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.