Home composting

Composting is a low cost, natural process that transforms your kitchen and garden waste into a valuable and nutrient rich food for your garden.

With the right knowledge and tools, it's easy to make and easy to use.

Research has found that around 40% of the food waste in the average household waste bin could have been composted.

It saves money and resources, can help to improve your soil and reduce the chances of plant disease, and you’ll also be doing your bit for the environment. Your plants and flowers (both indoor and outdoor varieties!) will love you for doing it too.

If you’re new to composting at home or just looking for some hints and tips, our local composting community has plenty of advice.

How to start composting

Begin by selecting a composting method – a compost bin or compost heap.

One of the most important factors for starting a compost pile is then the location you choose.

Try to find an open, level area with good drainage.

Do: find a space which gets a mixture of sun and shade

Don’t: sit your compost in standing water

You will need to add a mix of green and brown materials (50/50).

What you can compost

You can compost lots of different things including fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, eggshells, plant prunings, and grass cuttings, fallen leaves, and some paper products (eg shredded paper and torn up egg boxes).

Composting done correctly – using the correct materials, proper aeration, and the right balance of green-brown materials – shouldn't produce strong smells.

Some other items that you can compost include:

  • Teabags (as long as they don’t have plastic components)
  • Pet fur (this also provides good carbon material for the compost pile)
  • Bread and pasta (only add in moderation as these break down slowly)
  • Citrus peels and onions (only add in moderation and chop into smaller pieces as these take longer to break down)
  • Cardboard and paper towels (as long as they're not coated with non-biodegradable substances, like wax or chemicals. Shred them for faster decomposition.)
  • Dryer lint (from natural fibres)
  • Wood ashes in small amounts (avoid adding ashes from coal or charcoal, as they may contain harmful substances)

What you should avoid composting

Avoid composting meat, dairy, oily foods, pet waste, and non-biodegradable materials like plastics and metals. Using the right materials will also help to avoid pests.

How long composting takes

Composting takes longer in colder weather. In a home composting bin, the process is likely to take up to 12 months as the temperature won't get high enough. Just grass cuttings and shredded paper in summer may take three months.  

Leaves are better composted separately from other garden waste. These typically take two years to decompose. This is a very natural process and is what happens in a wood or forest all the time.

Compost bins

You can buy compost bins and accessories from a number of places including a company called Get Composting, which works with many councils in the UK to support home composting.

How big your compost pile should be

As a minimum, it should be no smaller than three feet high and as a maximum, it should be no wider than five feet.

If you go smaller than that, it may not heat efficiently while anything wider may hold too much water and make it difficult for you to turn.

How to avoid pests

Bury kitchen scraps under the top layer of the compost pile and avoid adding meat, dairy, and oily food.

Watering your compost pile

As a guide, you’re looking for ‘moistness’ rather than ‘sogginess’.

If it gets too wet, you can turn it more frequently to dry it, or you can simply add more brown materials to soak up the moisture. 

Turning your compost

Turning your compost every one to two weeks enables it to ‘aerate’, literally getting air between the greens and the browns and helping it to breathe. It’s not mandatory, but it helps to speed up the composting process.

How you will know when your compost is ready to use

Compost is ready when it's dark, crumbly, and smells earthy. Original materials should be unrecognisable.

Let compost cure for a few weeks before using it in your garden to ensure any remaining decomposition processes are finished.

Support to help you with home composting

There is a group of passionate waste reduction volunteers that have been promoting home composting in the Cheshire East area for many years. You can find more information from  Ansa waste reduction volunteers and Ansa community toolkit.

Composting at home - information from recyclenow.com

Composting - information from the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS)

Remember, composting is a journey of learning and experimenting and you don’t have to be an expert. Don't worry about making mistakes, just keep improving your composting practices as you go.

You can also follow us and Ansa on social media for more hints and tips about home composting and waste reduction.

Page last reviewed: 15 August 2023