It is common for people to assume that the perishable part of household waste (mainly food) should be sent to landfill, where it slowly decomposes. Whereas it doesn’t pose a major waste problem as it is biodegradable, it does generate methane gas, which is a pollutant.If an effort can be to reduce the amounts of methane gas being released into the atmosphere, it is definitely worth making. A further use for this waste actually exists, as part of a natural and efficient fertiliser, referred to as compost.

What compost is

Compost is a solid fertiliser obtained from organic matter of vegetal or animal origin, which is allowed to suffer physical and chemical transformations through the process of decomposition. It can be obtained without mechanical interference, by storing the suitable waste into a container and allowing it to naturally decompose; this involves longer periods of time. It can also be obtained within shorter intervals by speeding up the process , either with the aid of worms or by grinding the waste into smaller bits.


What can be turned into compost

Fresh matter of vegetable origin: That includes mostly garden waste but part of one’s kitchen waste as well ( a larger part if someone’s dietary habits are fairly healthy). This type of matter contains a substantial amount of carbon, which is essential for the composting process. It can include:

- fruit and vegetable trimmings
- green leaves
- grass trimmings
- green twigs and branches

Dry matter of vegetable origin: Most of this matter will be garden waste as well, predominantly dry leaves and branches gathered when tidying the garden. It is also very high in carbon and should form part of the carbon rich layers. It is particularly efficient as a bottom layer. It includes:

- dry leaves
- hay and straws
- tea bags
- sawdust, dry wood cuttings
- dry branches
- natural animal bedding

Matter of animal origin: This category is quite limited for most composters, depending on their ability to successfully ventilate the content when adding more nitrogen rich matter. Most composters are not suitable for adding items such as meat, fish or dairy products, yet a few select ones are. Animal waste, except manure, should never be placed

What can generally be included:

- Fur, hair
- egg shells (crushed)
- manure

Sometimes it can also include:

- meat
- bones
- fish
- cooked foods with mixed ingredients
- dairy products

Processed items: These are items of vegetal origin which are found on the market and can successfully be mixed into compost, provided that they are contaminant-free. Paper products , for instance, should be of a suitable consistency in order to absorb moisture and decompose rapidly and should not be coloured or printed on (ink can be very toxic). This category can include:

- cooking oils
- bottle corks
- coffee granules
- paper towels, shredded paper

Also, in a bid to obtain a 100% natural compost, free of contaminants, any potentially dangerous items, such as diseased plants, animal excrements and chemicals.

The composting process

First, a compost bin is needed – one can either be purchased (usually needing a certain amount of home assembling) or made. The main advantage of purchasing a composter, aside from saving time and labour, is that some modern composters allow all kitchen waste to be included, whilst home made ones and many types found on the market as well do not permit that, banning matter which is produced in a normal household almost on a daily basis (meat, bones, cooked foods, fish, dairy products).

The criteria for purchasing a composter can be determined according to your waste and gardening needs. That involves assessing how much kitchen and garden waste you regularly produce and how often you would ideally need the compost to be ready within a year.

The matter should be placed inside the composter in layers, according to its chemical composition. That might appear difficult yet it isn’t. For an optimal composting process, the layers of carbon rich matter (garden waste) must alternate with the layers of nitrogen rich matter (kitchen waste). That is quite easy id garden waste is all gathered simultaneously and placed as a consistent layer. A layer of carbon rich matter should always be placed on the bottom, preferably containing twigs and small branches, if there are any.

When the matter starts to decompose, microorganisms and worms will develop; larger organisms will creep in through the holes normally located at the bottom, for draining and ventilation, and contribute to the process as well. The constant movement of the various organisms will produce heat, which will also speed up the decomposition process. Compost can be ready in just a few months, with the right type of composter, yet normally a composter is emptied twice a year.

Chemical imbalances might occur, mostly due to the frequency of kitchen waste production, which can lead to a surplus of nitrogen. You will definitely know if that is the case as it will generate a strong smell of ammonia. The solution is adding more carbon rich matter, preferably sawdust, on top of the kitchen waste, in order to obtain a balance.

Types of composters

Wooden composters: Many people prefer a traditional material for their composter. Many wooden models are available in DIY stores as well as stores centred on ecological products, home growing equipment and garden related products. They sometimes require home assembly. Most have at least a ten year-rot guarantee as the wood is subjected to various treatments in order to improve its quality.

Plastic composters: Modern plastic composters are also viewed as ecological as they have a very long lifespan and won’t need to be replaced anytime soon after being purchased. They also offer various mechanisms to speed up the composting process.

Mixed components: A wide range of materials can be used to make a composter, depending on its structure and the speed it provides. The essential qualities it must have are durability, non-contamination of the content with chemicals and good ventilation. Some companies use galvanised steel, mesh fibre cloth and so forth.

The benefits of composting

The main benefit, of course, is reducing the amount of waste going to landfill and through that diminish the amount of methane gas released into the atmosphere. Kitchen waste is the main source of landfill methane gas at the moment. By composting it, the notion of ‘’waste’’ will be eliminated from the equation altogether.

However, there is another good reason to do this, which is the resulting compost you can use for home growing plants. Home growing is becoming very popular at the moment due to the demand for organic foods. Its success is directly proportional to the quality of the soil one germinates the seeds and grows the plants in, and as the soil isn’t always rich in nutrients, people buy certain products to add for the best results.

Even though that is the quickest solution, one can never be sure what kind of chemicals were used in the composition of these products. And since people resort to home growing precisely to avoid chemical-laden foods, the best way to make sure they use a completely natural fertiliser is to make it themselves.

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Did You Know?

spacer According to Defra, each person in England produced an average of 457 Kilograms of waste in 2009-10. Of this, an average of about 181 Kilograms per person was recycled. That left 60% of un-recycled waste, at an average of 276 kilograms per person.

From Protect Our Environment