Composting Your Way to a Sustainable Kitchen: A Beginner’s Guide

In the war on waste, composting is the first line of defense. Not only does it get rid of scraps, but it makes the planet healthier by improving soil and recycling nutrients.

Consider this. UK households sent 7.2 million tonnes of biodegradable waste to landfills in 2018. In fact, 60% of waste in landfills is organic matter which doesn’t break down due to lack of aeration. Instead, it releases methane, a gas 72% more powerful at global warming than carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere. Consider: the benefits of composting.

But composting is stinky, and complicated, right? And, you need access to a big garden?

Not so! Our beginner’s composting guide will show you how to embrace this zero-waste waste disposal.

Dear America: You're Making Way Too Much Trash
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What Is Composting?

Put simply, it’s the natural process of organic matter—such as leaves and food scraps—breaking down into non-toxic components. For example: water, carbon dioxide, and biomass that will not harm the environment. The end result is a nutrient-rich fertiliser that improves soil and plant health.

All living things decompose eventually but they need the right conditions, which landfill doesn’t provide. However, when bacteria, fungi, worms, sowbugs, and nematodes get to work, the end result is gardener’s “black gold” or compost.

How Do I Compost At Home?

If you have a garden, first up, you need to decide on your site. Important to know: the micro-organisms who are going to do the hard work don’t like change, so pick a spot that isn’t too hot, cold, or wet, and preferably shady. Placing your container on an earth base means better drainage and access to bacteria and worms but if this isn’t possible, just add some soil to the bottom of your bin.

What Compost Bin Should I Use?

There are all kinds of options here.

If you are good at DIY, why not make your own compost bin with corrugated iron and pallet wood, with enclosed sides to speed up the rotting process? For smaller spaces, try a lidded plastic compost bin which retains moisture and heat for quick composting. Hot composting bins are ideal if you have a lot of garden waste. Resembling a wheelie bin, they are designed to create a warmer environment that produces much finer compost in 30-90 days, as oppose to 6 months. Also, they don’t require an earth base so are good for paved outdoor spaces. Or, if you have a large garden and don’t mind how it looks, just try a good old-fashioned compost pile.

spinach woman

What Do I Put In My Compost Bin?

The world is your oyster, even the shell, quite literally. From coffee grounds and potato peelings, to weeds and wood shavings, it can all go in the compost bin. Green matter includes grass clippings, leafy plants, fruit and vegetables, uncooked kitchen waste.  Brown matter covers pruning and hedge trimmings, leaves, straw, and shredded paper and card.

The trick is getting the right balance between green and brown. According to the UK’s Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), you need 25 to 50% soft green materials to feed the micro-organisms and produce the best results. 

How Long Before The Compost Is Ready?

Like a fine wine, compost needs ageing. It can take up to 2 years to be dark brown, crumbly, and fully mature. Good to know, not all the material will have decomposed to this stage. If this is the case, just add the non-decomposed material to your next attempt. Because they retain warmth and moisture, bins work quicker; you’re looking at around 6 months if the conditions are right ie no rain, plenty of drainage, and air. But, for the die-hard committed composters, bigger bins are more effective.

Some Dos and Don’ts

Do turn the heap. This adds composting’s essential ingredient—air. Best to do this monthly and place a lot of materials on the heap in one go.

Do make sure your heap isn’t drying out. Keeping it moist in hot weather will speed up composting.

Don’t put in too many grass clippings. Unless you want a slimy, smelly heap. If this does happen, add dry brown woody materials asap.

Don’t let the rain in. Make sure lids are firmly on as too much moisture results in a compacted heap with no air flow.

Do keep flies away by covering kitchen waste with garden waste.

Photo by Johnny McClung on Unsplash

What If I Don’t Have A Garden?

No garden? Do not fear. There are plenty of options for apartment dwellers and balcony owners to indulge in composting. 

1. Worm Bin

Let the worms do the work for you. A worm bin or wormery consists of 2 compartments, a composting area where you put your kitchen waste and the worms get active, and a liquid sump. Perfect for a sheltered balcony or quiet kitchen spot, you can add most raw and cooked vegetables, fruit, tea bags, eggshells, coffee grounds, bread, and newspaper.

2. Bokashi Bin

Great for small spaces, the Japanese art of bokashi involves pickling your waste using a special fermenting bran inoculated with good bacteria. Mash your food waste, add the activator mix to the bokashi bucket and in 4 weeks you should have compost for your window boxes. 

3. Electronic Composter

If you can’t bear smell and mess but want a greener, cleaner kitchen, an counter-friendly electric composter is a great option. Breaking food down in as little as 5 hours by a process of drying, grinding then cooling, the end result is a sterile biomass. This isn’t as nourishing as actual compost but it’s still a good alternative.

4. Local Farmers Markets

Most farmers markets now have large compost piles that will allow shoppers to add to with vegetable scraps and peelings. Do always ask for permission first! 

5. Community Gardens and Allotments

According to the national Allotment society, there are currently 300,000 allotments in the UK. Which means approximately 300,000 compost bins and piles that need green and brown matter. Why not get you green fingers into gear, meet some mulch-minded people and get composting in your local community outdoor space?

7. Municipal Composting Services

Do some research and see what your local city or council has on offer to help you decompose. This could be providing people with food waste bins that are regularly collected or subsidised composting bins.

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