We all want to do our bit to help the environment, and it turns out there are a lot of ways to do that – including reducing the amount of food we send to landfill.
Once food begins to rot in landfill, it produces methane – an extremely harmful greenhouse gas. This is why food waste currently accounts for about 6% of the world’s total global greenhouse gas emissions.
A key way we can all combat this issue is to start composting food. Thankfully, this can be done pretty easily from the comfort of your own home – and we’re here to show you how.
What’s on this page?
What is a compost bin?
Put simply, a compost bin is a container that you place in your garden to reduce waste. All you have to do is add organic materials – such as leftover food – into the bin, which will then decompose naturally over time and turn into compost.
Once the waste has decomposed completely, you’ll be left with a natural fertilizer, rich in plant nutrients and beneficial organisms.
1. First, you need to choose the right type of bin
Before you dive right into composting, you need to figure out which container will be best suited for your garden. A few examples induce:
- Plastic compost bin – The plastic retains moisture and heat, which leads to faster decomposition, and blocks out light to stop weeds regrowing. These bins are ideal for a small space, but should be placed on grass or soil
- Hot compost bins – The close-fitting lid insulates the compost, which will increase the temperature and decomposes the materials in about 30-90 days, rather than the usual six months
- Wormery compost bin – Perfect for composting food waste on a small scale, this bin uses worms to break down the compost quickly. Compost worms can also be added to larger bins if you want to speed up the process
- Make your own compost bin – You can do this by using wooden pallets or corrugated iron, and enclosing the sides to retain heat. Ideally, you don’t want your bin to be less than one cubic metre, as it will be much less effective than larger ones
2. Choose a good spot for your compost bin
Your compost bin is basically home to a mini ecosystem, so you want to make sure the conditions are perfect to keep everything running smoothly.
You should place your compost bin in a reasonably sunny spot to increase the temperature inside. At the same time, it’s important to make sure the bin doesn’t experience extreme temperature and moisture.
You can overcome this by placing your bin in an area that gets some sunlight, but also has shade around it to prevent overheating.
If you can, place your bin on bare soil – this makes it very easy for important microbes and insects to access the rotting material. It also allows for better aeration and drainage, which are both key for successful composting.
3. Start building your compost pile
This is where a lot of people get intimidated, but don’t fret – we’re here to guide you through the process.
- Start your compost pile on bare earth – You can also lay twigs or straw at the base to help with drainage, and to help aerate the pile
- Add compost materials in layers – Alternate the layers between green and brown materials (we cover this further down the page)
- Keep compost moist by watering occasionally – Be careful not to water too much, though. The compost should be moist, but not sodden
- Cover the top – This can be with a lid, a piece of wood, plastic sheeting, carpet scraps – anything that will retain moisture and heat, and keep rainwater out
Once you’ve created your compost pile, continue to add new materials by mixing them in, rather than by adding them in layers.
4. Turn your compost
For truly successful composting, you’ll need to add some oxygen to the mix every now and then. You can do this by simply giving the pile a quick turn with a pitchfork or shovel every few weeks.
What should you put in your compost?
Composting is more than just chucking items in a bin and hoping for the best – there’s a certain science to it.
You need to have a mixture of materials high in nitrogen and carbon – also known as ‘green’ and ‘brown’ materials. We’ve listed a few examples below:
|Green materials (high in nitrogen)||Brown materials (high in carbon)|
|Fruit and vegetables||Autumn leaves|
|Uncooked kitchen scraps (e.g. banana peels, cauliflower leaves, broccoli stems)||Wood chippings|
|Animal manure (cow, horse, sheep, chicken, and rabbit are all great, but steer clear of dog and cat manure)||Paper (e.g. newspaper, plain paper, toilet paper), torn up or shredded|
|Garden waste (e.g. grass clippings, old flowers, pondweeds)||Wooden garden trimmings|
|Coffee grounds and tea bags (you might need to remove the tea from the bag, depending on the brand)||Straw|
|Trimmings from plants||Pine needles and cones (use sparingly, as these are slow to decompose)|
|Eggshells||Twigs, chipped tree branches, bark|
|Seaweed (in moderation)||Cotton fabric (in moderation)|
|Corrugated cardboard (without any waxy coatings)|
Make sure that all items are cut or shredded into smaller sizes to help quicken the process.
You’ll also need to watch how much of each type of material you’re putting in. The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) advises aiming for between 25% and 50% soft green materials, with the rest as woody brown material.
If you’re unable to maintain this ratio, it’s not the end of the world – the microbes just won’t decompose the material as fast.
What shouldn’t you put in a compost bin?
- Coal ash – Sulfur and iron can damage or even kill microbes and insects
- Coloured paper – Heavy metals and other toxic materials in the ink can damage or kill microbes and insects
- Diseased plants – If the diseased organisms are not destroyed, they can spread later when the compost is applied to your garden
- Inorganic materials – This stuff, including aluminium foil, glass, plastics, and metals, won’t be able to break down
- Meat, bones, fish, fats, and dairy – These items can attract unwanted pests and leave your bin smelling pretty awful
- Pet waste – Dog and cat poo contain several disease organisms, and can make compost toxic to handle
- Synthetic chemicals – Some garden chemicals, such as pesticides, can survive the composting process and will remain in the finished compost
- Baked goods and cooked grains – Rice and freshly-baked bread products can grow bad bacteria in a compost pile, as well as attract rodents
- Cigarette butts – You’ll be left with plastic filters in your nutrient-filled compost. Plus, cigarettes are filled with nasty chemicals
- Highly acidic foods – Citrusy foods can actually kill the good bacteria in your compost pile
- Weeds – Some weeds could potentially start to grow throughout your organic waste
Top 7 benefits of composting
- Improves the quality of your soil – Compost improves soil structure, keeps the soil's pH balance in check, and provides more nutrients for home-grown food
- Keeps chemicals out of your garden – Your compost will be a natural fertiliser
- Lowers your carbon footprint – You’ll be reducing the amount of methane emissions in landfills. Plus, compost can actually remove existing carbon emissions by storing them in the soil, instead of releasing them into the air
- Cheap to set up – All you need is the container and leftover scraps
- Saves money – You won’t have to pay for food waste collections or fertilisers, and it could help reduce water usage since compost reduces water evaporation
- Helps local biodiversity – By increasing the microorganisms present, you’re also helping local worm populations, which has a knock-on effect on other local wildlife
- Prevents pests from munching on plants – Say goodbye to hole-covered leaves in your garden!
Can everyone compost?
Yes! Obviously, it helps if you have a big garden, but there are ways around that if you don’t.
If you don’t have any grass or soil in your garden, you can still compost to reduce your carbon footprint, then use the final product on indoor plants.
To introduce the natural bacteria and other microorganisms, you can start off by adding a layer of soil to the bottom of your bin. You can also try adding some worms to the compost, since they won’t be able to access the bin through the ground.
Haven’t got a garden, or think your garden will be too small? You can always experiment with indoor composting.
It works exactly the same as an outdoor composting setup, but on a much smaller scale. Plus, as more people look into composting inside, tonnes of sleek, hygienic indoor bins are now on the market for affordable prices.
There you have it – everything you need to know about composting at home. It might seem like a lot to take in at first, but once you get stuck in, all you have to do is let the worms and microorganisms do the hard work.