| Home || Fun zone || Activity zone || Info zone || Recycler zone || Teacher zone |
Back to zone main menu

Get composting - how to set up a school compost scheme

What is compost?

Compost forms as a result of the natural breakdown of organic material into fine particles by the bacteria, fungi, insects and animals which live in soil. As these organisms break down the waste, they generate heat, which is why compost heaps often feel warm and can sometimes even be seen steaming in cold weather.

two recycling bins

Why do it?

Composting is nature's own method of both waste disposal and soil fertilisation. Once made, compost can be used to fertilise soil and to give it a better structure and moisture retaining properties. It can also be used as a mulch in order to reduce the growth of weeds.

Composting is a good way of reducing pressure on our already over-worked landfill sites. Roughly 11 million tonnes of organic material (such as vegetable peelings, tea bags and food scraps) are produced each year by homes in the U.K., much of which ends buried in landfill sites. Organic materials in landfill are a major source of methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more active than CFC's in causing global warming, and also of a black liquid called 'leachate', which can contaminate water supplies.

Because it is an alternative to peat, the use of compost can also help to prevent damage to the peat bogs which are vitally important homes for a wide range of wildlife.

Where to compost

For those good with their hands, perfectly satisfactory compost bins can be built from scrap timber, old tyres, bricks or wire mesh. However there are now numerous compost bins and other similar containers on the market. A number of commercial sources of compost bins are listed towards the bottom of this page but first try contacting your local council who may be able to provide you with a compost bin either free of charge or at a reduced price.

As a general rule, the bigger the bin the more efficient it will be. The best place to site a compost bin is in a sunny, well drained area, out of the wind. Put your composter in the garden on bare soil and not on paving or decking.

Man holding a chopping board with vegtable scraps on (cabbage and potato & carrot peelings)

What to use to make compost

You can use a whole range of things to make compost. Garden waste (e.g. fallen leaves, grass cuttings and prunings) and kitchen waste (including raw vegetables and fruit, crushed egg shells, tea & tea bags) are the most common ingredients but why not also try:

  • shredded paper and cardboard
  • chopped straw and hay e.g. animal bedding
  • human hair and animal fur

In the majority of situations, weeds and seeds can be put on compost heaps as they will be killed by the heat produced during the breaking down process.

Do not however add any of the following to your compost heap as they will either not break down properly, or may be unhygienic or attractive to pests.

  • cooked foods
  • meat, fish or dairy products
  • ash from coal fires
  • dog or cat poo
  • nappies or used tissues

How to make compost

Add the compost ingredients to the compost bin or heap, mixing the different types of materials together with a garden fork as you do so.

Compost usually takes between 3 and 9 months to make, although it can take longer than this, especially in cold weather. You can speed up the process by:

  • chopping up or shredding tough stems or prunings
  • adding soil, finished compost or a compost accelerator
  • turning the heap with a garden fork from time to time
  • occasionally adding a little crumpled newspaper
  • keeping the compost warm and moist (but not wet)

Your compost is ready when it is dark in colour and has an earthy smell. When the compost appears to be ready, take some from the bottom of the pile, put it on your garden and watch those plants grow!

Manufacturers and suppliers of compost bins

As well as conventional compost bins, Evengreener sell a "tumbler", which can produce compost from kitchen and garden waste in about 3 weeks.

Evengreener c/o Straight plc No 1 Whitehall Riverside Leeds LS1 4BN
Tel: 0845 658 5588
E-mail - customer.care@evengreener.com

Green Cone produces a small amount of compost, with 90% of the waste being absorbed directly into the soil as water and nutrients.

Green Cone Ltd, Innovation House, Daleside Road, Nottingham, NG2 4DHel: 0115 911 4372 Fax : 0115 9100 747 http://www.greencone.com

Recycle Works can supply a wide range of domestic compost bins of various styles, many of which are made from Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) certified timber.

Tel : 01200 440 600 www.recycleworks.co.uk

Roper's produce an insulated mulch and compost maker which comes in two sizes.

Roper (Dept. AG5), P.O. Box 37, Abergavenny, Gwent NP8 9XU
Tel: 01873 840 328

Where to get more information on composting

Complete Guide to Garden Composting by P Bardos covers all aspects of the theory and practice of garden composting.
Taylor Marketing Services Limited, Bamford House, Old Northants, NN6 9QX
Tel: 01604 781 076

Gardening Without Peat, a booklet on home composting.
Send a SAE for publications list to Friends of the Earth. 26-28 Underwood Street, London N1 7NJ

The Composting Association provides advice and information on composting.
Avon House, Tithe Barn Road, Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, NN8 1DH
Tel: 01933 227 777
Fax: 01933 441 040

The Soil Association sets standards for organic products, including composts.
Bristol House, 40-56 Victoria Street, Bristol BS1 6BY
Tel: 0117 929 0661
Fax: 0117 925 2504

back to top

Valid XHTML 1.0!