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Minimising Food Waste: Composting

By: Sarah O'Hara BA (hons) - Updated: 20 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
Composting What You Can Compost What You

Although food waste is organic and will generally decompose, when mixed with other materials and put into landfill food waste can contribute to the production and release of harmful gases which potentially cause environmental damage.

However, by composting your food waste, you can actually use it to put goodness back into the earth. Composting is when waste decomposes to make compost. You can use this nutrient-rich compost in your garden.

Composting Food Waste

You can compost most types of food waste, but some shouldn’t be composted.

You can compost:

  • Uncooked vegetables and peelings
  • Salad
  • Fruit
  • Tea bags
  • Crushed egg shells
  • Coffee grounds
  • Non-food materials such as plants and flowers, grass clippings, leaves and shredded paper, cardboard.

You Can’t Compost

  • Food which has been cooked. Cooked food, even vegetables, can attract vermin
  • Meat or fish
  • Dairy products
  • Non-food items such as cat or dog litter, large pieces of wood, coal ash
  • Plastics and metals.

How to Compost

You will need to buy or make a compost bin to keep your waste/compost in. These are available online, from garden centres and possibly from your local council. Check with your council first as they often provide the bins at a discounted rate.

Instructions are available online for making your own compost bin. You can construct them from readily available materials such as wood, bricks, tyres and mesh. In fact, making your own compost bin is a further way to minimise waste.

Put your compost bin on a level, well-drained area. Make sure that the base of your compost bin is open and place it on soil ideally. This is so that the compost can absorb nutrients and moisture from the soil below easily. It also enables creatures like worms to get into the waste and they help break it down into compost.

Cover the compost bin with tarpaulin or another waterproof cover. After three months remove the lid and stir the compost around. Re-cover for another three months. You can keep doing this until the compost is ready.

The compost can take anything from six months to 18 months to be ready to add back to your garden. The speed will depend on the materials you use. You’ll know your compost is ready when the consistency is even and the compost is dark brown and crumbly, with an earthy smell.

Tips for Composting

The ideal composting mixture will be a combination of all the materials in the first list above.

As in cooking, smaller items will compost faster than large ones. So for an even composting process it will help to cut any large items of waste up into smaller chunks.

Your waste will compost fastest if you add fresh waste regularly. The compost needs regular moisture to stay healthy.

Putting your compost bin somewhere quite sunny can speed up the composting process.

You can buy compost activators at garden centres. These liquids speed up the composting process.

If your compost is giving off an especially strong odour, it’s likely that it is too wet. Add more materials such as wood chips, paper or cardboard.

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We keep a small pail under the sink for tea bags, coffee grounds and vegetable peelings. This cuts down on the amount of household waste that goes into the bins and recycles it. However, you do need to remember to empty it into the compose bin every single day, which might not be the nicest chore when it's cold and snowy or rainy outside in the middle of winter. But it's worth it in order to feed the compost bin regularly and for what you'll get out of it.
Chris N - 3-Jul-12 @ 5:52 AM
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