once you have acquired your Bokashi indoor composting system you are ready to start composting! As you prepare meals and do your cooking, place all your food scraps and food wastes into a small container. The best way we have found to do this is to keep an empty ice-cream container, with lid, in the fridge and place all your food scraps into the container as you go. By keeping the smaller container in the fridge you only have to Bokashi every few days (depending on how much food waste you produce) and because they are in the fridge your food scraps don’t start to decompose or smell before you are able to place them into the Bokashi.
Once your fridge container is full of food scraps you can add them to your Bokashi bin. On first use, sprinkle about a quarter cup of Bokashi bran on the bottom of your Bokashi bin, then place all the food scraps and waste into the Bokashi bin, use a potato masher to gently press all the air out of the waste, and finally sprinkle more Bokashi bran on top. You want to ensure that the Bokashi bran fully covers the food scraps but you don’t need to go crazy, I usually use between half a cup to a full cup of Bokashi bran – depending on how much food I have placed into the bin.
The Bokashi bin needs to be kept in a dark spot at room temperature, because remember, you are growing little microorganisms to decompose the food waste. They need to be in a comfortable environment, being outside in the sun can get too hot and being outside in winter can get very cold, so preferably keep your bins inside a kitchen cupboard. Also very important to remember, always ensure you properly reseal the Bokashi bin lid after you open it. The process only works in an anaerobic system, which means the bran only ferments the food waste when there is little or no oxygen.
As you repeat the process and fill up your Bokashi bin remember to decant the Bokashi tea or leachate through the little tap at the bottom. The amount of liquid generated will depend on the types of food scraps you place into the bin, for instance fruit and vegetable scraps will generate more liquid than bread or chicken bones. So be sure to empty the liquid every week otherwise your bin may start to smell.
If you have a garden the Bokashi tea, which is full of nutrients and microbes, can be diluted (around 1:300) and used as fertiliser for your plants. If you don’t have a garden the Bokashi tea can be used undiluted and poured down the drain. Bokashi tea keeps drains clean and odour free, as it breaks down sludge and prevents build-up of sludge in your drain.
Once you have filled up a Bokashi bin (this can take a month or a few months depending on how much food waste you produce), ensure it is properly sealed and leave it in the cupboard for 10 to 14 days. During which time you can start filling up your second bin, that’s why you need two Bokashi bins. After the 2 weeks, the next step is to bury the fermented food waste. If you live on a large property and are fortunate enough to have access to a compost heap then emptying your Bokashi bin is fairly low maintenance. Dig a hole (at least half a meter deep) into the compost heap, empty the Bokashi bin into the hole, and cover it back up with soil. The rest of the decomposition process will continue over 4 to 6 weeks within the compost heap, after which you can use the compost on your lawn and in your garden.
If you don’t have access to a compost heap the waste can be buried at the back of a garden, however you need to ensure it is deep enough and properly covered otherwise it will attract rodents and animals. Alternatively you can empty your Bokashi at your nearest waste drop off centre, (although this can be a bit of a pain). See our Recycling Blog: Part 3 to find your nearest drop off centre.
Now I’m sure many of you are reading this thinking, why on earth would I want to go to so much trouble just to separate my food waste and dispose of it differently, when it’s so much easier to chuck it into my kitchen bin and never worry about it again. Well the main reason is one we’ve recently been blogging about (see Recycling Blog: Part 1) – our landfills are filling up and space for waste disposal is running out! Separating your food waste and converting it into compost means far less of your waste goes into a landfill, which is far more sustainable and environmentally friendly.
Another motivator is that you won’t have to deal with horrible smells coming from your kitchen bin and you won’t have to rinse out your bin every time you throw out a bin bag because you won’t have smelly bin juice at the bottom of it.
Where can you buy your Bokashi?
Here are a few places you can buy your Bokashi indoor composting system:
- Lifestyle Garden Centre (on Beyers Naude)
My last piece of advice would be this, the Bokashi system is a fantastic way for city dwellers to reduce their waste to landfill BUT you need to be committed to actually doing all the steps in the process otherwise it doesn’t really work. It’s not complicated but like anything it needs a little TLC to get it right and keep your microbes growing happily! If you care about your environmental footprint and reducing your waste to landfill, this is the way to go!