Composting is a natural process of decay and can take from 3 to 12 months depending on the mix of materials, turning and time of year (composting is slower in winter).

Initially bacteria and fungi break down the sappy green material heating up the mixture and using lots of oxygen. This normally takes 5-10 days.

The mixture then cools, and larger invertebrates such as beetles, worms and woodlice break down the fibrous brown material. These helpful creatures need air too, so it is a good idea to turn or aerate your compost regularly.


How will composting Benefit the Environment ?

Composting has a large number of environmental benefits. It is the perfect way to help life across the whole planet.

  • Converts waste into a valuble resource and recycles nutrients back into the soil.

  • In the UK materials that can be composted amounts to about 30% of our domestic waste. We can therefore reduce waste sent to landfill by 30%. This means fewer landfill sites and therefore more space for wildlife.

  • This will save our local authorities money that can be spent on other services.

  • Using home-made compost saves on wasteful packaging and chemical fertilisers.

  • Reduces the number of bonfires needed

  • Reduces the need to water your garden

  • Increases plant growth and encourages wildlife

  • By using your own compost instead of peat you will be saving areas of peatland which helps bog wildlife to survive

How will composting Benefit me ?

You will have a free supply of compost to be used in your gardenand provide the following benefits:

  • improve plant health and growth, increasing yields of fruit, vegetables, flowers and herbs.

  • increases nutritional value of home grown foods

  • reduces reliance and therefore cost of artificial and toxic chemicals, fertilizers and pesticides.

  • reduces water consumption (this will save you time spent watering and money if you are on a water meter) by helping soil retain moisture

Using compost

  • it can be dug into the soil, adding nutrients and improving the soil structure (helping heavy soils drain and be worked more easily).

  • it can be spread in thick layers (3-4 inches) over planting beds as a mulch, keeping down weeds, preventing water evaporation and slowly feeding the soil.

  • sieving your compost and mixing with soil and a little sand makes an excellent potting medium for houseplants.

What can you put on your compost bin?

Basically anything organic can be composted although some items are best avoided. The following is a list of some of the most common things that can be added to your compost heap from your kitchen and garden:

You may need to shred or cut certain materials into small pieces.

  • vegetable & fruit peelings
  • tea leaves/bags(rip apart)
  • coffee grounds & filters
  • egg shells (best crushed as composts very slowly)
  • plant prunings (you may need to shred these)
  • old plants
  • grass clippings (not if treated with certain weedkillers-check manufacturers instructions)
  • leaves (in small quantaties)
  • used potting soil
  • weeds (avoid pernicious weeds, e.g. bindweed and oxalis)
  • dead flowers
  • hay/straw (this dries the compost bin so soak with dishwater
  • contents of vacuum cleaner
  • hair clippings (you can get these from hairdressers & kennels)
  • sawdust
  • pet droppings (e.g. hamster, guinea pig, rabbit)
  • wood ashes from bonfires etc.
  • Feathers from old pillows or other sources
What should you avoid putting on your Compost bin ?
  • meats, fats, bones, fish scraps & cooked food (this attracts vermin & unwanted bacteria)
  • pet droppings from dog and cat (may spread disease)
  • thorny prunings (the thorns may take many years to decompose)
  • thick, woody material (unless thinly shredded)
  • diseased plants & weeds that have gone to seed or been treated with certain chemical weedkillers (check manufacturers instructions)
  • non organic materials - plastic, metal, glass
  • paper/cardboard (recycle through paper recycling- small quantities of shredded paper without coloured inks can be added)
  • nappies (health risk)

How to Compost ?


Your compost bin should be sited in a part of your garden that is discreet but close to the kitchen for convenience and to encourage use, on bare soil for drainage and preferably in a sunny position for faster composting.


A compost area takes many forms as follows:

  • Compost heap - this is basically what it says. A heap to which you add your compost materials. This was common in the past but is really only suitable for large gardens as they tend to get very large and can be untidy.

  • Netting - The next step up from this is a compost bin made of netting. This overcomes the disadvantages of the basic compost heap. A simple bin of this type can be made by knocking four posts into the ground in a square and wrapping and connecting wire (the best is probably chicken wire) to them.

  • Wooden compost bin- Again a simple wooden compost bin can be made in a square shape with wood nailed to the supporting posts. Try to use old offcuts of wood to save resources.

  • Purpose built plastic bin- these can be bought from a number of manufacturers. Residents of Colchester can buy one at a discounted rate of 11.95 (including p&p) from Blackwall. The bins have a 220 litre capacity, 74cm diameter and are 90cm heigh. They are guaranteed for 10 years. To order one telephone 0870 849 4872 with your credit or debit card details.


As your compost bin will be situated in the garden you may find it easier to use a compost bucket under the kitchen sink. This is just a bucket (plastic is probably best) into which you throw all your kitchen waste throughout the day. Once a day empty the contents into your compost bin and rinse the bucket out (you should use your old dishwater to save water, the dishwater can also be added to your compost as this helps keep it moist which aids composting). You then only need to make one trip to the compost bin per day.


Add materials in thick layers (Preferably 6 inches or more at a time) if possible to ensure the mixture heats up and composts quickly and properly.


It is a good idea to turn your compost heap at least once each month. This aerates the contents and ensures good mixing. Any material which is already fully composted can be removed and used. Also frequent turning will give better compost.


To empty the bin, remove the lid and lift the bin from the stack of compost. Fork any non composted material back into the bin and use the finished compost. Your compost is ready when it has become dark brown in colour and the original ingredients are no longer recognisable. Do not worry about lumpy or fibrous compost, it is still good for your soil.

Composting Problems

Unpleasant Smells

Decomposing vegetation does create a certain smell but not much and it shouldn't trouble you. If, however the smell becomes too unpleasant this is probably because the compost has become too compacted. To solve this turn or poke the material with a fork or stick to add air which will reduce the odours.

Compost too Dry

If your compost is too dry turn the material with a fork or stick adding used dishwater at the same time. This should not happen if you are adding plenty of green material.

Compost Wet and Slimy

This is probably because too much water has been added or too much green waste. Mix in some dry woody materials, straw or even newspapers(no coloured inks, preferably shredded or ripped up and not in large quantaties.

What if you can't compost at home?

If you can't compost at home either because you do not have a garden or you have too much material to compost there are alternatives, particularly in Essex.

  • If you haven't got a garden or you want to compost quickly you can try this method: chop your kitchen waste as small as possible, tie it up in a black plastic bag, leave it in a sunny spot for a month and you should have a supply of rotting waste that can be used as compost.

  • Some local councils provide a collection service. In Colchester garden waste is collected in official brown plastic bags only which can be bought from the council and collected on your normal waste collection day. In Mersea which is currently undergoing a recycling trial, garden waste is collected free of charge on your recycling collection day using the designated containers.

  • You can also take your garden waste to the local Recycling Centre. Click here for locations and opening times of your local Civic Amenity and Recycling Centre in Essex.

It will be turned into soil improver which you can also buy at your Recycling Centre. The Centre accepts:

  • lawn cuttings

  • shrub prunings

  • tree branches (up to 300mm/12 inches diameter)

  • weeds and leaves

  • hedge trimmings

  • conifers.

Essex County Council also provide 2 free leaflets, "Home composting in Essex" and "So what about composting" which can be downloaded from there internet site.

Click here to download a copy in Adobe PDF format
So what about composting   Home composting in Essex

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