Bokashi Composting Basics: The Food Waste Solution for the Sustainable College Student

Ask yourself this question: How many times do you take your trash out in a single month? Once? Twice? Three times? Even four?

Why does it matter how much waste we throw away? Waste in landfills releases methane and CO2, which has an impact on global climate change1. We also end up throwing away beneficial materials, like food waste, that can be used productively for other purposes.

In early January, I participated in a Zero Waste Week challenge as an intern in the Office of Sustainability to become more aware of what I was throwing away. During the challenge, I tried to find new ways to reduce my own carbon footprint, and I discovered that about 90% of my waste was related to food – food packaging, food scraps (like broccoli stems), and food that had gone bad in the refrigerator. I started searching for ways to reduce my food waste, and that’s when I stumbled upon Bokashi composting.

The bokashi system is the ideal food waste solution for the sustainable college student because it’s an odorless form of composting that can take place indoors. Today, I’d like to introduce you to the concept of bokashi composting, explain how you can set up your own system at home, and compare the benefits and drawbacks of the bokashi system in a college setting.

bokashi_landing-4418

Image from yardfarmaustin.com.

What is Bokashi composting?

In general, composting accelerates the natural decomposition process of organic materials2. Composting is great for the environment because it reduces the amount of waste you send to the landfill and it turns that waste into a useful product.

Now bokashi compost works a little differently than your typical compost pile. “Bokashi” is a Japanese term that means “fermented organic matter,” and the bokashi itself is a dry mixture of bran, molasses, water and “effective microorganisms”3. These microorganisms ferment food scraps without creating a foul-smelling odor.

Basically, the bokashi breaks food down from the inside out and turns waste into really great soil using a much faster process than traditional composting.

diybokashibucket1

Image from static1.1.sqspcdn.com

How to start a Bokashi system

Starting a bokashi system in your own residence hall or apartment is simple!

First, you’ll need to purchase or make your own bokashi composting kit. There are two main components to bokashi composting: an airtight container and the bokashi itself. My bokashi kit was purchased online. A ready-made bokashi kit can cost anywhere from $30 to $100 depending on how many buckets are included, and bokashi microbes cost about $15 per 2 lb bag. Because the kit can be a little expensive, I actually asked for bokashi as a Christmas present to help offset some of the initial set-up costs.

You can also create a DIY bokashi kit using a bucket with a lid as an airtight container, and there are recipes online that can teach you how to make your own bokashi. Buckets cost about $15 and DIY bokashi ingredients cost about $22 for a 50 lb bag (get the recipe here).

Once you’ve got your bokashi composting kit in place, the actual composting process is relatively simple and can be broken down into two stages4.

Bokashi+buckets+005

A typical bokashi system includes at least a bucket and bokashi bran. Image from static1.squarespace.com.

Stage One: Ferment your food scraps.

  1. Start your bokashi compost by placing a small amount of bokashi into the bottom of your bucket.
  2. Add your first layer of food scraps into the bucket and sprinkle a small amount of bokashi on top of the layer.
  3. Press the food scraps down to eliminate air pockets and put the lid back on the bucket.
  4. Repeat this process until your large, airtight bucket is filled to the brim with layers of food scraps and bokashi.
  5. Let the full bucket sit sealed and undisturbed for two weeks.

Stage Two: Neutralize your bokashi compost.

The second stage of bokashi composting turns bokashi into fertile soil. After the food waste has fermented in the bucket it’s very acidic, and it will need to neutralize before it’s safe for plant roots. Ideally, bokashi compost should be buried in a 20 centimeter-deep hole. Then after two to four weeks, you can plant into the bokashi-enriched soil.

Bokashi composting in a college setting: Pros and cons

Pros

Cons

  • Bokashi composting handles virtually all food wastes, even cheese, dairy, meat, fish, and leftover bones.
  •  The bokashi system is low odor. My bokashi bucket lives in the closet under my stairs, and I really can’t smell anything from the compost at all!
  • Bokashi composting can be done indoors, which is ideal for college students who don’t have the luxury of a backyard.
  • Bokashi composting doesn’t attract insects, not even fruit flies.
  • Bokashi composting doesn’t produce greenhouse gases. While normal composting processes produce CO2, the types of microbes that produce methane can’t survive in the acidic conditions of the bokashi bucket.5
  • Stage two of bokashi composting requires that you bury your waste in a hole in the ground, which might not be feasible for students.

Solution: Bury your bokashi waste in a large indoor or balcony planter. Give your compost to someone who has a backyard. Donate your bokashi compost to a local garden.

  •  Purchasing the bokashi itself is an added expense that will have to be paid somewhat regularly. Even if you make bokashi yourself, you’ll still have to purchase the materials.

Solution: Although you have to purchase ingredients, one batch can last for a long time. You’ll also save money on things like garbage liners and fertilizer, which you’ll use less frequently!

For college students looking for a way to create less waste, the bokashi system is an ideal form of composting because it’s odorless and can be done indoors.

Now even if this blog post hasn’t convinced you to go out and buy a bokashi system, I really encourage you to try and become more aware of your waste and the number of times you’re hauling your trash to the dumpster each month. Take your own personal Zero Waste Week challenge, and keep checking the blog for an in-depth look at the Live Green! team’s experience with the challenge!

12_GoshenCollegeComposting1_jhb

Image from goshen.edu.


For more about the Bokashi composting process, check out the links below:


Author: Laurelin Haas, Live Green! Campus and Community Engagement intern
Featured Image: bokashi.com.au

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