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What is compost and composting?

Compost is a brown soil like substance that has been made from a mixture of organic ingredients, such as food, garden waste, paper and card; anything that has recently lived. Composting is nature’s recycling. Worms and other minibeasts, fungi and bacteria living in a compost bin or heap recycle the nutrients found in organic matter so that they can be used to help more plants grow.

Why is composting important?

1. Composting reduces your school’s environmental impact

  • Composting cuts down the amount of waste being collected and taken to Energy from Waste plants (EfW) and landfill sites. This reduces the amount of fuel used and vehicle emissions.
  • If organic matter is taken to a landfill site it rots under anaerobic conditions (without oxygen) and produces methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. When organic matter is composted, the process uses oxygen (aerobic) so methane is not created.
  • Composting uses food and garden waste as a ‘resource’ from which the useful product of compost can be made.
  • Using compost made at school to fertilise your gardens means you do not have to use artificial fertiliser or peat-based compost which is often dug from sensitive, declining bog habitats. Composting therefore reduces your reliance on fossil fuels and supports important habitats.

2. Composting can save your school money

  • By making their own compost, schools can also save on the cost of purchasing compost from a garden centre or similar.
  • Most schools pay for the collection and disposal of their food and garden waste. If some, or all, of this waste is composted, waste collection costs can be significantly reduced.

WoW fact: Bradley Barton Primary School, Newton Abbot (266 NoR) started composting their food waste which resulted in an annual saving of £500. This was because they no longer filled two of their wheeled bins each week.

3. Composting supports your school’s curriculum

  • Composting provides opportunities for a wealth of practical, hands-on learning across a range of subjects. To support teachers in using composting to enrich the curriculum, Devon County Council has created the Compost Curriculum Handbook, which is free to Devon schools. It contains 11 monthly activities, with supporting documents, for a class and Eco Team.

WoW fact: According to a WRAP report (2008), the average primary school pupil produces 45kg of waste per year; 46% of this is food waste.

How to compost successfully 

You do not need to have expensive equipment to compost properly. You can make a compost pile in the corner of your garden or school grounds, have a plastic ‘dalek’, a Ridan (see right) or invest in a top-of-the range Big Hanna which will cost many thousands of pounds.

What is important is that good compost needs a healthy balance between air and water, both of which can come from things that have recently lived. Air comes from dry, woody materials which provide air pockets and contain a carbon source. These are known as ‘browns’. Water comes from things like food waste and other moist, sappy materials. These contain nitrogen and are known as ‘greens’. If you get a good balance of ‘browns’ and ‘greens’ from the beginning (aim for 50:50 mix every time you add waste to your composter), great compost will happen naturally.

Use these links to see photos of different types of composter and compost, and compost-related videos we have created.

If you would like to start composting in your school, please look at our composting advice pages for Teachers.