If you’ve ever wanted to know how does composting work, this is the article for you! We’ll answer the most common questions, from ‘what does composting mean?’ to ‘what should I put in my compost heap?’ Discover how you can turn kitchen waste, garden waste and paper products into nutrient-rich material to help your soil.
What is composting?
In simple terms, composting is the process of organic material naturally decomposing, resulting in nutrient-rich matter that feeds the soil.
What does composting do for the planet?
Now, we have a definition of composting, but what does composting do for the environment? One Green Planet outlines 5 benefits in their reasons for compositing and this includes helping to produce less pollution, helping soil, and helping to reduce the amount of chemicals used to grow crops. Let’s look at how it does this in more detail.
Firstly, it helps keep plant matter in an appropriate place. When it goes to landfills, it needlessly fills them up, and also creates more pollution. That’s because vegetable matter doesn’t decay cleanly in an airless landfill environment. It produces methane greenhouse gas, which negatively contributes to climate change.
Secondly, compost feeds and improves the soil, helping it retain moisture. This helps vegetables and plants to grow and withstand common diseases.
Thirdly, compost can be used on cropland instead of chemical fertilisers. This helps reduce the amount of water pollution and other environmental problems that chemical fertilisers can cause.
What is the composting process?
We’ve covered questions like ‘what does composting mean?’ and ‘what are the environmental benefits of compost?’ but what is the composting process? Here’s a step-by-step guide:
- Place a reasonably equal combination of ‘green’ material (which is soft and nitrogen-rich) and ‘brown’ material (which is dry and carbon-rich). Scroll for our quick list of suggested green and brown materials.
- Put more woody material at the bottom (to help with air circulation), followed by layers of different materials, to a depth of at least 30cm. Avoid having one dominant material. Fill the compost bin as much as you can.
- Regularly add to this pile, until the bin is full.
- The pile will begin to heat up and start decomposing.
- After a couple of weeks, when it starts cooling, mix the contents of the heap thoroughly by turning with a fork. If it’s drying out, add water.
- Turn regularly (at least every month) to air it.
- The compost will be ready when the heap has an earthy/damp woodland smell, is dark brown, has a crumbly texture like soil, and is about half its original size. This might be as quick as two to four months in warm conditions but can take as long as a year or more.
How does composting work?
Microorganisms get to work amongst all that plant matter and convert it into compost.
Compost heaps need the right levels of air, light, temperature and water for the bacteria and fungi to be able to do their thing. They should be placed in a shady area, kept moist in dry weather, and turned regularly to get enough air.
Good compost bins help retain moisture and warmth, keep the rain out, let air in, and allow drainage.
What you can add to a compost heap
You’ll want an equal mix of ‘green’ and ‘brown’ material.
Green (nitrogen-rich) material includes:
- Grass cuttings
- Fruit and veg scraps (excluding onions and citrus peel)
- Coffee grounds and tea leaves
- Cut flowers
- Weeds and annuals (before they’ve set seed)
- Soft pruning/clippings
Brown (carbon-rich) material includes:
- Wood chippings/sawdust (excluding treated wood)
- Shredded hard pruning/clippings
- Dead leaves
- Plant stems
- Shredded paper bags
- Scrunched up paper (excluding glossy/coated paper
- Torn cardboard
What you shouldn’t add to a compost heap
Keep the following waste out of your heap:
- Cooked food
- Cat litter
- Plants that are diseased
- Perennial weeds
- Coal ash
How Plenty is committed to helping the environment
At Plenty, we’re working towards reducing our environmental impact. We’re committed to finding ways to be more sustainable in the key areas of our activity, with innovations in product, packaging, production and delivery.
With all this information, you can now feel confident that you know what is composting, how it benefits the planet, and how you can start your own compost heap.