Benefits of home composting

‘My better half and conscience does it for me’ was my husband’s response to the question on my previous post: Do you compost? Why/why not? He deleted the comment, but he did raise a good point. A common reason why people don’t compost is that they don’t feel they need to, or indeed that they should, because someone else does it. They pay their council tax, part of which goes towards refuge collection and waste management, so why should it be their responsibility? However, this argument also leads to a common motivating factor for taking up composting: many councils have started to charge for green waste bins and composting is an ideal way of avoiding this charge.

The reasons for composting tend to fall under three categories:

  • Benefits to you
  • Benefits to your garden
  • Environmental benefits

 

Benefits to you

These are primarily money saving – not just in terms of not having to pay for a green waste bin, but because, in the long term, you will save on purchasing fertilisers, soil conditioners and potting compost. Segregating your waste also makes you more aware of what you are throwing away and will influence the way you shop, cook and plan meals. Waste collections in many areas are not as frequent as they used to be and through composting you will not fill up your general waste bin too quickly, therefore minimising the risks of bad smells and pests.

Benefits to you can also be more personal – even if it is only to the end of your garden, composting gets you outside in the fresh air, walking a little bit further than perhaps you otherwise would. Even if you are not a keen gardener, composting may actually inspire you to try and gardening is therapeutic in its own way. Composting is also a fantastic way of getting children involved. It is not only educational, but it is fun, particularly if you have a dirt-loving, creepy-crawly-loving kid on your hands. My children have picked up what to do really quickly (when I was first explaining to Harry what composting was he stopped me mid-sentence and said ‘like Peppa Pig did’, referring to this episode).

 

Benefits to your garden

One response to my question last time was that the respondent was keen to start composting because they needed to improve their garden soil. There is no question that composting offers benefits to your garden. The process itself is returning nutrients to the ground which feeds the creatures that keep the soil healthy, and provides nourishment for plants. In addition, it improves the condition of soil itself – for example, heavy clay soil becomes lighter which means it drains better, and light soil has more body so that it retains necessary water much easier – and helps protect plants against pests and diseases. Composting also eliminates the need for incinerators and bonfires, which are now banned in many places and are not effective use of resources anyway.

 

Environmental benefits

There is a misconception by some that sending waste to landfill only slows down the process of decay but because landfill is without air decomposition is an anaerobic process, a side effect of which is methane, a major greenhouse gas which contributes to global warming. With the Landfill Directive giving targets to reduce the quantity of waste going to landfill, with the eventual aim of zero to landfill, we not only have an environmental responsibility but also a legal responsibility to find other ways to dispose of our waste (the mantra being: reduce, reuse, recycle, recover). Furthermore, the Sustainable Development Goals place emphasis on everyone to do their bit: governments, businesses, but also individuals. Composting is a way that we can independently recycle around 40% of our waste.

In addition to cutting landfill and reducing greenhouse gases, composting also benefits the environment by providing habitats for wildfire in your garden, and also by not using peat (read the pack of various bags of compost in the shops and it is incredible to see how much peat these contain, even when they state ‘low peat content’!). The problem with using peat bogs is that extracting peat disturbs a diverse and rare population of plant and animal life, and also releases one million metric tons of carbon dioxide (another contributor to global warming). This can be avoided by buying peat-free compost, but even this is more resource and energy-intensive than making your own.

***

(Another aspect, which I have not mentioned, are the potential social benefits – for example, the social cohesion of a community that sets up a communal compost heap to enable those who live in flats or temporary accommodation (students are a good example for this) to compost their waste. I will be writing about community composting at a later date.)

***

However, it would be unfair to solely look at the benefits of home composting, because there are disadvantages too. Key concerns are the risk of smells, pests and disease and it would be silly to say this doesn’t happen because if composting is not done properly then they can. Likewise, home composting might not be the most convenient option, perhaps because of a health problem or where you live, but again, this does not mean it should be ruled out because there are so many different ways to compost that enable anyone to do so.

But the other thing is that although composting enables us to tackle our waste head on it does not explicitly address the route of the problem. Are you only composting unavoidable food waste (such as banana skins, egg shells and teabags)? What happens to your avoidable food waste (leftover meals, or out of date produce)? There are composting systems available which enable you to compost cooked food, as well as raw meat, fish and bones, but do these systems make the composter address the problem of food waste or do they become complacent because they think ‘at least it is getting recycled into compost rather than going to landfill’. From a catering industry perspective, food waste is collected and used to produce energy (the ‘recover’ stage of the above mentioned mantra, otherwise known as the waste hierarchy), but surely it is better to redistribute this food to those in food poverty, as some businesses do, or to somehow prevent the waste in the first place?

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(I think it is important to note here that the definition of food waste is various and wide, partly because of so-called unavoidable food waste. From a composting perspective waste does not just include food waste – be it cooked, uncooked, unavoidable – but also garden waste and paper/cardboard. My next post will look at what you can actually compost, and you may be surprised!)

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Each of us if likely to read the above and place more emphasis on certain points and less on others. For me, garden benefits are currently not very important, whereas the educational aspect of composting is somewhere in the middle, and the environmental aspects, particularly in terms of waste disposal, are nearer the top. Most of all, is the organic nature of composting. If ever I had to explain why I breastfed my children I would say ‘it is what nature intended’. Composting is the same. Anything that has lived has the microorganisms upon it that enable it to decay when it dies, and return it to the ground from whence it came. It’s just common sense.

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One thought on “Benefits of home composting

  1. Pingback: Benefits of home composting | Food, waste and other stories – WORLD ORGANIC NEWS

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