Our answers to the most commonly asked questions about…
Getting started with composting
It’s best to think of the composting process and compare it to your own digestive system. As humans, we want a healthy balanced diet, and so do composters.
Much like for us humans, nitrogen-based items such as vegetables, fish, and meats are the ‘good stuff’ for composters – providing energy and keeping them fit and healthy. While conversely, the ‘bad stuff’ – aka the foods which, in large amounts, make us gain weight or reduce our energy – do the same to an in-vessel composting machine. If we continually fed ourselves chips, pasta, bread, and pizza – with no other foods – we too would soon slow down.
But while all these latter items are indeed compostable, they should only feature as part of ‘the diet’ – not make up the whole thing.
It’s also crucial to be mindful of how much moisture there is in different food groups. Excessive wetness damages the composting process, so large volumes of liquified foods – such as curry sauces and soups – should be separated.
For anything bigger than small poultry bones, or lamb cutlet bones this is a no. This includes – but isn’t limited to – crab claws, lobster and oyster shells, large fish heads, and veal, beef, or pork bones as these can jam the blades inside the machine.
Definitely, these are a great source of nitrogen and are useful in the composting process.
The woodchip performs several important functions:
The recipe of composting requires a balance of moisture to be struck at the beginning of the process – around 65% overall. So, if the food waste you add is made up of 80-90% moisture content, then how do you bring down the moisture content? You add dryer material to the wetter ingredients – in the form of dry woodchip.
The composter has a shaft inside with blades – which act like a garden fork and lift and turn the mass of material, introducing air and allowing moisture and old air to be released – referred to as ‘aeration’. The woodchip and the food waste mix form a mass with air pockets, allowing the microbes to breathe and creating a binding quality – referred to as ‘structure’ that allows the material to be turned over. If we don’t produce structure inside the mass, the blades would act like knives and slice through the contents rather than turning them.
Attempting this process without woodchip – or using other materials to replace it, such as wood dust, paper, or cardboard – has the same effect as trying to eat soup with a fork.
First of all, try your local tree surgeon, landscaper, or grounds maintenance contractor. Ask your staff, students, colleagues too, as perhaps one of them has a family or friend connection.
You could also contact the local estate or council, or even the recycling industry. Grade A clean, shredded waste wood is a readily available material, but this will come at a small price.
Alternatively, if you have wood but no chip, you can process waste wood like pallets or packing cases – as long as they don’t include chemicals – using a woodchipper or shredder.
Yes, so make sure you consult someone!
Grants and funding are often available, and many governments are actively encouraging composting, but these can be difficult to identify. These are also dependant on sector and differ from country to country, so it’s worth doing some research online first.
No, this is true composting – nature’s own process. Through paying attention, learning, and understanding the composting process, you can make it work without the need for any additives at all.
Ideally yes, but for how long is determined by how good the operator is – what materials you’re composting, and what you want to use the product for, as this is a multi-purpose product in its raw state.
So, the short answer is yes, with a minimum of two weeks, but we’d recommend six weeks to start with.
Processing compostable packaging
It certainly is, all compostable packaging is designed to break down naturally when composted, but it needs to be processed under the right conditions just like food waste or garden waste.
No, it isn’t. As with conventional packaging, it’s made from materials suitable for its end use – such as plates, cups, and cutlery etc. Materials such as wood, sugarcane, palm, bagasse, paper, card, and PLA are all used, and all will compost if processed properly.
You will need to ensure that your compostable packaging is separated from your general waste and that you have a collection system in place which guarantees it goes to a certified composting facility.
Yes, you can. However, the right composting conditions need to be met to ensure this works effectively – you can’t simply put it in a pile as you would with garden waste.
Yes, it is. Tidy Planet has developed a method to compost effectively through an in-vessel composter. Below are the key points to consider:
- The microbes in the process need to get their ‘teeth’ into the process as quickly and as efficiently as possible. To do this, we need to shred the material first to considerably increase the surface area and mixing potential.
- Composting is like baking a cake, you need the right mix of ingredients to achieve the intended result. We need to get the right balance of nitrogen, carbon, and moisture for the microbes to thrive and compost effectively.
- Compostable packaging is typically very dry and high in carbon. Therefore, we need to balance this out with nitrogen and moisture, by adding other materials such as food wastes, grass, gardening wastes, and coffee grinds etc.
Yes, we can. With a range of shredding systems, Rocket Composters, and a comprehensive knowledge bank, you can be confident that we can provide both a solution and the expertise to help ensure your compostable packaging is processed effectively and sustainably on site.
Food waste drying vs Composting
This is one of the most common things we’re asked here at Tidy Planet, and the answer is no – they’re very different.
Dried food waste has the water evaporated out of it at a high heat, to reduce its moisture and weight by up to 90% – resulting in an inert, stabilised powder, that can be used as a valuable fuel resource, but not in the ground to grow produce.
That’s because as it hasn’t been through a complex biological transformation like compost, it’s missing in beneficial properties that aid moisture retention, soil structure, and microorganisms that benefit the ground and help plant growth.
The composting process takes up to 14 days, while dehydration only takes one.
No. Any process claiming to produce compost in 24 hours isn’t producing ‘compost’ at all.
Food waste drying is a great solution for firms which simply want to reduce their off-site disposal costs quickly and decrease the amount of food waste being landfilled – and don’t want to produce a compost resource on site. However, the drying process uses more energy than composting, so it has a higher carbon footprint.
Anaerobic Digestion vs Composting
Yes, it is. Decentralised composting that’s implemented on a local scale means food waste can be collected by greener transport methods – such as bicycles – instead of relying on trucks like AD plants do. In turn, this helps to reduce the number of polluting vehicles on the road and, in turn, carbon emissions.
Commercial composting can also be implemented on a more localised scale – providing jobs for communities and championing the power of societal collaboration.
Conversely, AD doesn’t produce ‘renewable energy’ in the traditional sense like wind or solar. Instead food waste is converted into a methane-rich biogas and burned as a fuel – producing carbon emissions – so this terminology is arguably misleading.
Yes. Composting treats food waste as a resource, not as ‘rubbish’ – and this is vital for creating a truly circular economy and eliminating society’s ‘throwaway’ mentality.
AD digestates are regularly promoted as alternative ‘green fertilisers’ for applying to land, but, in reality, they often contain lots of microplastics, which contaminate the land for generations to come.
The high nitrogen levels and lack of carbon or structure in digestate has the same negative effects as synthetic fertilisers – damaging the soil system, which leads to soil degradation and erosion and runs off into waterways.
It also helps to reduce feedstock contamination, as this is done on a smaller scale and by the human eye – rather than AD plants’ chopping and screening systems which can easily miss items, particularly plastics. This is of a major concern to the UK Environment Agency.
How Rocket Composters work
The ideal way is to carry out a waste audit – measuring the volume and weight of the waste you produce, for an entire week. Be sure to consider any relevant data about the number of people being served, too.
For example, if you carry out the audit and find X tonnes of waste, but you are aware that business and footfall will grow next year by 50%, this needs to be factored in. Including additional statistics alongside the food data will help you to predict any peaks or troughs in waste production that the initial audit won’t show.
Fortunately, Tidy Planet also has many years’ experience in calculating food waste volumes and can give guidance based on market sector or advise on how to perform a waste audit if required.
Please contact us with the results of your food waste audit and we will suggest the best package – or packages – of equipment for the waste you have. We don’t publicise prices because we don’t want customers thinking that they need to spend £X when they actually need to spend only £Y – each site requires a bespoke solution.
Compost from food waste in 24 hours?
In a word NO!
Composting requires the natural action of microbes to breakdown the complex chemical molecules in food waste. Any equipment producing compost in 24 hrs is a heating process removing the water and simply producing dried food waste. This shouldn’t be used as a soil improver or growth medium as you would compost. In the UK after drying food waste remains classified as waste.
But don’t take our word for it, see below regulatory guidance from the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency on the subject
“Composting” is defined in the Waste Management Licensing (Scotland) Regulations 2011 (WMLR), as–
“the autothermic [i.e. self-heating] and thermophilic [i.e. 40-80°C] biological decomposition and stabilisation of biodegradable waste under controlled aerobic conditions that result in a stable sanitised material that can be applied to land for the benefit of agriculture, horticulture or ecological improvement”.
Processes that do not meet the definition of composting but treat food waste using heat, chemicals or biological agents to reduce the water content or volume, may be suitable for the pre-treatment of food waste
prior to its separate collection and onward transport to an authorised treatment facility, e.g. an in- vessel composting (IVC) or an anaerobic digestion (AD) facility. However the residues from such processes remain waste, are not compost and are not suitable for application to land
WHAT OUR CLIENTS SAY…
“We are not only cutting out waste transportation costs and further decreasing our carbon emissions, but students are benefitting from having a real-time composting process at their fingertips.”
Jackie Beresford, Environmental Officer at Dundee and Angus College
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