Composting is like cooking: It connects you with the soil and the ecosystems that sustain all life on the planet. It is also similar to cooking in that it is a personal and cultural practice with many variables and traditions. Separating out food waste and composting it, whether through an industrial process (as part of a municipal food waste collection), or at home, helps to mitigate the effects of climate change by reducing the production of methane in landfill.
The word ‘compost’ comes from the Latin composita meaning ‘something put together’. It is a versatile word used to describe the act of making compost, the process of breaking something down, or the rich mix of organic matter, micro and macro organisms used to nourish soil. Sometimes referred to as ‘black gold,’ compost is decomposed organic material and is commonly used as a natural fertiliser and soil conditioner. It is created through the actions and processes of micro- and macro-organisms, bacteria, and enzymes, under the right environmental conditions for heat, humidity, and pH. When applied to soil it can help to increase the yield, health, and nutritional content of the vegetables and plants grown. It is also a great way to learn about the natural, and often unseen processes essential for life.
Composting has played an important role throughout history. Early composting techniques have been identified in Scotland from 4000 BC, and in China from around 100 BC. The Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans also practiced compost making. Industrialisation and intensive agricultural processes have had a significant impact on soil health worldwide. In recent history, the pressure on resources after two world wars made chemical fertilisers expensive, and many people had concerns about the contamination of the limited manure supplies available to use as fertiliser. In combination with a growing awareness of the importance of soil ecology, climate change, and affordable food production, this has encouraged an increase in the practice of home composting techniques in the West.
Many different methods and approaches to composting have developed globally throughout history, each offering a way to harness and promote the natural decomposition of organic matter according to need, environment, and available space. Composting can help combat climate change, and reduce our environmental impact in several ways. Organic waste sent to landfill releases a significant amount of methane gas, which is approximately thirty times more potent than carbon dioxide as a heat trapping greenhouse gas. Composting at home, on an allotment, or through a council food and garden waste collection service can help to reduce the release of methane gas, while converting kitchen and garden waste into something valuable and useful.
There are some challenges to composting, such as a lack of space at home, or lack of equipment to do it. However, these can easily be overcome without costing much. DIY compost heaps can be made cheaply and easily in your garden. A variety of container methods are readily available to buy at garden centres or online, or subsidised through your local council.
For further information, see our About Composting page.
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.