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What exactly is composting?

Composting is an age-old practice, which is a natural decomposition process of organic matter in nature. Composting today is the process for allowing household waste to decompose in a controlled environment. Naturally occurring soil organisms such as bacteria and worms break down the organic waste material into a rich natural fertiliser. Once composted, this waste becomes a nutrient rich fertiliser and conditioner for plants and shrubs, while also helping to improve soil structure and composition.

Why should I compost my organic waste?

There are many benefits to composting. Take a look at the list below to see what some of them are.

  • Composting at source not only reduces the amount of waste that you send to landfill, but also reduces the expense and pollution caused by transporting this waste.
  • Removing the kitchen waste from your bin will greatly reduce bad smells.
  • Using the compost that you produce reduces your reliance on chemical fertilisers, which if overused, can be harmful to the environment and can be expensive. 

What can be composted?

Anything that is biodegradable (can decompose naturally) can be composted. Below is a list of all the goods that should go into the compost bin:

  • Fruit peels
  • Potato skins
  • Teabags
  • Coffee grounds
  • Uncooked vegetable scraps
  • Fruit and vegetables that have passed their use by date
  • Apple cores
  • Egg shells
  • Egg cartons
  • Paper and cardboard (even egg boxes)
  • Grass Clippings
  • Weeds
  • Bedding plants
  • Leaves and plant trimmings

What should I not compost?

  • Meat, fish fats, dairy products, bone and grease (these items can give of a bad smell and have the potential of attracting our four legged friends!)
  • Pet wastes – this category contains extremely harmful bacteria.
  • Materials that have been treated with chemicals or herbicides.
  • Weeds with mature seeds and plants such as crabgrass, ground ivy, or day lilies – these items may not be killed by the heat of the compost.
  • Coal and peat fired ash.
  • Glass, metals, plastics and other inorganic wastes.

I have no idea of how to compost, and to be quite honest, the sound of it rather scares me. Perhaps you could explain the process to me?

Yes, the whole concept of composting can sound very complicated, but in actual fact it is really simple! There are a number of ways that you can compost:

  • Home composting using home composting bins provided by your Local Authority. Take a look below for a Home Composting Recipe.
  • Community-composting schemes. All you usually have to do is separate your organic waste from the rest of your waste and put it out for collection. 

Home Composting Recipe

The ingredients required for successful composting are no different than those required to sustain you own body, i.e. air, food and water.

  • Air: The organisms that break down the organic waste need air in order to function.  The compost heap will need to be turned from time to time to let air in, and materials such as straw and shredded paper help to provide air passages in the pile.  Avoid adding too much of one material such as wet grass, and always try to keep a good mix of garden and kitchen waste.
  • Moisture: Micro-organisms also need a certain amount of moisture to live, so the compost pile should not be too dry.  The compost should feel like a well-wrung out sponge, and may need a little watering if it gets too dry.  The compost heap should be covered to keep out the rain, and it is important to ensure that the pile does not get too soggy.
  • Food: There are 2 main types of food required for composting, Brown and Green. 
    ”Browns” are dry and dead plants such as
    Straw, Dry brown weeds, Autumn leaves, Wood chips or sawdust,Paper and card.

    “Browns” are carbon rich and are a source of energy for compost microbes. Because they tend to be dry, they often need to be moistened before they are added to the pile.

  • Greens” are fresh plant materials such as: Kitchen fruit and vetetable scraps, green weeds, green leaves, teabags, fresh horse manure, etc. Greens are high in protein and are a source of protein for the compost microbes.


A mix of Greens and Browns of about half-and-half is necessary for good compost.

The Browns tend to be bulky and dry in nature, and this is compensated for by the Green material, which is high in moisture.  The ideal is to have 10 times the amount of carbon than nitrogen for good compost.

Good compost therefore requires air, food and water.  This will create the right degree of heat (50-650C) to keep the compost cooking and kill off any weed seedlings that may be present.

Helping your composter to compost

  • Site the composter on a patch of bare earth in a well-drained, sunny area.
  • Clear an area around your composter for storing and preparing your waste prior to adding it to the composter.
  • Filling your bin: Start off with some coarse garden waste and cabbage stumps to allow air to circulate. Add in some leaves or weeds and vegetable peelings and a little loose soil if available. This is a good starting mix and remember, it is very important to mix Green and Brown material when adding further waste. Turn the material from time to time to help the composting process along.

Tackling the most common composting problems

  • Compost material is dark and soggy: Try adding new fresh material. Avoid adding too many grass clippings at once, as these will make the material wet. If the compost is in a cool place, try moving it to a warmer spot.
  • Compost heap smells: If the pile is not getting enough air, nitrogen builds up, causing odour problems. Turn the material each day and add some soil and woody material to create air pockets.
  • Compost bin attracting pests: Avoid adding meat bones, dairy products and grease, which attract vermin and dogs etc. Narrow wire mesh attached to the bottom of bottomless bins should help.
  • Slugs in the bin: Slugs are one of the creatures that help the composting process. You can take out any visible slugs and dispose of them in an organic fashion. The numbers will not increase dramatically as a result of composting. 
  • Spread of compost encourages weed growth: The bin is not getting hot enough to kill of the weed seeds. Make the mix hotter by finely shredding the materials and by not adding plants that contain seeds. Digging the compost into the garden will reduce the chances of the seeds growing.
  • The pile is dry and not doing anything: Add some fresh greens and mix in.
  • Flies: Add a soil layer to distract flies.

CHASE - Cork Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment, 1 Lr. Midleton Street, Cobh, Cork
Tel - 021 481 5564
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