Timeline (in progress)
UCL launches its Plastic Waste Innovation Hub and the Big Compost Experiment.
WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation launch the UK Plastics Pact, a unique platform for businesses, governments, innovators, NGOs, and citizens to work together for nationwide plastic systems reform.
Approximately 5 million tonnes of edible food waste is produced by domestic households every year. Much of this waste ends up in landfill sites and breaks down anearobically, producing harmful greenhouse gases such as methane.
WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) launches its ‘Love Food, Hate Waste’ campaign. A significant aim of the campaign is to reduce the amount of organic matter ending up in landfill, thereby reducing the production of greenhouse gases contributing to global warming.
The Soil Association is founded in response to growing concerns about intensive farming techniques and the use of herbicides popularised in wartime. Principle activities of the charity include campaigning against intensive farming, support for local purchasing and nutrition education, and the certification of organic produce.
World War Two food shortages lead to rationing and other measures in the UK in order to increase local and household food production, including food waste collection for feeding animals and making compost. So called ‘victory gardens’ are promoted, encouraging the public to grow their own food and reduce the pressure on public food supplies.
Maye Bruce, gardener and founder member of the Soil Association, develops the 'Quick Return' (QR) composting method. The method is popularised due to speed of compost production, and organic and sustainable preparation. It utilises a herbal activator made from the honey and the leaves and flowers of six common herbs; chamomile, dandelion, valerian, yarrow, nettle, and oak. See recipe here.
First development of polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) from bacterium Bacillus megaterium. This is the first bioplastic to be made from bacteria.
Polylactic Acid or PLA (a biobased and biodegradable plastic) is first discovered by Wallace Carothers, the scientist who discovered nylon and neoprene. Carothers tries to develop a commercially viable process to produce PLA in the lab, but is unsuccessful at the time.
World War One food waste is identified as problematic and food rationing is introduced. One of the initial goals of the Women’s Institute (WI), set up in 1915, is to combat food waste.
Galalith is invented, a bio-based and biodegradable plastic made from casein protein found in milk. Although cheap to produce, its commercial breakthrough is limited for several reasons. Milk is scarce and the development of oil-based plastics is boosted during World War One. Another issue is that Galalith cannot be moulded once set, so it has to be produced in sheets. However, it can easily be cut, drilled, embossed, dyed, and manipulated to create a range of effects. Galalith is still used today to make buttons.
The bio-based and biodegradable plastic PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoate) is discovered.
John Wesley Hyatt acquires Alexander Parkes patent and begins to manufacture billiard balls from cellulose nitrate (a biodegradable bioplastic) as an alternative to ivory. An unfortunate disadvantage to this material is its inherent flammability, leading to some explosive incidents in the billiard halls.
Alexander Parkes creates Parkesine, the first man-made and bio-based plastic (bioplastic) made from cellulose found in the cell walls of plants. His discovery is first made public at London's 1862 International Exhibition. Initially promoted as an inexpensive replacement for rubber, Parkesine is moldable, transparent and maintains its shape after cooling.
In 1842, social reformer Edwin Chadwick writes his ‘Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of Great Britain,’ in which he argues for the importance of adequate waste removal and management facilities to improve the health and wellbeing of London's population.
Queen Cleopatra VII is the first ruler of ancient Egypt to declare that worms are sacred, and that their removal from Egypt is punishable by death.
In his first-century BC agricultural writings, Fan Sheng-Chih Shu indicates that the ancient Chinese enriched soil with cooked bones, manure, and silkworm debris.
There are also references to composting manure and straw in Ancient Chinese writings, and Bhagavad Gita (‘The Song of the Lord’) in early Hindu texts.
In his book entitled De Agri Cultura (Concerning the Culture of the Fields), Cato the Elder describes the composting of animal manures, as well as plant waste.
Dung is used in three ways: for direct spreading; to be mixed with street sweepings and organics refuse on the dunghill outside the city walls; and to produce liquid manure from trampled manure-soaked straw.
His system appears to be the first recorded use of vermicomposting.
The Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans all practise compost making, taking straw from animal stalls and burying it in cultivated fields. There are references to composting manure and straw in the Hebrew Talmud and Old Testament.
The Bible contains numerous references to dung and dunghills. In the countryside, manure is spread onto fields, while in cities and towns it is collected with street sweepings, which contained a large amount of faecal material, and stored in dunghills outside the city walls. Manure-contaminated straw is also soaked in water to make liquid manure.
The Hebrew Talmud records that ashes, straw, stubble, chaff, grass and animal blood from sacrifices is used as fertiliser.
Mesoamerican cultures (Olmec, Maya, Aztecs) use natural latex and rubber to make balls, containers, and for waterproofing clothing.
The first written account of compost making is produced during the reign of Sargon of Akkad.
There is evidence of composting in Scotland in the Neolithic Era.
Midden heaps are ploughed in situ; early farmers would run an ‘ard’ over their ‘compost’ heaps before sowing their plots. An examination of these soils shows evidence of manure, vegetable waste, ash, and other organic matter. While this may have been a deliberate attempt to spread nutrients, it was more likely just an attempt to level the cultivated area and redistribute muck.
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.