One of the best ways to reduce your waste output and become a more environmentally-friendly household is to start composting your organic refuse. Kitchen waste such as vegetable offcuts and fruit pips are biodegradable and form a natural fertiliser when mixed together and broken down.
There are many products available that make composting easy and less messy, such as plastic composting bins that have a lid at the top, where you put your fresh organic waste, and a trap door at the bottom to retrieve the nutrient-rich mulch for your garden. You can even make a homemade container from three wooden crates.
To begin, you’ll need some sort of container to keep in the kitchen to collect the offcuts and unused organic matter. A small bin or a large plastic container with a lid will do the job. You’ll also need a compost container outside in a suitable, semi-shady location. This container needs to be accessible and well-ventilated.
Once the small kitchen container fills up with fruits and vegetables, you can empty it into the larger compost container outside. Remember to turn the mixture regularly and keep it damp but warm. The heat facilitates the breakdown of the compost.
To make the compost, place a layer of twigs or sticks at the bottom of the compost container to help with the ventilation. Next put a 10cm layer of organic waste, followed by a layer of sticks. Repeat this layering process a few times and then add an activator such as manure or bone meal. This will speed up decomposition but is not a vital component.
Keeping your compost ‘healthy’
Water and air are vital for a ‘healthy’ compost batch. It needs to be moist and ventilated to create the perfect nutrient-filled mulch at the end of the process.
To keep your compost damp, water the top layer briefly and push the hose to the centre of the heap. You don’t want the compost to become waterlogged, so don’t overdo it.
Make sure you turn the compost with a garden fork once every two weeks. This aerates the mixture and takes the decomposing materials from the middle of the heap and mixes it with the fresh material. A good compost mulch should be dark and crumbly like soil – it should even smell the same.
What you can and can’t add to the compost
Compost quality depends on the types of thing you add to it – the more organic, the better. Kitchen scraps such as fruit peels, vegetable trimmings, pips, and seeds are the best materials for compost. Garden waste such as leaves, grass clippings and small sticks are also good to use.
Other waste items that are fine to use in your compost include tea bags, coffee grounds, egg shells, shredded newspaper, ash, charcoal and vacuum dust. These materials can all break down and don’t contain any harmful materials.
You must avoid putting any meat or dairy products (besides egg shells) into the compost. Oil, steak fat, fish and milk will only attract flies and other pests. Don’t add plant waste if it is insect-infested or diseased as this will contaminate the entire compost batch.
Don’t add any chemicals or plants that have been sprayed with chemicals, such as ant killer, to avoid contamination. Kitty litter is also bad for compost as the pathogens don’t break down like organic material.
Follow these tips and you should have a perfect batch of compost, ready to spread over flower beds and in new plant beds.
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