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The joy of composting and recycling – joining up the dots

All Areas > Environment > General

Author: Caroline Sherwood, Posted: Thursday, 9th May 2019, 13:00

Composting can significantly increase the quality of the soil in your garden and reduces the amount of food waste sent to landfill Composting can significantly increase the quality of the soil in your garden and reduces the amount of food waste sent to landfill

An awful lot of rot is talked about compost (if you’ll pardon the pun) – people speak of it in hushed tones as though it’s some kind of esoteric horticultural alchemy which takes at least a degree and years of practice to master.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Alchemy it indeed is, but it’s as simple as choosing the right things, then chucking them into a compost bin and letting the myriad of creatures who thrive there do the rest.

When I lived in Bath without a garden, I put an ad in a local shop window asking for someone with a garden who would take my kitchen waste for their compost heap in exchange for flowers from their garden. One woman, within walking distance of my bedsit, responded.

I would keep my kitchen waste in a bucket with a lid under the sink. Every week I would walk the few blocks to her garden, deposit the content on her compost heap and return with seasonal flowers to decorate my little home.

Now I live in a house which has been divided into four flats with a total of five people living in them. I am the only person who regularly composts and the others rarely, if ever, seem to leave out their little green bins for the Council’s food waste collection scheme. This is a pity, as you really don’t need a lot of ground to install a compost bin.

What’s it made of and will it rot?

My approach is simple – whenever I’m going to throw anything away, I ask ‘What’s it made of, and will it rot?’ If it will, into the compost bucket it goes. Items for the compost include:
Vegetable peelings and trimmings
Tea bags. They often don’t rot because of the plastic content, but the tea is useful and I gather up the stray bags afterwards, either when spreading the compost or when I find them drifting on the flower beds!
Coffee grounds
Hair trimmings from comb and hairbrush
The contents of the sink tidies in kitchen sink and bath
Toe and nail clippings
Shells from mussels and eggs (can be crunched first, but not essential)

It is important not to add meat products, as this can potentially encourage rats to set up home in your heap. Meat and leftovers from your meals are better off going into the Council’s green food waste bin.

Compost heaps like some bulky brown matter to balance the green and for this I add the following:
Cardboard egg boxes
Scrunched up brown paper bags
The small cardboard tubes inside loo paper – these make lovely airy hideouts for worms!
Dust when I sweep the floor
The contents of the vacuum bag. Again, some of it is slow to rot, but it adds bulk and you can pick out the useless bits later.

Every Autumn I empty the compost bin, spread the lovely black crumbly stuff at the bottom on the garden, turn the rest a bit and chuck it back into the bin to provide the base for next year’s supply.

Along with families of worms who migrate to the heap and multiply therein, sometimes forming a writhing tangle when I open the lid, there are a myriad of microorganisms who contribute their digestive capacities to transforming organic waste into useable food for the garden.

Improving the quality of soil in your garden

A useful tip I learned from one of the Gardener’s Question Time panel is to pop any wandering slugs or snails you find in the flower beds into the compost heap. I don’t use any pesticides or herbicides in the garden and it is great to know that the slugs can happily live and die within the compost heap; providing the first level of breakdown within the composting process.

The quality of the soil in the garden has visibly improved over the 4+ years that I have been tending this garden, and this, in turn, has noticeably reduced the numbers of slugs and snails as the soil and balance of the garden improves.


I’ve divided the bins in our hall according to the Council’s original request: labelling them clearly in white water proof marker on the lid and sides with the house number and the labels ‘Glass & Paper’ and ‘Tins, Cans, Aerosols & Mixed Plastics’.

The pale blue bag is also labelled with the house number and we use it, as requested, only for cardboard. It is noticeable how the amount being put in the wheelie bins each fortnight has dropped from two to three bags to sometimes only one.

When it comes to recycling, the ‘What is this made of?’ question really comes into its own and I find myself delighted by being able to include the paper labels from cans in with the paper recycling. I tear up every bit of paper I use (lists, notes, receipts etc.) and keep it in a wastepaper basket by my desk until the evening of recycling preparation, at which time it goes into the paper container, along with newspapers and magazines.

Cans then go naked into the metal section, and I put the lid inside and squash them a bit. Wire wool for cleaning goes into the metal section. All cardboard gets added to the blue bag (packets of every kind, provided they don’t contain any plastic, the backs of greetings cards, packaging). It is at this stage that the main offender – single-use plastic – really reveals itself.

Take on the single-use plastic free challenge

With Plastic Free July just two months away, we might be inspired to take on the single-use plastic free challenge suggested by the Marine Conservation Society and do our very best to be without the toxic and damaging stuff for a day, a week or even the whole month.

A friend of mine has made some bags (two squares of fabric from charity shops, no handles) which are handy when buying fruit, vegetables and bread.

I’m building up to taking the challenge and so far I have:
Set up a milk delivery (in glass bottles).
Invested in a bamboo toothbrush from Foodloose in Portland Street – they’re in the Global Footsteps café and are open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Stocked up on dried goods (pulses, nuts, cereals) from Foodloose
Got Whittards on the Promenade to fill my tins, brought from home, with tea and coffee beans.
Visited CheeseWorks with my own plastic tub, which is multiple use and ideal for cheese.
• Bought unwrapped bread from Parson at 184 Bath Road.
Shopped for vegetables in the fortnightly Farmers’ Market on the Promenade, Roots and Fruits on the Bath Road, and Woody’s in the Lower High Street (either completely bag free or using brown paper bags).
Recycled printer ink cartridges to Freepost RTSU-HZGR-BTEU, The Cartridge Recycle Centre, 5 Romaine Close, Burgess Hill, RH15 0NS.

I plan to:
Buy recycled loo paper from They deliver to your door, don’t use inks, dyes or scents and 50% of their profits go to building loos for people who need them.
Buy hair and skin care products from Lush’s ‘naked’ range.

Useful Contacts:
You can buy compost bins from
Marine Conservation Society’s Plastic Free Challenge
Plastic Free Cheltenham
Slipstream Organics deliver organic veg boxes locally:

If you don’t live in Cheltenham, make sure you’re aware of your local Council’s recycling scheme to ensure you are recycling in the best way for your area. There are plastic-free shops popping up all over the country, so check out those near you, as well as your local farmers’ market, green grocer, etc.

Google is your friend when finding local facilities, but you may also wish to join an environmentally-friendly group on social media for advice, suggestions and tips. Again, there are groups for specific local areas, or check out Living Consciously Crew on Facebook to link up with like-minded people.

Many people are under the impression that their small efforts won’t make a difference, but it’s important to understand that if we all make an effort – however big or small – we will make great change together.

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Caroline Sherwood

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