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Introduction to composting

I bet you all know composting is a way of creating soil from food scraps and garden waste.

But did you know*:

  1. Sending food waste to landfill is a big contributor to climate change, so dealing with food scraps by composting is better for the planet? 
  2. Composting saves taxpayers money, as less waste needs to be transported in petrol-driven lorries (sometimes 100s of miles) to waste processing facilities? 
  3. Compost increases soils’ ability to absorb carbon from the atmosphere? 
  4. Vegetables grown in soils with added compost are healthier and more nutritious? 
  5. When done at a neighbourhood level, composting can even help to bring people together and overcome social barriers? 

Soil is essential for life, but unfortunately it is being degraded faster than it is being replaced. Globally, the UN has said we may have fewer than 60 harvests left, if we continue with current farming practices. 

But the good news is that composting is a straightforward way to make a difference, and it doesn’t need to cost anything! Here at the Food and Climate Action project we are always on the lookout for more ways to help the climate, and to connect people to the food system. So for the next few months, you will be hearing a lot more about composting from us. You may even join us for one of our upcoming composting networking events, or apply to our peer budgeting fund (more details to come!)

What is composting? 

There is a lot of mystique around composting, but essentially it’s really simple - it’s a way of re-creating a natural process of decay and returning nutrients to our soil. 

It’s an important part of the nutrient cycle

* See the Soil Association report "Saving Our Soils: Healthy soils for our climate, nature and health" for more information 

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Without a way of returning nutrients to the soil, soil would soon run out of nutrients, and we’d have no nutrients in our food! By composting you are not just dealing with food waste, but also creating a valuable product which helps to build healthy soils. 

So when leftover food scraps, peelings, leaves and other organic material go through a composting process, they are broken down and eaten by billions of microscopic bacteria, fungi and organisms. The resulting compost is a rich source of nutrients for plants. Other benefits of compost for plants are that it improves the drainage of soil, improves the amount of oxygen getting to plant roots, improves the pH, the soil structure and the beneficial microorganisms. The microorganisms living in soil (including worms) are the great recyclers of the natural world. 

Once you start composting, you may find you start treasuring all those egg shells and teabags, and seeing them as important sources of nutrients for the soil. They’re not waste until they’re wasted!

So do I just throw my food scraps on the soil? 

Not quite, there’s a bit more to it than that. You will probably want to contain them in a compost bin - there’s many different ways to build one some of which you can find here and here. Also, for any food waste you add, you will need to balance it out with carbon sources such as dry leaves, woodchips, torn up cardboard or twigs. These are commonly called browns, while food scraps (which are nitrogen-rich) are called greens. Usually you are aiming for roughly a 50:50 balance of greens and browns (although if you are hot composting you may need a different balance so check instructions). 

The other two ingredients you need are moisture and air. Usually if you get the balance of greens and browns right you won’t need to add water. If when you squeeze the contents of your compost bin, it has the moisture of a wet sponge, it’s about right. 

You need to help the air circulate in your bin - there are various ways to do that depending on what type of bin you have. It may be by turning the pile, by adding scrunched up paper and cardboard which adds gaps, by the design of your bin, or by having gaps in the sides of your bin to let air flow through. 

To recap, the 4 key elements you need are:

  1. ‘Greens’ (nitrogen-rich materials)
  2. ‘Browns’ (carbon-rich materials)
  3. Air
  4. Moisture

Finally, you also need a big enough pile for the process to start happening. A pile of 1m cubed is usually enough to get going. 

Do I need a garden? 

No! As part of our work at the Food and Climate Action project, we want to make it easier for people who want to compost their food scraps, to be matched up to people who are composting. This may be a community garden, a community organisation or just a neighbour with a compost bin. So as long as you are willing to collect your food waste, you can be involved! Just check for the composter’s requirements of what materials they will accept, as not all composting systems can deal with all types of food.

A great way to support your composting journey is by becoming a member of the MakeSoil website. We’re not officially partnered with them in any way, but we think what they do is great: matching up people with composters (Soil Makers) with people who have waste (Soil Supporters)! There are currently only 2 registered Soil Sites in Glasgow - let’s see if we can bump that number up!

How can I get involved? 

As part of our Composting for the Future campaign, we are offering several resources to help community groups and individuals in Glasgow to get involved in composting in their community. Please get in touch if there is something else you would like to see. 

  • A good first port of call is our webpage on community composting
  • Contact one of our Community Activators to arrange a composting workshop for your group by emailing [email protected] 
  • Our database of funding opportunities related to composting
  • Find your nearest composting site, by signing up to Make Soil! It can be downloaded as an app on your phone, or accessed via the website. It consists of a map and once you sign up you will be added to the map. Its aim is to connect people with food scraps to people with compost bins, so everyone can get involved in composting and benefit from the end result!
  • Plus, look out for more exciting announcements in the New Year! Follow us on Eventbrite , sign up to our newsletter, or follow us Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, so you don’t miss out. 

There are many many resources out there to help you on your composting journey. Here at FCA our favourites are: