How (And Why) To Compost At Home
Food waste is a huge problem that we’ve written about before here; how food waste accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions globally than all of the commercial flights we take each year, and that if it were a country it would have the third biggest carbon footprint. A lot of that is to do with the carbon footprint of growing, transporting, and storing food, but how food waste is disposed of also has a environmental impact.
What Happens To Food You Throw Away?
If you put food waste into your regular bin and it is taken to landfill, as it rots it releases methane. Methane is more than 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. If, however, you compost your food waste in a well managed compost bin (one that lets in oxygen) then your rotting food waste traps carbon in the soil that it produces and emits far smaller volumes of greenhouse gases – potentially cutting emissions by 80%. Project Drawdown, a research organisation that identifies potential solutions to climate change, estimates that if composting levels worldwide increased, we could reduce emissions by 2.1 billion tonnes by 2050.
Council Collections And Composting In Cornwall
Last summer Cornwall Council announced that plans to shift to weekly kerb-side food waste collection and fortnightly waste and recycling collection services were to be delayed again, until 2023. Initial delays were due to required changes to transfer stations and planning permissions required, but the latest delay was down to the council needing time to “consider the implications” of potential new burdens funding being offered by the government under the Environment Bill.
With the environmental benefits of composting food waste rather than sending it to landfill so obvious, and Cornish residents now having to wait another year at least until they can send their food waste to be composted in their kerb-side waste collection, it’s well worth considering home composting.
How To Set Up A Compost Heap
There are other benefits to home composting, beyond reducing the environmental impact of your food waste. It provides nutrient-rich organic matter for your garden or house plants (if you don’t have a garden where you live) and if you do have a garden and start a compost heap, it can provide habitat for various insects, and in turn creatures such as hedgehogs who like to eat those insects.
You can, purchase a compost bin or create a compost bay or heap in a shady area of your garden. A food caddy (with a carbon filter in the lid to prevent unpleasant smells escaping) in your kitchen means that you can collect compostable waste where you create it, and then transfer it to your outside compost bin or heap when it is full, saving you daily trips down the garden.
If you are creating a compost heap then setting it on a layer of bricks or paving slabs, with gaps in between them for air flow, and containing it with old pallets or fence panels, will stop your heap from sprawling out and looking like a giant mess. A piece of old carpet or weighted down tarpaulin will keep moisture and warmth in.
What Can I Put In My Compost Heap?
From The House:
• Fruit and veg peelings, cores and scraps (uncooked)
• Coffee grounds and tea bags if the bags are plant-based (like PG Tips)
• Egg shells
• Bunches of cut flowers
• Shredded newspaper and brown (not glossy) cardboard
• If you have a small pet (rabbits, hamsters etc) that eat a plant-based diet then any natural bedding material (straw etc) and droppings can be composted.
From The Garden:
• Brown leaves (moderate amounts, don’t over-do it!)
• Grass cuttings (moderate amounts, don’t over-do it!)
• Dead plants and thin pruned cuttings – but NOT weeds or brambles, or anything too woody.
Things Not To Add:
• Cooked food
• Non-plant matter
• Pet poo from a meat-eating pet (dogs or cats)
• Weeds (seed heads, or the roots of perennials)
Ideally you want your compost to be made up of a 2:1 ratio of brown, carbon-rich material (dead leaves, coffee grounds, shredded newspaper) to green, nitrogen-rich, matter such as fruit and veg peelings or grass clippings.
Rather than adding to your compost little and often, it’s a good idea to add material in batches (say, once each week). Leave your compost well alone for the first three months before turning it with a fork. Turn your compost once a month or so to aerate it, but be careful when turning it (especially in winter) as there may be creatures such as hedgehogs or amphibians that have made it their home. In the summer months, you might want to dampen down any particularly dry material that you’re adding, and keep it covered to keep moisture in.
Your compost is ready to use and mix into your garden beds when it is rich, dark and crumbly. This can take anywhere from six months to two years to get to this stage. It’ll be worth it, though!
Other Forms of Composting
A compost bin or heap in a garden isn’t the only option for composting. You can compost in doors in small bins using the bokashi system, that uses a special inoculated bran to ferment kitchen waste into a liquid compost. Vermiculture is another option that is essentially a worm farm made up of a system of trays, and produces regular compost as well as a nutrient-rich compost “tea” all thanks to your pet worms!
Cornwall Council has partnered with Get Composting to provide a range of great value bins and accessories to encourage residents to compost their food and garden waste. You can find out more here.