Every week we bring you a simple idea for reducing your carbon footprint and protecting the planet. This week: how to start a compost pile (and what to do if you don’t have a garden).
You’ve probably heard the shocking statistics surrounding food waste. In the UK, households throw away around seven million tonnes of food every year – much of which could have been eaten. For the average family, this adds up to around £700 of shopping, and a lot of it ends up in landfill where it rots and releases damaging methane gas.
There are lots of ways of reducing the food waste you create, but some will always be unavoidable. There are only so many things you can do with peelings, cores, bones and egg shells, after all! But as unappealing as these things are, they can still be put to good use as a helpful material for compost, which can then be used throughout your garden.
Why should I compost?
Using compost in your garden is good for a lot of reasons:
- It adds nutrients and beneficial microbes to your garden, which helps plants to grow.
- It saves water by helping soil hold moisture and reduce water runoff.
- It reduces the need for chemical soil conditioners and fertilisers.
- It helps the environment by recycling organic materials and conserving landfill space.
Is making my own compost better than buying peat?
Yes! Not only is it considerably less expensive to make your own compost, but peat is actually a very problematic gardening material. Peatlands – where peat is formed over hundreds and thousands of years – are unique ecosystems, and when they’re dug up, those ecosystems are disrupted. Peatlands are also massive carbon sinks, so without them there’s more CO2 in the atmosphere. Sadly, the UK’s peatlands have nearly been destroyed, with the government taking action to preserve those that remain.
How do I make my own compost?
Making your own compost is simple.
- Choose an outdoor space for your compost heap – at least three square feet preferably in a shady area.
- Get hold of a compost bin (or make your own) – preferably with a lid. If it doesn’t have a lid, use chicken wire to stop animals from foraging through it.
- Add your materials – the trick is to aim for equal amounts of brown and green waste. Brown matter includes dry items such as wood shavings, dry leaves and even old newspapers. Green waste includes moist materials such as fruit and vegetables.
- Make sure the pile has ample oxygen and moisture, which helps the composting process along and prevents rotting. Sprinkle the pile with water every now and then (unless it’s wet enough from your scraps) and regularly (every week or two) stir the pile with a stick to give it an airing.
How do I use my compost?
After a few weeks, your scraps will turn to soil, then it’s ready to be incorporated into garden beds or sprinkled on top. It’s particularly effective if you grow your own veg, too. Bear in mind, though, that compost is not designed to completely replace your soil, but rather act as a natural fertiliser to support your soil and plants – add it a few times a year for best results.
Are there any reasons why I shouldn’t compost?
Composting is simple and straightforward, and it comes with a lot of benefits, but there’s only really an environmental pay-off involved if you actively use the compost for gardening (or give it to someone who will). If you don’t, the pile will just sit there getting bigger and bigger, eventually rotting and releasing the damaging gases you were trying to avoid in the first place. Plus, it’ll stink!
If you don’t think you’ll actually use the compost – or if you don’t have space for a compost heap in the first place – you’re much better off using a food caddy for your waste materials. A food caddy is a small container that sits in your kitchen, designed to collect food scraps and other biodegradable material. If your council offers a food waste collection service, they’ll probably be able to provide one for you, or you can purchase your own from most hardware stores. Check to see if your council will collect your food waste here.
Whether you make a compost pile or use a food caddy, getting into the habit of managing your food scraps – instead of just chucking them in the bin – is a great way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet. Plus, the more you handle your food scraps, the more aware you’ll be of the food waste you’re creating, helping you get an idea of areas you can cut it back.
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