The scale of the UK’s food waste problem is overwhelming. In the UK, we throw away seven million tonnes of food and drink from our homes every year, according to the Food Standards Agency.
Fancy yourself a green-fingered genius? A really sustainable way to reduce your household waste is to start composting. Some councils already provide composting caddies that they collect along with your recycling – but it’s easy to get your own compost heap started too if you have outside space. A surprising amount of the food (and random household items) that is often thrown away in the rubbish can actually be composted and processed into fertiliser for new life.
So where to start? Urban gardener Nik Southern, founder of London’s florist and gardening workshop Grace and Thorn, helps to shed some light on the matter.
You can create a compost heap without a bin, but the contents take longer to rot down and in smaller gardens it can be more space efficient to use one. According to the Royal Horticultural Society: “Any of the compost bins on the market should produce compost as long as they exclude rain, retain some warmth, allow drainage and let in air.”
The amount of compostable waste your household produces will dictate the size of the bin you need, so bear this in mind. Whatever compost bin you end up with, make sure you mix together its contents regularly (at least every week) to ensure that all your compostables are mixing together nicely.
It’s also important to find the right place to keep your compost bin. A well-drained area with a soil base will ensure the heap doesn’t get too soggy, and also that worms can get in. If you have to place the bin on a paved surface, the RHS advises adding a spadeful of soil into your mix.
A spot that gets a lot of sunlight will absorb the most heat, speeding up the process – but if you’re saving those areas for your plants (or for you!) then a shady area will be perfectly fine.
Food and drink you can compost
Starting off with your morning routine, you can compost your coffee grounds and teabags, taking that waste element out of your morning cuppa and starting your day off right. Soya, oat and coconut milk can also be composted. When it comes to breakfast, discarded egg shells can be thrown in as long as they are crushed up.
Nut shells and vegetable peelings are fair game, as are shells from crab or lobster (if you’ve been feeling fancy). Of a boozy evening, corks from wine bottles and any ‘expired’ beer or wine can also be composted.
Other everyday items you never knew you could compost
When clothes come to the end of their life, that doesn’t mean they should go to landfill. According to Nik Southern, old cotton fabrics (including old jeans) can be composted, as long as you rip them apart first. Same goes for well-beaten old leather gloves and wallets and wool socks.
When it comes to the dreaded housework, here are some composting hacks. You can chuck in hair from your hairbrush, the contents of your hoover and any dust collected under your furniture.
What to do with your compost
Don’t expect your compost to be ready overnight – it can take months for everything to break down properly. You’re looking for it to be dark brown and crumbly, and to have a lovely earthy smell, like woodlands.
Add your compost to neglected or elderly plant pots and beds as a soil enricher or mulch. If you’re lucky enough to have a lawn, sieve the compost before raking it over.
And for all those carrying out outdoor composting pursuits, Nik has a special piece of advice: don’t fear the worms. “Welcome them... they speed up the process,” she says. “Stand back and let nature do it’s thang as the nutrients trickle down into your knackered soil – which is also great for starting out on an allotment.”
“Alternatively, if you’ve got bucket loads and don’t have enough plants to benefit from your compost, get friendly with your neighbours or local community garden. They can push the wheelbarrows!”