About The Experiment
We would like you to help us investigate the role and effectiveness of biodegradable and compostable packaging. The first part of the experiment is a short survey: We want to know what you think of biodegradable plastics, what you do with them, and if you ever compost them yourself. If you do engage in composting, there is a second part to the experiment. We ask if you would place a few biodegradable plastic items in your compost under controlled conditions, and then report back to us about whether they compost or not.
By taking part in our experiment, you will be helping us determine the viability of biodegradable and compostable plastics. The data we collect from you will feed into our Live Composting Map, a live map of home composting activities across the UK, and, with your consent, we will keep you up-to-date with the project as it develops. However, you also have the option to remain anonymous; we won’t need to bother you again.
About the team
The Big Compost Experiment was conceived by Danielle Purkiss and Professor Mark Miodownik from UCL’s Plastic Waste Innovation Hub. The test and images were created by Danielle Purkiss, food photography by Studio-SP, and the website was designed by Ten4.
This is one of a series of research initiatives currently being undertaken as part of UCL’s Plastic Waste Innovation Hub, jointly funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). The Hub brings together a multidisciplinary team of experts from across UCL, who are creating and testing new interventions in eliminating plastic waste.
If you compost and want to take part in a home composting experiment, you’ll need:
- a selection of identical compostable or biodegradable items (see list below)
- a net bag and clip to securely close it (see guidance below)
- a plastic milk bottle cap (or similar) and permanent marker pen to identify your items
If you do not use a composter but you're interested in finding out more, please see our Composting Processes page for more information.
1. Choose your experiment items
Select the type and quantity of compostable or biodegradable plastic items from our list that you would like to test. Please only select items that display the following manufacturer information:
- 'compostable' (only)
- 'home biodegradable'
- 'home compostable'
- 'suitable for home composting'
- TUV OK Compost 'HOME' certification mark
- Din Certco 'HOME COMPOSTABLE' certification mark
NOTE: If testing multiple items together please ensure they are an identical type and brand (one type and brand of item per net bag).
2. Prepare your experiment equipment
To make locating your experiment items in your compost easier, please compost your items in a plastic net bag (the kind of net bag used to hold fruit in a supermarket would be ideal). Use a permanent marker pen to identify your items on a plastic milk bottle cap (or similar) and add to your net bag. To test fruit and veg stickers please stick each label on a plastic milk bottle cap first then add to your net bag. Use a permanent marker pen to identify them. You will have the option to upload photographs of your composter and experiment equipment to help us analyse your results. See our Photography Guidelines for more information.
NOTE: Please ensure you use a perforated net bag. This is so a sufficient flow of oxygen, organic waste and microorganisms can come into contact with your experiment items.
3. Create a login account
Create a login account and share a few extra details about what composter you will be using for the experiment, its location in the UK for our Live Composting Map, and your composting method. Please set the duration of your experiment according to how long it usually takes you to make compost. There is the option to share photos of your composter and experiment items and equipment, if you wish. Please indicate on your form if you would like to share your images on the Big Compost Experiment website. See our Photography Guidelines for more information.
4. Start your experiment
Securely close the net bag containing your experiment items and identifying markers and add to your composter. Carry on composting as usual. We'll send you an email reminder when your experiment is due to finish and it's time to look for your net bag and items.
5. Submit your results
When your experiment timer has finished, please look for the net bag and items in your compost. You can use a trowel, spade or household sieve to locate it. Under 18s must be accompanied by a responsible adult. Check the contents of your net bag for any traces of your items. If there are any traces please compare them with our 'Scale of Degradation' in the results form in your login account and share any other useful observations about your experiment. There is the option to share a photo of your results. Please indicate on your form if you would like to share your image(s) on the Big Compost Experiment website. See our Photography Guidelines for more information.
NOTE: Once you have completed your experiment, please dispose of any item remains in your general waste collection. Check locally for recylability of other experiment equipment and rinse before recycling.
How to take a photograph of your experiment equipment
Pre- and post-composted items and equipment
- Place your biodegradable or compostable items on a clean surface alongside any secondary packaging (if applicable) and net bag. A contrasting surface is preferable (i.e. one on which the items will stand out).
- Orientate items and packaging (if applicable) in order to capture any compostable labelling or certification marks (if displayed). If testing multiple items together please ensure they are an identical type and brand (one type/brand of item per net bag).
- Position your camera approximately 1 metre above the objects. Position items clearly within the viewfinder of your camera or camera phone, so that all edges of items are visible. Please ensure no recognisable features (people, faces, house number, etc.) are visible in the image.
- Take a photograph (while keeping your hand steady!)
- Upload photographs via your login account, with the option to display them on our Gallery page.