It should be easier to compost in Sydney

I buried a year’s worth of a stranger’s food scraps last weekend.

She’d watched the ABC’s War on Waste series last year and was spurred into action. She started collecting her food scraps for compost, persisting in spite of the challenges of living in a small apartment with no council collection.

Fanny reached out to me online, where I list myself as a drop spot on ShareWaste and another Facebook compost sharing group. I have a small garden bed and our building participates in the local council’s food scraps recycling trial. The latter of which provides us with weekly kerbside collection (supplementing the green lidded garden waste bin). I consider myself lucky to have access to resources that make it easy to compost, and share the wealth whenever I can.

She alighted from a ride sharing vehicle with her 19L bokashi bin neatly contained in one of those large IKEA carry bags. A bokashi bin is like Mary Poppins’ handbag – it can hold more than you ever thought possible. As the beneficial bacteria pre-digest the scraps, everything compresses. Occasionally draining the juice helps reduce the volume too.

It was her first time using bokashi, but the thick white layer of mould on top of the scraps told me she’d done a perfect job of fermenting the batch.

I showed her the trench in my garden bed where I’d bury the bokashi as well as the nice black compost from the last batch I myself had recently buried. The process of decomposition once the bokashi is in the ground is phenomenally quick – it took maybe two to three weeks for the last batch to disappear.

We chatted about the challenges of composting in an apartment with no outdoor space. Most cities have not prioritised the recycling of nutrients, even as farmers’ fields lose topsoil and soil carbon at an alarming rate. It’s so much more difficult than it should be to compost here.

Which is why Fanny and I are both participating in this experiment of peer-to-peer exchange. I’m not mad at it, and I’ve met the best people this way, but I don’t see this DIY model catching on with the masses. Ditto for fee-based scrap collection services. These solutions don’t reach beyond the highly motivated. I reckon the majority of people fully understand the value and purpose of composting, but they’ll still object to rate increases to fund it. Blame mental accounting and defaults. One day I hope we agree that it’s the most crazy to fund profligate use of landfill as we do now. The opportunity cost of landfill is high and, as I see it, displacing potential investment in organics recycling.

There are other barriers too. Roommates, and even family members, are part of the social infrastructure of our lives and can either help or hinder our behaviour change efforts. Fanny’s new roommate objects to the idea of composting on the grounds that the bokashi bin grosses her out. Not everyone gets as excited about white mould and landfill diversion as me. The smell of the draining juices made her think the bucket would have a pervasive daily smell (it doesn’t). The juice is smelly when draining, but this happens so infrequently it would be like complaining about walking past a dumpster, or a child whose nappy needs a change.

Given my propensity for behaviour change literature, I offered her some suggestions to bring the roommate into the fold. I recommended she not force the issue on moral grounds, but instead try a structural intervention that would create ease and provide an emotional buffer between the roommate and the bokashi bin: a benchtop receptacle for daily veg scraps. The roommate could use this instead of touching the bokashi bin directly. The benchtop collection bucket – maybe on old ice cream container – could be deposited (by Fanny) in the bokashi bin once a day. This also keeps the main bin’s contents anaerobic. Fanny brightened, “And everyone likes ice cream”.

Fanny’s roommate doesn’t need to think differently before she acts differently. Humans are not rational, we’re post-rational. We can make up stories to explain just about any behaviour. When we change our actions, our story about why we’re doing it will change too. Once she starts using the less identity-threatening benchtop bin, the roommate will become the sort of person who composts, and I predict more positive feelings about composting and bokashi will follow.

We don’t need everyone to become a card carrying environmentalist, but we do need everyone to participate in food scraps recycling. Sometimes tribal motivation is a good strategy to get us there, but it’s certainly not the only strategy.

I’ve asked Fanny to let me know how it goes.

UPDATE: She let me know that it worked!

Sometimes the problem is us

Whenever we get riled up about a problem, like systemic food waste, it’s really easy to rally against ‘they who are wasteful’.  But sometimes, the problem is us. 

As we learned in the #waronwaste, big supermarket chains here in Australia discriminate against fruits and veggies that don’t meet strict cosmetic standards. Bananas, like supermodels, that are too straight, too curvy, too big or too small don’t make it off the farm and into the supermarket aisles. They are grown, fertilized, harvested, and cast aside. All true. But it’s not just Coles and Woolies that need to stop judging bananas so harshly on their looks.

Let me tell you a story.

The other day I was dismayed to find five bananas tossed in to the compost. To me, they were perfect – not a pretty yellow, but a deep, uniform brown. Someone else did not share this view. They’d been tossed because of the colour of their skin, categorized as inedible.

I purposely buy the daggiest bananas I can find because I pretty much only bake with them, or freeze them at their peak sweetness for blending. That these so called ‘imperfect’ picks are often cheap as chips some places I buy groceries is merely a bonus. The closer they are to the compost pile, the more the sugars have developed, and the more delicious they will be.

More often than not, they are perfectly fine on the inside.

Banana bread with aquafaba (do it)

This was my first attempt at using aquafaba, a byproduct of cooking chickpeas, as an egg substitute. 

Aquafaba is simply chickpea cooking water. Why use three words, when one will do, someone must have said to themselves. The stuff is basically free if you’re already making chickpeas. You could use the liquid from the canned variety, but since I’m in the habit of periodically batch cooking legumes in the slow cooker, the latter is how I came by mine.

Chickpea cooking water has the gelatinous texture of an egg white, but wouldn’t have the fat content of the yolk. This can make a difference in baking, which is not always as forgiving as straight up cooking, or assembling, or whatever you want to call making bliss balls. Proportions of wet to dry, leavener to flours, even hot to cold can make or break a recipe. So why replace eggs? I asked myself, and my sister did too. I’m not vegan and I love eggs.

Partly curiosity. I love finding ways to reframe and make use of waste materials. I’m also on board with reduce-atarian diets. Other times I just run out of eggs. It’s good to have options, and to be able to cater to a variety of diets.

I attempt to make banana bread with aquafaba as an egg substitute

I’d been planning to make banana bread anyway. Serendipitously, in the same week my bananas turned black and saggy (good), I also made a large batch of chickpeas, and I also had no hen’s eggs. Perfect time for some foodsperimentation, right?

aquafaba banana bread
Not pictured, my crossed fingers.

I riffed on this recipe, skipped the almond meal ’cause I didn’t have any, used a mixture of whole wheat, buckwheat and all purpose flours instead of gluten free (no) and used 3 TBSPs of aquafaba instead of the egg. I also didn’t melt the coconut oil, because that would be another dish and not exactly keeping it to one bowl there Dana…This is me, begging to fail.

All the ingredients went into my well loved Gumtree sourced food processor. Blitzed and poured into a metal baking pan, which in hindsight I would have greased. Baked at 160 ish celsius for 45 minutes. Done.

The verdict

I was not expecting this to work, but was prepared to eat my failure anyway. I faced no such punishment and was pleasantly surprised to pull a lovely, lightly browned loaf out of the oven.

The end result was moist. Fluffy even.The oats in the recipe added some nice muffiny texture. Sorry if that’s not apparent from my terrible food photography, but I assure you, one could feed this to anyone without apologizing first, or revealing the secret ingredient. It would taste amazing with some fresh local berries tossed into the batter.

It didn’t involve any sort of special equipment or preparation and was made with something I used to toss away. Verdict: Aquafabulous.

Next up with this so far magic ingredient, I’m looking forward to testing an eggless mayonnaise recipe, and maybe a fritter or two. The rest of the chickpea water – there was a lot from the one batch – will go to the freezer in egg sized portions for future use.

Fritter away leftovers with this easy food waste hack

Think of leftovers as a shortcut to a tasty, easy Zero Waste meal. Fritters are one of my favourite ways to use up leftover bits and bobs that might otherwise leave me uninspired. 

In January, post-holiday, I think many people come to the realization that they’ve over-catered, have too much food in the fridge, and little motivation to do anything other than toss it in the bin and start afresh.

Will it fritter?

If you find yourself in this particular situation, I want you to ask yourself this one question: Will it fritter?

Making leftovers into a simple fritter batter makes an easy dinner or breakfast. Many dishes actually taste better after a day or two in the fridge, when flavours have a chance to develop.

The basic fritter method

When making fritters, the amount of batter you’ll make depends on the amount of leftovers, but don’t worry, it’s really easy.

Start by chopping up what you have on hand and placing it in a bowl. You can do this by hand or in a food processor, like I did in this case.

chopped leftovers

Then coat with the flour of your choice – I use chickpea flour (sometimes called besan). Add a pinch of bi carb for leavening and salt to enhance the flavour.

There isn’t a strict measure, just coat and mix. I like to grind a bunch of pepper in to the batter at this point too.

Add one, two, or three eggs and stir in.

Dollop the batter onto a medium hot griddle or a cast iron pan with a bit of seasoning or oil. I like to use the BBQ hotplate during the summer.

Flip once.

Serve with some fresh greens and yogurt or salsa on top.

Here’s where a beautiful shot of the plated fritters would’ve been great. Sorry, I just went ahead and ate them.

Troubleshooting and substitutions

If your fritters don’t hold together on the grill for some reason, just go with it. Scramble them up and call it a hash. Pretend that’s exactly what you meant to do. There are no rules except that you generally want to heat up your leftovers to a safe internal temperature.

If you wanted to make it vegan, you could try a chia or aquafaba egg to replace the real egg (3 parts water to 1 part chia seeds – mix and let the mixture gel a few minutes).

If you’re using chicken’s eggs, why not explore a few surprising things you can do with the shells?

Fritters are easy, Zero Waste, and un-screw-uppable

Fritters are one of the reasons I never worry about too much roasted veg, day old corn, bits of leftover chicken, okara, lentils, quinoa, couscous… or anything else. They are also a good way to use up those last bits of condiments lurking about in your fridge. There are as many possible flavour combinations as you have leftovers.

Embrace those leftovers. Instead of tossing them, go ahead and fritter them away.