Find out what is composting and how it works.

What is Composting?

Composting is the use of organic matter such as garden waste or uncooked kitchen vegetable scraps which decompose to form a dark brown soil-like material rich in plant nutrients.

Why Composting? 

black compost bin

Composting is an inexpensive, natural process that transforms kitchen and garden waste into a valuable and nutrient rich food for the garden.  Research suggests one third of household waste could be suitable for composting at home.  Composting is one of the most effective actions that can be taken at home to reduce the amount of waste in the black lidded bin.

How it works ; Nitrogen and Carbon mix

The composting process relies on the right mix of ingredients to make it work.  The recommended ratio is commonly referred to as a 50:50 mix of green ‘wet’ (Nitrogen rich materials) and brown ‘dry’ (carbon rich materials) organics.  

The green items are quick to rot and provide important nitrogen and moisture whereas the brown are slower to rot. They provide fibre and carbon and also allow important air pockets to form in the mixture.  Examples of the green and brown materials are shown in the table below:

Example of green and brown materials
Greens Browns

Vegetable peelings

Cardboard egg boxes

Fruit waste

Scrunched up paper or newspaper


Fallen leaves

Plant prunings

Crushed eggshells

Grass cuttings



In order to establish the correct balance, it is it recommended that the organics should be added in layers starting with a brown dry layer followed with a green wet layer, followed by a brown dry layer and so on.

It is recommended that the following materials are not put in the composter:

  • cooked vegetables
  • meat 
  • dairy products
  • diseased plants
  • dog poo or cat litter

Putting these in the bin can encourage unwanted pests and can also create odour issues.  It is also advisable to avoid composting perennial weeds (such as dandelions and thistle) or weeds with seed heads.  If the temperature does not rise enough these may not breakdown fully in the composting process and therefore weeds could be spread and dispersed around when applying the compost to the garden.

The contents of the compost bin need to be aerated and this can be achieved by turning the organics inside the composter periodically. 

The composting process can take between 6-12 months.  The breaking down process can be aided by chopping up the materials into small pieces as it is added to the compost bin.

Placing Of The Compost Bin

Placing your compost bin in direct or partial sunlight will help maintain higher temperatures inside and can speed up the composting process. The compost bin should ideally be located on a level, well-drained area. This allows excess water to drain out and makes it easier for creatures such as worms to get in and get working on breaking down the contents

The Composting Process

The composting process involves microorganisms.  Three types of organisms – fungi, bacteria and actinomycetes – begin to grow all over the material and break down the waste. This produces heat, further increasing the activity of the bacteria.

Once the bacteria have used up all the starch and sugars, the temperature falls again, creating a better environment for the fungi, which then begins breaking down any woody material.

The compost is ready to use when it is crumbly in appearance and has a slightly earthy smell. 

Benefits Of Home Composting

  • Compost will help improve soil structure, maintain moisture levels, and keep the soil's pH balance in check while helping to suppress plant disease.
  • The compost will have everything plants need including nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium and it will help buffer soils that are very acidic or alkaline.
  • Helps reduce household waste
  • Contributes to actions towards climate change

For those interested in trying home composting, visit the Get Composting website for more information (opens new window)

Tips to avoid food waste

A mixture of food placed together to reduce waste ona  table

WRAP research shows we now (2015) throw away 7.1 million tonnes of household food waste a year in the UK, compared to 8.1 million tonnes in 2007.  We can all play a part in helping to reduce food waste from our own homes.  By doing so, we will help the environment by creating less waste.  Here are some simple tips to help reduce food waste at home.   

  • Make a shopping list with planned meals
  • Save leftovers for another meal.
  • See Nottinghamshire County council and Veolia's Love your leftovers cook book (opens pdf, 3.27mb)
  • Check the fridge temperature is cool and below 5°C.
  • Avoid putting hot food straight in the fridge.
  • Freeze half a loaf of bread
  • Cook only the amount you need. 

Both composting and reducing food waste will help to tackle global issues relating to climate change.  

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