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Composting at Home can reduce your carbon emissions and food waste!

What is Compost?

Compost is organic matter – like plant trimmings and food waste – which is decaying and being broken down into a more useful form. 

Why go to the effort of composting?

Composting has two main benefits: it reduces the amount of food waste you produce and it provides you with free fertiliser for your plants! If you’re a keen gardener or food grower it also gives you somewhere to put food waste grass cutting and plant clippings. Again, by composting, we are helping to encourage a Circular Economy!

Reducing food waste is important if we are to lower our carbon footprint. Unfortunately, even if we shop carefully, some waste is unavoidable. When waste like vegetable skins, fruit peels and egg shells are sent to landfill they rot and produce methane, which is a greenhouse gas that is 84 times more potent than CO2. This contributes to climate change. Composting does not produce methane and traps some of the carbon from food waste and stops it from re-entering the atmosphere.  Compost is a great habitat for all sorts of worms and insects so it also helps encourage biodiversity.

Soil is made up of four main components: water, air, inorganic minerals and organic matter, also called humus. Plants thrive in soil with plenty of organic matter – it provides nutrients which help them grow. Mixing compost in with your soil increases the amount of organic matter. Some local councils carry out their own composting – check your councils page to see what their policy is.

How do you compost?

Getting started with composting can seem like a daunting process but don’t panic! The core principle is really quite simple. You need to provide the right conditions for small animals (insects and worms) and microorganisms to break your waste down. That’s it!   

There are a few considerations to for getting started:

Keep it warm: Microorganisms like the warmth. Luckily as compost is broken down it generates its own heat!

Make a Heap: This is the easiest way to start composting. Simply pick a spot and start piling your waste up! Keeping it together means the warmth from decomposing material at the bottom speeds the process at the top. It also allows a community of useful microorganisms to develop. The older your heap the more efficient it will be at breaking down waste! Layering the heap with twigs or shredded newspaper will help keep it aerated and healthy.

 

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Get a bin: A bin or box can help keep your compost together and trap warmth. You can buy all sorts of fancy composters online or simply build one yourself. If you go for building your own be sure to include air holes and consider how you’ll collect compost from the bottom of the bin. Often bins are designed so you can access the compost at the bottom through a door meaning less mess and fuss for you.

Keep it turning: Microorganisms need oxygen to turn your waste into compost. Without it, decomposition can slow and your heap might start to smell. Turning your heap with a pitchfork, shovel, or by hand if you’re feeling earthy, can help keep everything ticking over.

What can go in my compost?

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Weeds, grass cuttings, vegetable peels and coffee grounds are perfect for composting. Tea should be removed from bags before you put it in as the bag contains plastic and is difficult to break down. Manure from vegetarian animals (like rabbits) can also go in. A certain amount of shredded newspaper can help keep your compost aerated but be sure to remove staples. Paper doesn’t contain many nutrients so best not to overload your compost with it (keep it to less than a third of the total weigh you add).

What should I avoid putting in my compost?

Meat, fish and dairy shouldn’t go in – these can be dangerous as they decompose and might also attract rats and other unwanted visitors. They will also smell as they decompose – not something you want in the garden! Foods cooked with oils or fats can have the same effect. For similar reasons dog or cat poo shouldn’t be added. Although most plant trimmings are fine, evergreen leaves– like holly and pine – shouldn’t go in as they disrupt the microbes. You should also be careful that you don’t let any plastic get into your compost.

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How do I know when its ready?

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When your compost looks like rich, dark earth with not too many lumps its ready to go -simple as that!

Will it smell?

A healthy compost will have a mild earthy smell (a bit like mushrooms). Most people won’t notice this unless they stick their head directly into the heap! If you have a particularly sensitive nose it might be best to locate your compost somewhere out of the way.

What should I do with my compost?

Mix your compost in with soil before planting seeds and seedlings. You can also scatter it around to give mature plants a boost. If you have more compost than you can use, why not see if neighbours or friends would be interested in trading compost for some homegrown food?

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Article written by Daire Carroll

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