Composting and Organic Waste: How to Get Started

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Composting is becoming an increasingly common method of waste management across Ireland, and can in fact help those who partake in the use of organic or composting bins to save a good chunk of money, along with doing some good for the environment. Interested in getting started? Let’s get started.

What is composting?

Composting is effectively the natural breaking down of organic material such as food, leaves and natural waste. Organisms such as fungi, bacteria and worms help to break down the waste until it becomes an earthy substance known as compost. This product is rich in minerals and nutrients and is commonly used in gardening to help plants bloom and fields grow efficiently.

Depending on the types of materials placed within your composting bins, the average time for substances to break down and convert into compost ranges from anywhere between four weeks and twelve months. This is based on a variety of factors, such as the nature of the items themselves, the weather, temperature, and how established and healthy the ecosystem within your recycling bins is.

Did you know, besides helping plants grow, compost can be even be used as a source natural fuel source called biogas

Why should I compost my waste?

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Composting your waste can help to reduce the volume of materials going into your household recycling bins. Most waste collection plans are based on bin-collection weight, and so if you tend to place organic materials unnecessarily within the general waste bin, this could lead to higher collection charges over time. If you have a composting bin for your garden rather than collection, then this will significantly reduce your organic bin weight, saving even more money.

If organic waste is placed within the wrong bin types, this can result in the contamination of the surrounding materials. As such, when it arrives at the waste processing facility, the contents of that bin may have to be redirected to a landfill instead of being recycled and reused. The storage of organic waste at landfills can result in the creation of harmful methane gas, and can also attract pests and birds.

If you are interested in gardening, home composting significantly reduces the need to purchase artificial fertilizers from gardening stores. These fertilizers are sometimes treated with chemicals, which could upset the ecological balance of your soil. Considering that every household produces around a tonne of waste each year, 32% of which is organic, this could save up to 32% on your household bin collection fees!

How can I start composting?

Now that we understand the importance of composting, let’s take a look at how you can get involved, starting with composting at home.

Household composting

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We should all be familiar with the bin systems at home. When we move, we need to check for the best waste collection provider, select our preferred bin types, agree upon a price, etc. One of these bins available will be a brown organics or composting bin. The items placed within this bin will have one of two destinations: a composting facility, or anaerobic digestion.

Anaerobic digestion is the process of breaking down natural waste. This creates a natural form of gas called biogas, which can be used as a healthier alternative fuel when compared to traditional gas collection.

Some household collection companies such as Clean Ireland Recycling may also provide you with a mini organics bin for your kitchen. These have a small capacity but allow you to store the day's natural waste within it, before emptying it into your main organics bin, saving the endless back-and-forth.

Secondly, households with a garden can purchase a composting container, with the intention of creating their own compost. These can be purchased at garden centres with the starting price for smaller compact bins starting at around €20. It may also be worth contacting your local authority to see if they have any incentives or schemes available that could help you buy composting bins.

Composting your organic waste can help to save money on both waste collection fees and gardening supplies. There are many guides available on how you can get started online, including what equipment you may need, the ideal conditions in which to keep your composting bins, and any other agents or nutrients that may be beneficial in the process of composting your waste.

Use a civic amenity centre

Civic amenity centres, also known as recycling centres, are locations that accept a wide variety of household waste, from plastic, cardboard and glass to organic waste and more. These sites are free to use and have staff on hand to provide guidance. When organic waste is collected from these locations, it also will be destined for either a composting facility or anaerobic digestion.

Most local councils have a section dedicated to waste management on their website. Within this section, you will usually find a list of the local waste disposal facilities in your area, along with guidance on what you can expect from each. Before you make your journey, make sure to check that the facility you have in mind has the capability to handle the waste type that you wish to dispose of.

What can and can’t go in my composting bins?

A simple rule for guidance is that if it is of organic material and/or was once living (think grass, leaves, bone etc), then it is suitable for composting. Sounds simple enough, but here is a shortlist of what can and cannot go into your composting bins for clarity.

These items can go into your composting bins

  • Coffee grinds, tea leaves and tea bags
  • Fruit and vegetable waste (Both cooked and uncooked)
  • Bread, rice, pasta
  • Grass clippings, leaves and dead flowers (No diseased plants)
  • Manure from vegetarian pets (hamsters, rabbits etc)
  • Small volumes of loose paper and pieces of wood
  • Eggshells and hair

The rules for what cannot go into your composting bins are pretty simple also, but let's look at these now

  • Any of the aforementioned items if chemically contaminated (Weedkiller, bleach etc)
  • Metals and plastics
  • Manure from carnivorous/omnivorous pets such as dogs and cats (These can contain harmful pathogens or parasites that can be harmful to humans)
  • Large quantities of paper or pieces of wood (These should go to an amenity centre)

This is of course far from being an exhaustive list, however, it should give you an idea for the day-to-day items that you may wish to dispose of. If you would like further guidance on how to manage your composting bins, then head over to the EPA’s (Environmental Protection Agency) website and take a browse through their composting guides.

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