Sunday, 10 January 2010

Composting part 1 - what you should know about landfill first

Before I introduce the topic of composting, can I give you some background information. It is my ultimate goal to turn ecocornwall into a printed magazine this year, and with that in mind I sent out a number of questionnaires in order to find out if there was a market for a printed eco magazine in Cornwall, what potential readers might like to see included as article features, as well as simply finding out how green people in Cornwall really are. Two of the questions I asked were, "how often do you recycle" and "how often do you compost". 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, most individuals said that they recycled materials very regularly, even all the time, but never composted any of their kitchen waste. There are so many messages that come through the media telling us to recycle, that it is good for the planet etc, and it always seems to me to be bundled up with the general messages about protecting our climate. So why doesn't composting seem to have the same level of importance? If we are going to concentrate on the local environment (and by local I do just mean Cornwall), then surely it is important to keep as much waste out of landfill as possible. 

The present situation as I understand it, is that SITA (the contractor responsible for public waste management in Cornwall) manages two landfill sites in the county. One is the Connon Bridge site near Liskeard, and the other is United Mines near St Day, Redruth. At the moment all waste that would normally go to Connon Bridge is being diverted to United Mines. The reason for this as I understand it (and please feel free to interject anyone who has more accurate information), is that the United Mines site must close this year (I don't know why but I believe there is a legal reason behind it - is there a law saying you can't use one site for landfill for more than 30 years because of the environmental impact? That would seem logical to me) however, the site is not yet full, the reason why all Cornwall's waste is going there before it is closed.

None of this is particularly cute and fluffy, unlike many 'green' or 'eco' messages that are sent out to us from the government, the EU or anyone else interested in promoting greener living. However, it is important, because knowledge is a key part of being responsible for the environment around you. According to Cornwall Council, only 34% of our waste is recycled (which they take to mean both recycling materials and composting waste), which means that there is plenty of room for improvement. As an individual I recycle everything I possibly can, but I also compost my kitchen waste. As a result I estimate that I keep about 60% of my waste out of landfill. Can you imagine what things would be like if everyone did this? For me it's a no-brainer, an obsessive compulsion even (I'll happily admit to that!) but for others, it would mean a real change in thinking and lifestyle. 

So why doesn't kitchen waste work well in landfill? It should just rot down right? Apparently not. Both kitchen and garden waste needs to be exposed to the air and not contaminated with other materials such as plastics. To produce good compost, wet waste (for example, eggshells and banana skins) needs to be mixed with dry waste (such as newspaper, cardboard, dry leaves), fairly evenly and be turned over every so often to aerate it. This doesn't happen in landfill. Everything just gets dumped in together, and the magic processes that turn kitchen and garden waste into lovely compost never get a chance to take effect.

Image thanks to the fantastic blog at

Composting and Recycling - Cornwall Council   

Why landfill is bad and composting is good - Cornwall Council  (this is a particularly good link and explains everything that I have said in more detail)

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