Composting and waste reduction in the UK and Australia

Since moving to Australia I have taken on a couple of voluntary roles at a nearby community centre and garden run by the Australian Red Cross. One is as a community garden volunteer which, as well as general garden activities, includes planning and coordinating the garden and welcoming visitors and encouraging them to participate. The garden is also home to one of the community composting sites managed by Brisbane City Council and as a composting site volunteer I am responsible for its upkeep. I am loving my volunteer work. I have learnt so much more about gardening in such a short time, and I am able to put my composting knowledge into practice on a greater scale. But that brings me to my shortcomings: I’m in a new place with a very different climate, different potential pests, different legislation and initiatives with regard to waste reduction, and the use of different schools of thought about composting.

So I have asked myself the following questions:

How fast does the compost process take given higher temperatures?

Queensland has a sub-tropical climate and although has four seasons, like in the UK, winter here is comparable to a British summer. Using a cold composting method which requires little management and materials are added as and when, decomposition can take 6 to 12 months in the UK. At the community composting site here in Brisbane decomposition has taken approximately 4 months. This is not necessarily comparable as the bins receive a greater quantity of waste than a home composting bin. However, it does suggest that the process is significantly quicker.

What about snakes?

An inevitable question, of course, but interestingly it is not a subject that has arisen as yet at the composting site. I have been warned of spiders when pruning (‘if you see a spider, back off’), but not snakes! However, the first step for avoiding snakes in gardens and compost bins is to make them unattractive to things like rats which, as a food source, attract snakes. So, the rules are the same as in the UK: as with any pest, keep your bin/heap covered, attend to it regularly, avoid raw meat, cover food scraps with other materials, and place the bin on a fine layer of mesh.

35Popularity of worm farms?

I have noticed since being here that worm farms (wormeries) seem particularly popular, including the ‘worm swag’ as pictured. The advantages of these and compost tumblers (of which we have two in the community garden) are that they help avoid problems with pests due to being enclosed. Worm farms are also really good for apartment living given their size, enclosed nature, and the small quantity of worm castings that are produced. In comparison, I have not yet come across composting methods like the HotBin, Green Johanna and Green Cone that exist in the UK and enable people to compost things like cooked food waste that cannot go in a conventional compost bin.

preventionWaste reduction legislation – nationally and state-wide

UK waste reduction legislation is, at the moment, directed by the EU Waste Framework Directive. The Waste (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2012 are the country-specific rulings. These provide a definition of waste and include measures on waste collection and separation, recovery, landfill, and so on. The EU provides a hierarchy of waste management (with another one specific to food waste), which is an extension of the ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ mantra that most people are familiar with. The EU also sets targets for waste reduction and waste to landfill.

In Queensland the relevant legislation is the Waste Reduction and Recycling Act 2011 and aims to:

  •  “promote waste avoidance and reduction, and resource recovery and efficiency actions;
  • reduce the consumption of natural resources and minimise the disposal of waste by encouraging waste avoidance and the recovery, re-use and recycling of waste;
  • minimise the overall impact of waste generation and disposal;
  • ensure a shared responsibility between government, business and industry and the community in waste management and resource recovery; and
  • support and implement national frameworks, objectives and priorities for waste management and resource recovery.”

The Act also outlines the ‘Waste and Resource Management Hierarchy’ as:

AVOID, REDUCE, REUSE, RECOVER, TREAT, DISPOSE.

Each state in Australia has their own individual act relating to management of waste and resources, but I have been unable to find anything specific to the country as a whole. That said, the measures being undertaken are very similar to Europe.

Food waste and other waste reduction targets

Targets in the UK include: recycling half of UK household waste by 2020; reduce waste to landfill to 35% of 1995 levels by 2020; and a 20% reduction in food and drink waste by 2025.

In Queensland, targets include: reduce general waste by 5% by 2024 and reduce waste to landfill by 15% of 2012 levels by 2024. Food waste actually seems to have a far more nationwide approach but targets are much more specific to individual businesses and industries, or with regard to zero to landfill, X% to charity, etc.

85732417_005219719-1I was also very happy to read this: The Queensland Government’s state-based ban on single-use lightweight plastic shopping bags (already banned in four other states), and Container Refund Scheme, will begin on 1 July 2018! Plastic bags have been irritating me since I got here. I didn’t realise quite how much I’d taken the effect of the UK plastic bag charge for granted. In the UK I had got used to shopkeepers asking if I would like a bag; here I have to be really quick to say ‘I’ve got my own bag!’

 

 

 

 

Community composting

Ever since I started composting I’ve been fascinated by the idea, and practice, of community composting. I think a big reason from this was not so much that I lived in an urban area with minimal space for composting, but that composting -or at least the motivation to start composting – scared me. It seemed a lot of work to get started – to buy or make a bin, create some space for it, learn what I could and could not put in it and then teach my family what they could and could not put in it (still a never-ending task).

At the same time I was volunteering at a community centre. The centre was looking to tidy up and develop their composting site and overall garden and I helped out a bit with this. Sorting through the compost bins showed two things:

* people have good intentions when it comes to composting their food waste

* people do not fully understand what can and cannot be composted

Although I had brainwaves of ideas about expanding the site so members of the public could also use it, I never suggested them.

Imagine it: local residents can fill a caddy with their kitchen scraps and then take it to the community garden and empty it into their bins. When the organic matter had broken down and the compost has matured residents, if they can use it, can collect free bags of compost to use on their own gardens and the rest can be used on the community garden or even sold elsewhere to make a bit of money for the community centre.

All sounds great, doesn’t it? But unfortunately it doesn’t,  and can’t always, work like that.

Imagine someone puts things into the bin that shouldn’t be there. Cooked food or raw meat that attract vermin. Dog faeces or cat litter which spread disease. The associated risks with community composting mean that it is covered by legislation.

In the UK community composting is covered by the ‘Waste exemption: T23 aerobic composting and associated prior treatments’. Generally, compost can only be used on the site where it is produced, but community composting groups are able to apply for an exemption so long as the quantity of waste stored/treated is under 60 tonnes. This enables residents to bring their waste to a centralised site and for compost to be used on local gardens, although council health and safety officers usually recommend compost be used on the site where it is produced to keep things simple. Wormeries/worm farms also need to be declared, and depending on the quantities might also be covered by the Animal By-Products regulations which came about following the foot and mouth outbreak. Allotments and schools are two other examples of sites which would need to apply for an exemption certificate.

20170214_092503

Two months ago I moved to Brisbane, Australia. Prior to moving I was searching for community gardens as this was something I wanted to get involved in, and my search led me to Brisbane City Council’s community composting scheme and the discovery that there are currently four community composting sites in Brisbane. It didn’t take me ten seconds to sign up for the scheme, select what would be my local site, and then once I had arrived in Brisbane collect my free compost caddy! Now every week after dropping my son at school I walk the twenty minutes to the compost site to empty my caddy, easy as that!

20170109_122206

The scheme is still in its infancy and has only been running since mid-October last year. There are four sites located at community gardens throughout Brisbane – Jeays Street in Bowen Hills, Kelvin Grove, Nundah, and The Gap – with 279 residents currently participating in total (the spread across each site is fairly even). The council will be opening more sites across the city in a staged process, but it is clear that the scheme is going well so far – Jeays Street community garden has recently added another bin to their site. Over half of the Jeays Street site users live within 1km, and 14% within 2km, although the furthest someone travels is 17km! Presumably they work locally but this does suggest that there is the demand for sites elsewhere in the city.

20170227_123951.jpgThe maintenance of the composting sites are the responsibility of volunteers, although the council is on hand if any extra tools, bins, signage, etc., are needed, and they also run composting workshops. I have been to the composting site today to meet the program officer, one of the volunteers, and the community engagement officer at the community centre so that I can also get involved with this. Three of the compost bins at the site are ready to be used, and the compost is going to be spread on the raised beds (which have just been cleared) at the community garden so we can get planting! The community engagement officer has not long started and is very keen to develop the garden as it has been somewhat neglected.

So, here begins the next stage of my composting journey!

 

 

 

 

Super-composting bins

My last composting post discussed the pros and cons of non-traditional compost bins that give you the ability to compost cooked food waste. Some of these methods are particularly great if you are tight on space but the problem I find is that they don’t tick all the boxes and that limited space might eventually become overcrowded because, maybe I’ll try a wormery out next, and I really do need a green cone,  and I’m sure I can dig up a few paving stones and create my own trench (just don’t tell the folks at the property management company), not to mention the pre-existing bog-standard composting bin that’s hidden in the corner of my garden nor the two bokashi bins in my kitchen… It’s not like composting is a bad thing to get addicted to,  but you do need to be practical. Time, money, space and available materials/waste are all things to consider.

The two big names in all-encompassing super-composting bins are the HotBin and Green Johanna. Feedback from fellow Master Composters tends to favour Green Johanna but given these were heavily subsidised by the council a few years back I’m not sure this is a fair argument as the price differential would have been substantial.

Both bins are forms of hot composting which means that you will get compost far quicker than with traditional bins – in as little as 12 weeks as opposed to 6-12 months with cold composting (the HotBin suggests it can produce compost in just 30-90 days but small print adds that it will mulch within 30 days and provide rich compost by 90 days). Hot composting also means that you can add things like perennial weeds that do not always rot down fully in traditional bins and would then regrow.

14494674624_4f5abb4f77_zHotBin 

The price for this bin (through the actual company) is £165-£185 depending on whether you want the added extras. You can fill it with garden waste, kitchen peelings and all other food waste, including bones.

It is a 200l unit made from 100% recycable materials, and looks very much like a black dustbin  – in other words, not very attractive but at least it will match. To keep the bin hot it needs about 5kg of waste each week (average household food waste in 2009 according to WRAP was about 6kg) and it is also necessary to add a bulking agent to wet ingredients to ensure aeration. There is a temperature gauge supplied to make sure you’re reaching the necessary internal temperature. It is user-friendly on any surface and throughout the year.

Great if you produce a lot of waste and want readily available compost, perhaps a tad too technical for someone like me who (both with composting and gardening) likes to chuck things in, cross my fingers, and let nature do its job.

16408910286_8ac3f62640_z (1)Green Johanna 

Including a winter jacket for when temperatureshe fall below 5C this bin costs £149.95 through Green Green Systems, which also sell Green Cones.

The Green Johanna is as versatile as the HotBin although not so good if you have a lot of garden waste as it recommends two layers of food waste to one layer of garden waste. It does not come as a complete unit so some setting up is required and it does require the occasional stirring but nothing too strenuous. It produces compost in about 6 months, perhaps quicker as I have heard someone describe it as never getting full.

The manufacturers recommend a shady spot on flat grass or soil although I have seen them used on patio as well with no issues. What I like about this bin is that it is much like the traditional dalek type bin except it accepts all food waste with the same degree of simplicity and no extra bins or gadgets.

This concludes my series of posts about different types of compost bins.

Which type of bin do you use? Which bins interest you most? Why?

Composting cooked food waste

I got my first composting-related injury yesterday by bashing my knuckle against the wall while aerating my compost. If you can avoid it, please site your compost bin some distance away from brick walls. Unfortunately, I do not have that luxury, but I am now all the more tempted to purchase an aerator rather than making do with an old mop handle. Aerators, as the name suggests, help move the compost around to let the air circulate better. They do not ‘turn’ your compost as such, but do so more than prodding the heap with a long stick! They cost around £10 – £20 and are surprisingly effortless to use.

In my last blog post I looked at the conventional methods of composting. These are all well and good but when I first started composting they just didn’t appeal – as a standalone method, at least – because I couldn’t compost everything that could, technically (because it was once a living thing), be composted. My main concern was, and is, food waste. Obviously, I minimise this as much as possible but with two young children I cannot prevent it entirely and it does not then make sense to throw these no longer edible leftovers into the general waste when I am composting the rest of my kitchen waste. I cannot throw it into the compost bin because 1) it could attract pests and therefore spread disease, and 2) cooked food does not compost as quickly and effectively.

Fortunately, various methods for composting cooked food waste exist.

1) Wormeries

Worm composting – or vermiculture – creates a dark, crumbly, nutrient-rich compost as well as a liquid that can be used as plant feed (diluted 1:10). Worms – brandling/tiger worms, or night crawlers – feed on kitchen waste from one end of their body and produce casts – basically, worm manure – from the other end. These casts are the worm compost.

Wormeries come in two forms – tiered, stacking bins or a singular, non-stacking bin. The obvious advantage is with the tiered bins as this makes it far easier to harvest the worm compost because you do not have to disturb the worms. Wormeries are possibly the most varied of all bins, and can either be purchased (£40-70) or made yourself using an abundance of materials. They are also an ideal solution for anyone short on space – for example, someone who lives in a flat without a garden can produce compost inside and use this on any pot plants they may have. Wormeries are actually well-suited to indoor composting because worms prefer the warmth. And besides, it’s rather like having pets.

So, what can you put into a wormery?

The usual: veg and fruit peelings (but avoid citrus peel and onion peelings as the worms do not like it), crushed egg shells, tea leaves, coffee grounds, kitchen paper, shredded paper, egg boxes, toilet rolls, cut flowers.

The unusual: leftover cooked potatoes and other cooked vegetables, leftover rice and pasta.

Avoid: citrus fruit and onion peelings, meat, fish and dairy products, dog/cat faeces, diseased plant material, non-biodegradable materials.

Like conventional composting, remember to make sure there is a mix of greens and browns so that the bin doesn’t get too hot or wet (you don’t want to kill your worms!)

I would love to have a wormery and sometimes I think I should have got one of these before getting my bokashi bins, but we get through a lot of citrus fruit in our house, and a wormery does not solve the ‘all food waste’ problem. It is a good solution, however, if you only want to make a small amount of compost.

Bokashi bins (£20-£60 + bran (about £20 for a year))

Bokashi isn’t actually composting because it is an anaerobic process of fermenting food waste so that it can be safely composted. It uses a special bran which contains effective micro-organisms. Raw and cooked meat and fish (including bones), dairy, bread, and all other forms of cooked food can be placed in the bin alongside vegetable peelings, coffee grounds and tissues. It has been bothering me as to why manufacturers do not advise putting tea bags in so I (finally) searched for an answer – it is because the effective micro-organisms that are an essential part of the bokashi process do not work properly if the waste is too wet. The solution is to ensure teabags have dried out before they go in.

20160326_163558

The process:

Each time you put waste into the bin you have to sprinkle it with bokashi bran and squash it down to let out any air, then reseal the lid. There is a tap at the bottom where you drain off excess liquid (this can be diluted 1:100 and used as a weekly plant feed, or – it is this potent – for keeping your drains clear and fresh). It is best to have two bins because when one is full you need to leave it for 2-3 weeks to ferment, in which time you start filling the next.

On the face of it, bokashi bins are an ideal solution for anyone with minimal space who is interested in managing their kitchen waste, but the key problem is: you do not produce compost and so you still need somewhere to dispose of it. You can either add it to an active compost bin (with lots of browns!) or bury it in a trench. But you need the place to do this. I have read about universities (mainly in the USA) where they have communal compost bins, which students are able to add bokashi-treated waste to, but in the UK at least there are laws relating to community composting and what can then be done with the resultant compost, etc., so this might be more complicated to initiate. (A blog post for another day, perhaps.) Overall, I’m still in two minds about bokashi composting.

Trench composting5430765694_79edaafb69_z

A brief mention here as this is one way of disposing of bokashi-treated waste, but likewise useful for fruit and vegetable waste from kitchen and garden. In this method, you are burying your waste so that when it decomposes it adds nutrients to the soil. Trench composting is best done over the winter and early spring so you can then grow on that spot the following summer and reap the benefits!

 

 

 

hpp1Green cone (£85)

If I had a garden with a fruit tree of some description, I would have one of these. Green cones are basically food digesters. Because they are fully enclosed you can dispose of raw and cooked food waste, including meat, fish and dairy. You do not get any compost from the green cone, but if you site it by a fruit tree, for example, then this will benefit from the nutrients entering the soil.

 

 

Next post: the all-encompassing super-compost bins.

 

Choosing a compost bin

Dalek, beehive, New Zealand, bokashi, wormery, green cone…

So many types of compost bin – a tricky decision or an obsessive addiction?

Choosing a bin is not that difficult as bins exist for a range of budgets, space, agility and needs. The difficult bit is perhaps deciding which one to get first. (I remember us all looking at a fellow trainee on the Master Composer course with bemusement when she told us she had nine compost bins but by the end of the course I think we all wished we had nine compost bins!)

The following bins are suitable for traditional home composting where you do not want to compost any cooked food waste, for example.

Dalek £10 – £30photo201_tcm44-194281
(and other plastic-moulded bins)
Cheap and cheerful and does the job. Often subsidised by the council but also available at the likes of Wilkos so it’s worth shopping around.  Just as effective as more expensive bins but the main downfall is access to the finished compost as the hatch at the bottom is small and awkward. It is easier to lift the bin off completely and put the top layer of unrotted material back in the bin leaving you a pile of compost (likewise for turning the compost). This however requires body strength and enough space to resite the bin. It is also not the most attractive bin but there are ways around that if money is an issue.

8426991532_77fe7ab287_m

 

20160327_104902(Another cheap option is a compost bag. These do not seem very widespread and have mixed reviews, particularly in terms of durability, but I am currently trialling one as it met my current needs.)

 

Beehive £100 – £150
compost-bins

There is a price to pay for beauty although some models are similar to the dalek in terms of compost production and access to the finished compost. However, the compost is perhaps easier to turn and add raw materials to. Its main selling point is its attractiveness.

 

New Zealand Boxes £0 – £100

26675998015_afed3327fb_zThe main advantage with these is that you can leave one bin to decompose fully while you start adding raw materials to the next bin. These bins are wide making them easier to turn, and often have removable slats making it far easier to access the finished compost. If you are handy with wood and a toolkit then it is also easy to make your own (often at no cost if you get your hands on some old pallets). These bins are not good for anyone with limited space, but if you do have the space you are not limited to two – why not have one just for leaves to make leafmold, for example? Bins can be open or lidded depending on your circumstances.

DIY

A simple heap, old bins with the bottom cut off, straw bales, post and wire mesh, and wooden pallets are all good ways to start composting if you don’t want to buy a bin. There are plenty of instructions for these online and I also have a couple of ‘how to’ guides on these methods if you are interested.

IMG_0803

My dad’s homemade bin

My next post will look at more unconventional composting methods but in the meantime go out and buy/make a bin and get composting!

20160507_113143[1]

At my first workshop.

What can be composted?

Strictly speaking, anything that once lived can be composted. This list includes anything from plants, food waste and dead animals to excrement and anything made from natural fibres. However, time, space, smell, disease and unwelcome pests are all factors to consider when determining what to compost at home (for non-domestic composting there is also legislation to abide by, particularly the animal by-products regulations which came about following the foot-and-mouth crisis).

19097872003_02d396ebbd_q (2)Compost needs warmth, air, water and raw materials. These raw materials fall into two groups: greens and browns. Greens are the wet stuff like vegetable peelings that are nitrogen-rich and quick to rot, and browns are the dry, carbon-rich things like toilet rolls and autumn leaves that are slower to rot but they help provide air pockets so the air can circulate through your compost. A balance between the two is essential for good compost. Although some schools of thought recommend ‘layering’ greens and browns, Garden Organic teach that this is not necessary so long as equal amounts of both are going into the bin, and suggest mixing drier, tougher ingredients with greens before adding them to the bin. This can be a challenge depending on your set-up – if you have a big garden and collect lots of garden waste then you might not need to worry. But, I find I have to pair my kitchen waste with things like toilet rolls, egg boxes, and other paper recyclables.

 

How can you tell if you’re getting the balance right?

diagram

 

 

‘Greens’ (nitrogen-rich ingredients)

6981911764_9b4033872d_m

  • Young weeds
  • Nettles (not roots)
  • Comfrey leaves – compost separately to make a comfrey solution, a natural plant food (a fellow Master Composter uses an old bokashi bin for this purpose)
  • Urine (ideally diluted 20:1)!
  • Uncooked fruit and vegetable peelings
  • Tea bags, leaves and coffee grounds (including coffee filters – make sure you choose biodegradable teabags and coffee filters)
  • Soft green prunings
  • Animal manure from herbivores (e.g. cows and horses)

 

‘Browns’ (carbon-rich ingredients)

26135772520_66ec2da8a5_q

  • Cardboard (e.g. cereal packets, toilet roll tubes and egg boxes)
  • Waste paper and junk mail, including shredded confidential waste (watch out for any plastic packaging)
  • Paper towels & bags
  • Bedding (hay, straw, shredded paper, wood shavings) from vegetarian pets (e.g. rabbits and guinea pigs)
  • Tough hedge clippings
  • Woody prunings
  • Old bedding plants
  • Straw
  • Egg shells (ideally crushed)
  • Natural fibres (e.g. wool and cotton)
  • Hair (avoid if it has been chemically treated with hair dye)

 

Cautions:

  • Grass cuttings – can be composted in moderation (mixed with dry material to create air pockets) but far better to compost separately, leave on the grass for the worms, or use as a mulch
  • Autumn leaves – can also be composted in moderation but far better to compost separately to make leaf mold26402462130_d3ab2aed04
  • Meat, fish, dairy products or cooked food (alternative methods are available – e.g. bokashi, green cone, trench)
  • Coal & coke ash
  • Cat litter and dog faeces (alternative methods are available, likewise composting toilets for human faeces)
  • Disposable nappies (even biodegradable nappies may take several years to fully decompose and unless a vegetarian diet is being followed then soiled nappies should be disposed of separately)
  • Do not compost anything that has been chemically treated – e.g. wood, carpets, dyed hair

 

Just because something is considered a caution does not mean it will not compost. As I stated at the beginning, anything that lived can theoretically be composted, but we can’t just pile it all on a compost heap without considering the environment around us. Some things, like large woody prunings and Christmas trees should be shredded before being added to a heap (it is also noteworthy that some Christmas trees are sprayed with fire retardant and you do not want those chemicals mixing in with your nutritious compost) but the quantity may still be too much for the domestic compost. Industrial composting (where council green waste collections end up) are therefore more suitable for large garden waste and things like poisonous plants and weeds which need higher heats to ensure they will not be harmful to the soil and plants. Food waste has the risk of attracting pests, and spreading disease. Likewise, the excrement of non-vegetarian animals. However, there are ways of composting these things in a domestic environment. My next post will look at conventional compost bins. Following that I will explore the more non-conventional options.

25840525362_722f96a00a_m

The above photo was taken on my training weekend (I’m the second one in with glasses). We had to use some of the resources available to us to set up a stall to show people about composting. I am running my first composting workshop on Saturday. If anyone lives locally (Loughborough, UK), then please check out the details here and book a place!

 

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?

***

(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!)

***

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.

Home composting – anyone can do it

Around 40 – 45% of household waste can be composted, yet in the UK only 25% of households are currently composting their kitchen and garden waste. Do you compost? If so, why? And if you don’t, why not? I would love to receive your comments below.

As for me, I only started composting relatively recently. I had wanted to for a long time but I didn’t think I could. My experiences of composting were my grandma’s compost heaps, hidden away in two different corners of her very large flower- and veg-filled garden, and a compost tumbler at a youth hostel I worked at. In both cases, the resultant compost was scattered on the gardens. I live in a flat with a small gravel- and paving slab-style garden (but a garden nonetheless). I didn’t have space for a compost bin. And even if I did I only had a few measly pot plants to use the compost on. And then there was the start-up cost…

But, I found a way. I made space, I added a few more pots, and it didn’t cost me the earth (in fact, it is possible to do it for nothing). This was the result: a pair of bokashi bins that take not just vegetable peelings and coffee grounds, but also cooked food, meat, fish and dairy, and a collapsible composting bag which fits neatly out of the way and does not look intrusive.

Why? Because I hated the fact that my kitchen waste was going into the bin when I could put it to better use. That, and composting looked like fun.

In order to learn more about composting, and also to help raise awareness of ways to reduce food waste, I have become a Master Composter (MC). I have been trained by Garden Organic on behalf of Leicestershire Waste Partnership to:

  • Raise awareness of the benefits of home composting;
  • Encourage more people to compost at home; and
  • Help those who already compost to do so more effectively.

The overall aim is to reduce the quantity of waste going to landfill by changing people’s behaviour in relation to recycling and, particularly, composting.

The beauty of composting is that anyone can do it. And why shouldn’t they? It is nature’s way of recycling the nutrients that exist in all living things and returning them to the soil to feed future generations of plants and animals. Yes, it might seem a bit of a hassle, and perhaps you don’t see what the ‘point’ of it is, but the thing that really stuck with me from my training course was that composting enables us to take responsibility for our own waste.

Waste is like scuff marks on the wall – as soon as you start noticing them you find them everywhere, and you need to get rid of them. It is at that point you realise what is unnecessary – for example, a certain item of food is always getting thrown away – and where you can save money (the average family throws away £60 of perfectly edible food each month). So even if the environmental arguments don’t resonate with you and motivate you to compost, there are personal motivating factors too.  I will discuss these various motivating factors in my next post, hopefully with a little of your help too.

This series of blog posts is going to cover (among other things):

  • Why compost?
  • Different methods of composting (a few examples in the images above)
  • Composting basics – e.g. what can you compost?
  • A particular focus on bokashi composting, wormeries, and other composting methods for those tight on space
  • Composting with kids
  • Useful resources
  • Troubleshooting
  • My personal composting experiences, including a snapshot of my food waste over a period of time

If you can’t wait for me to write these posts and want to know more now, my fellow MC, Joolz, has written an overview of composting here.

If you have any questions, or anything that you would like me to address in these posts, please leave a comment. And don’t forget to answer the question below.

 Do you compost? If so, why? And if you don’t, why not?