Stay at home, compost at home

Every aspect of our lives just now is being challenged, and although our absolute focus currently is to slow the spread of a deadly virus, we are also having to adapt to the consequences of this. One area where we are already feeling the pinch in Leeds is with Council waste services. The household waste sites are now closed. The fortnightly brown-bin collection of garden waste has been suspended. Litter bins are not being emptied. You can imagine more services being put under pressure, and before long the risk of uncollected wheelie bins, burning and dumping, litter, smells, flies and vermin.

It’s been good to see the Council recognising the risk early, and they and other agencies such as Zero Waste Leeds are already circulating useful information. The key point being – householders will not be able to rely on their usual services for waste collection, so everyone needs to minimise the amount of waste they produce in the first place. I just want to add some additional thoughts to those already circulated, the key one being:

Every household in Leeds with a garden can significantly reduce its garden waste and food waste.

Obviously, we don’t all have gardens. Leeds is famous for its back-to-backs (some of which have no outdoor space at all), and many people live in flats. However, it’s a reasonable guess that a slight majority of households in the city have a garden. And (funnily enough!), these are the households that produce garden waste – a type of waste usually produced in huge quantities, but unnecessarily so. So let’s start there.

Turns out Lockdown has hit us in early spring. The weather is improving. People would normally be starting to mow their lawns again. And we now have all this time on our hands at home to fill, and we all want to be outside. You can imagine some people thinking now is the time for that massive garden project they’ve been putting off for ages.

In fact, there is definitely something useful we can do with this time. Something that we probably always thought we should do, but it was easier to say “I’ll take it to the tip” or “I’ll put it in the brown wheelie bin”. We can compost our garden (and food) waste at home. It’s not as difficult as it seems, and now is a good time to learn this great life skill.

A few years ago I wrote a blog about how to compost at home. Reading it again, I realise I described a “best practice” method of home composting, for more normal times. But we are in exceptional times now, so here are some thoughts about how households with gardens can start composting and minimising their garden/food waste at home now:

  • Firstly, do you need to produce garden waste at all? Do you really need to mow the lawn, trim the hedge, or prune those shrubs? Will it really matter if you don’t? It might be for the greater good if you can accept that your garden might look a bit different to usual this year.
  • But it’s understandable that it may be necessary to do these things. Saying that, if you do mow the lawn, you don’t necessarily need to gather the cuttings. For example, it’s not much extra effort to run over the cuttings with the mower a second time and see them disappear into the lawn.
  • If you do gather lawn mowings, clippings, cuttings etc, you can easily make a compost heap from them. It’s just a simple case of chucking them in a pile, ideally combining a mixture of “wetter” materials like grass cuttings with “dryer” materials like hedge clippings and woody plant stems. It’s a bit like baking (a mixture of “wet” ingredients like butter and “dry” ones like flour), and like baking you should mix the ingredients together – in the case of composting, with a garden fork or shovel. (Note that before long hedges will start overhanging pavements, so it’s certainly sociable to your neighbours to give these a trim, but do add the clippings to your compost heap).
  • And if you do have a garden waste compost heap, you are giving yourself the option of being able to responsibly compost your uncooked food waste at home too – fruit and veg peel, teabags/coffee grounds, eggshells etc – but do bury your food waste well inside the compost heap rather than just chucking it on top.
  • Turning your compost heap over from time to time helps the process along, and if you wait long enough you can get a nice crumbly, soil-like compost to chuck on the garden. And this helps explain why home composting is the No. 1 waste minimisation tip. Not only can it divert a huge amount of material from your black bin (both saving space in your bin and reducing the environmental impact of disposal) but your garden provides the ideal home for the compost itself.
  • Finally, bulkier materials like twigs and branches that don’t easily rot down can be  put in piles, providing great habitats for wildlife.

To summarise:

  • Do you really need to mow or prune in the first place?
  • If so, don’t put your garden waste in your black or brown bin, or burn/dump it.
  • Instead, either build a compost heap (and add your uncooked food waste to it), or do something else useful with it in your garden.

Or to put it another way – while we have to Stay at Home, take the time to Compost at Home.

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