Waste - Waste Prevention - Composting

Here’s the skinny on composting...

Why Compost?

Quite simply, composting can improve your environment.

  • Our modern lifestyles result in a lot of food waste – we buy more than we need.
  • In fact, nearly 25% of householders bin disposal is made up of food waste - this waste could be diverted from landfill by composting or recycling.
  • Organic food waste going to landfill results in methane and leachate by products. Methane is one of the six greenhouse gases associated with Climate Change and in fact is 20 TIMES more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide, the oft cited greenhouse gas.
  • When we add garden waste to the mix, materials suitable for composting can account for up to half of household waste.

There is potential to increase composting in Ireland even more.

The Benefits – are many..
  • Reduction of waste going to landfill.
  • Nutrients are recycled back into the soil.
  • Compost can help your garden/potted plants.
  • Compost increases yields of fruit, vegetables, flowers and herbs.
  • Compost reduces reliance on the use of toxic chemicals and pesticides.
  • Compost makes ideal soil conditioner and surface mulch.
  • Compost provides a free soil conditioner. It helps soil to retain moisture, reducing water consumption.

Here’s the Science Bit!

Composting is a natural process which converts organic waste into an earth like mass by means of bacteria and micro-organisms. The composting process is supported by larvae, wood lice, beetles, worms and other such creatures. Moisture and oxygen are the other important factors in the composting process. Heat is generated during the composting process. As a result, the temperature in the composter may rise to about 50 degrees Celsius. Micro-organisms flourish at this temperature, enabling the composting process to proceed more rapidly. The aim of the following section is to provide householders with simple guidelines around how to compost easily and successfully. For more detailed information on home composting see www.stopfoodwaste.ie

So How to Do It?!

What you need to use will depend on the size of your household and the amount of compostable material being produced.

Plastic Compost Bins:

Most householders use the standard compost bins available at garden centres and some recycling centres. These bins have a capacity of about 300 litres. Alternatively, homemade compost bins can be constructed from old wood such as some old pallets.

Home Made Compost Bin:

Some households are opting for homemade compost bins. They have been successfully made from pallets, wood, bricks, blocks etc. These bins often have a removable front panel and will need a cover to protect the heap from heavy rain (canvas-backed carpet is often used). If you have a large garden with plenty of grass clippings, you are probably better off having a separate pile of grass and shredded paper/cardboard layers – cover from heavy rain is necessary.


This method uses worms to carry out the decomposition and does not heat up during the process. A wormery is a fully enclosed container which is populated by Tiger worms (earth worms not suitable –soil content too rich), and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They are very popular with the children but need a lot of care just as a pet would! Small quantities of cooked food can be put into your wormery – 1kg of worms can produce ½ kg of compost. Add about 1.5kg of food the first week – this can be gradually increased to about 7kg over a period of six months. Wormeries produce an excellent quality compost material and also a liquid feed called “worm tea!"

Leaf Mould:

Wire mesh and wooden stakes are very suitable for leaf mould. As leaf-mould doesn’t require sunlight, the leaves can be placed in black plastic bags/fertiliser bags pierced with a fork for air. Leaf mould takes about two years to produce compost and as it is low in nutrients, it makes excellent potting compost. It can also be used very effectively as a mulch to keep down weeds and retain moisture.

How to Start:

1. Where to Position your Container

Once you have decided on your composter, the next step is to find somewhere suitable to position it. Easy access for filling and turning purposes is important. It is best positioned where it can get some sunlight but not direct sunlight for the whole day. The bin needs to be placed in a sheltered spot protecting it from heavy winds and will need to be covered in heavy rain to avoid water logging.

2. Filling Your Bin

Making compost is a bit like baking a cake. If you follow the list below your will have selected the right ingredients. Organic Waste is often divided into Green (nitrogen) and Brown (carbon) categories depending on its chemical make-up. As a rule of thumb roughly equal amounts of each type of waste should be used. Most households find it difficult to gather enough Brown waste for composting. A tip here is to gather a few sacks of autumn leaves for addition to your heap during the year. Shredded paper and torn, damp cardboard is also ideal. When starting a compost heap, first place a layer of brown material in your container. Straw, shredded twigs, paper or autumn leaves are ideal for this. Once this first layer has been placed in the container, Green and Brown material should be added in equal amounts. It is important to aerate the bin and so regular turning of the contents with a fork is necessary. This will speed up the decomposition process. Another way to do this is to chop and shred materials for the bin if possible.

3. When will the Compost be ready?

When the compost is ready there should be hardly any traces of the original materials used. It should be dark, crumbly and sweet smelling. Home produced compost will not be as fine as bagged compost available from a garden centre. The production time of your compost will depend on the following: - Your mix of Green and Brown - If it has been shredded - If it has the right amount of moisture and air content - If it has been turned or loosened regularly

How will you know if your compost pile is producing methane?

It will start to smell really bad…so remember to keep turning it with a fork or a spade or if you are using a compost bin you can use a stick or a broom handle to poke holes in the slowly decomposing waste and introduce air. Open the hatch at the bottom and poke holes in from the bottom and from the top. Another way is to introduce clumps of twigs into your compost that will naturally create air pockets as the material moves down the bin.

For a more detailed guide to home composting visit Stop Food Waste.

Avoid composting!..Leaving grass clippings on the lawn not only ensures that the lawn gets more nutrients but also less waste needs to be disposed.