How to compost food and garden waste

Close-up of fruit and vegetable scraps and cupped hands filled with composted soil

Around half of our household garbage is made up of food and garden waste. Composting instead of putting this waste in your rubbish bin stops it from going to landfill and creates a useful product instead. Food in landfill breaks down in a way that can create greenhouse gases, including methane, which affect air quality and contribute to climate change. Even if you are a renter living in an apartment there are composting options for you.

Why compost?

Start composting your food and garden waste to:

  • reduce the amount of waste you send to landfill
  • improve your soil structure and nutrient levels
  • trap moisture in your soil so it saves water (when used as mulch).

Home composting options

Whether buying a bin or building your own, home composting is easier than you might think. Many types of composting bins are available including:

  • outdoor bins, with or without ventilation and ground holes
  • tumblers
  • open enclosures
  • indoor/benchtop composters, like Bokashi bins
  • in-ground composting
  • vermicomposting (worm farms)

Which system is best for you?

Compost bin

How does composting work?

Composting accelerates the natural process of decomposition to convert organic waste matter into a nutrient-rich soil you can use on your garden. Composting can be the perfect solution for most garden waste and food scraps that cannot be eaten, like eggs shells and banana peels, however it should generally be our last resort when it comes to food. Ideally we avoid food waste in the first place.

How to compost

  • Choose a shady spot in your garden to start your compost heap or to position your compost bin
  • Add to your compost in layers of food scraps, garden clippings and paper
  • Keep your compost moist, but not wet, and aerate it about once a week
  • When your compost is dark and crumbly dig it into your garden or spread it on top as mulch.

What you can put in your compost bin

Daily (nitrogen rich)

  • bread (please note: bread may attract mice)
  • egg shells
  • fresh grass clippings
  • human and animal hair
  • manure
  • old newspapers (wet)
  • sawdust (not from treated timber) and wood ash
  • tea leaves, tea bags and coffee grounds
  • used vegetable cooking oil
  • vacuum cleaner dust
  • weeds
  • vegetable and fruit peelings and scraps

Weekly (carbon rich)

  • bark
  • cane mulch
  • dry grass clippings
  • dry leaves
  • egg cartons
  • hay
  • paper
  • shredded paper and cardboard
  • straw
  • tree prunings

Other useful ingredients

  • blood and bone
  • dolomite
  • dynamic lifter
  • lime
  • soil
  • wood ash

What you cannot put in your compost bin

Avoid the following items to keep your compost healthy.

  • bread or cake (may attract mice)
  • dairy products
  • diseased plant material
  • fat
  • large branches
  • magazines
  • meat scraps and bones (Bokashi bins can accept these)
  • metals, plastic and glass
  • pet droppings

Compost troubleshooting

Smelly = too wet, not enough air, too acidic
Solution = add dry material, turn heap, add lime

Slow = not enough air, no active ingredients
Solution = turn heap, add water, add manure

Maggots = faeces, seafood, meats, fats
Solution = cover with lime or soil

Vermin = breads, grains, too dry
Solution = remove, cover entry with wire, turn heap, moisten

What to do with your compost

The type of composting option you choose will affect the time it takes to produce some great compost you can use on plants and gardens, mixed with soil or as mulch. If you don’t have a garden, try mixing compost with soil in pot plants. Some council areas also have community composting sites – check with your local council. Alternatively see if family, friends or neighbours would like some compost for their gardens.

Worm farm

How do worm farms work?

Worm farms are ideal for homes with small yards or no gardens. Designed primarily for food scraps, worm farm composting is a faster process that produces rich castings (vermi-cast) and liquid fertiliser. Your population of worms will double every 2–3 months, they can eat their own body weight in food organics in 24 hours, and can live for 2–3 years.

How to worm farm

  • Buy or build a worm farm
  • Begin with at least 1000 worms (Red Wrigglers, Indian Blues, Tiger Worms)
  • Choose a shaded area with shelter from heavy rain and sunlight
  • Line the tray with moist paper
  • Distribute the bedding and worms
  • Cover with moist newspaper
  • Let worms settle into their new environment for a week before feeding them

What you can put in your worm farm

  • bread
  • egg cartons
  • egg shells
  • fruit and vegetable scraps
  • lime (eliminates smells)
  • small quantities of citrus or onion
  • tea leaves, tea bags and coffee grounds
  • torn up moist newspaper
  • vacuum cleaner dust

What you cannot put in your worm farm

  • dairy
  • fats
  • meat
  • oil

Worm farm troubleshooting

Vinegar flies or small white worms = too acidic
Solution = add dolomite, wood ash, crushed egg shells

Little or no worm wee = poor drainage
Solution = harvest or ‘fluff’ the castings

Worms don’t seem to be eating in my new farm
Solution = worms will eat their bedding or compost first

Going on holidays – do you need a worm sitter?
Solution = 1/3 of tray filled with food and shredded newspaper feeds worms for 4 weeks

Bokashi bin

How do Bokashi bins work?

Bokashi bins work by way of a fermentation process that turns your kitchen waste into a rich soil conditioner. This composting is airtight (anaerobic), using EM (Effective Micro-Organisms), sometimes called Bokashi 'bran'.

How to use your Bokashi bin

  • Throw your scraps into the bucket
  • Add a sprinkling of Bokashi bran
  • Re-seal the lid
  • When the bucket is full leave it for four to six weeks with the lid sealed and then either dig the resultant Bokashi into the garden or add it to your compost heap.
  • As the Bokashi is composting, a nutrient rich liquor is produced which can be collected using the tap on the bucket every couple of days.

What you can put in your Bokashi bin

  • bread
  • cheese
  • eggs
  • fruit and vegetables
  • raw / cooked meats and fish
  • tea leaves, tea bags and coffee grounds
  • tissues
  • wilted flowers

What you cannot put in your Bokashi bin

  • mouldy items
  • excess liquid (drain tea bags before adding them for example)

Food waste and packaging

Each year in Victoria, households throw out 250,000 tonnes worth of food – enough wasted food to fill Melbourne's Eureka Tower. Learn to love your food and avoid waste, saving yourself money and protecting our environment.

Dealing with food waste

The best way to deal with food waste is to not create it in the first place through buying only what you need and using up what you’ve got. But even for unavoidable food waste like peels and offcuts, there are a range of ways you can put their nutrients to good use rather than in the rubbish bin:

  • Some councils have combined food and garden waste collections. Check your council website to see if your council offers one.
  • Set up your own compost, bokashi bin or worm farm. There's an option for every household type. Some councils even offer discounts on equipment.
  • Find a compost near you. Some councils offer community composting sites or you can sign up to sharing apps like

A sustainable diet

For a variety of reasons, including lifestyle and ethical choices, some people choose to eat a plant rich diet. To find out more visit the Better Health Channel.

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Council waste and recycling

Household paint, batteries and fluorescent lights can be dropped off for free. Check with your local council for details.

Find your council