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How to Compost: standard compost bins


Home composting is easy but there are a few guidelines that you need to follow to get the most out of your compost bin.

The materials that you put in your compost bin are split into two categories - GREEN (wet) and BROWN (dry) materials. It is important that you place both green and brown materials in your compost bin. A good rule of thumb is to add one part green material to one part brown material.


YES - Green Materials
Green materials contain lots of nitrogen. They break down quickly and help to keep the compost moist.
Cut flowers
Egg shells
Fruit & vegetables
Garden & house plants
Grass cuttings
Tea leaves/bags & coffee grounds

YES - Brown Materials
Brown materials contain lots of carbon. They break down more slowly and add structure to your compost. It is important to have structure within your compost to create air pockets which allow air to circulate and enable the creatures which make your compost to breath and move around your compost.
Bedding from pet cages
Branches and twigs
Hedge trimmings
Scrunched up paper & cardboard
Straw & hay
Woodchippings & sawdust

There are a few materials with which you should take care:
  • Grass cuttings can be added to your compost bin, but it is important not to put too much in. It is best to mix grass cuttings well with some brown materials such as scrunched up cardboard. If you have large amounts of grass you might want to compost it separately. For further information see Composting Grass Cuttings.
  • Leaves can be added to your compost bin in small quantities. If you have large amounts of leaves you may want to compost them separately. For further information see Making Leaf Mould.
The following materials cannot be composted in a standard compost bin:
Cat or dog litter
Coal or coke ash (small amounts of wood ash is ok)
Cooked food
Diseased plants
Nappies, glass, plastic or metal
Raw meat & fish (including bones)


Once you have chosen your compost bin you will need to decide the best place for it.

It is best to place your compost bin in an area that is easy to get to all year round as this will make it easy for you to add new materials and empty the bin once the compost is ready.

Ideally your compost bin should be placed on either bare soil or grass and not on concrete or patio slabs. This will make it easy for worms and other creatures, which help to break down kitchen and garden waste, to enter the compost bin.

To help the composting process you should place your compost bin in a location that is out of excessive sunlight and is sheltered from the wind.


Getting started

Before putting materials into your compost bin for the first time it is a good idea to place a layer of brown materials such as branches and twigs, at the bottom of your bin. This layer should be about 15cm (6 inches) deep and will help air to circulate at the bottom of the compost bin once more materials have been added. Good air circulation speeds up the composting process.

Adding materials

Once the first layer of twigs and branches have been put into your compost bin, more brown and green materials can be added as they become available. To create the best possible compost, remember the rule of thumb and add an equal amount of green and brown materials to your compost bin.

Adding air

Adding air speeds up the composting process as it enables the bacteria that break down your kitchen and garden waste to work effectively. You can make sure that there is enough air in your compost by adding equal amounts of green and brown materials and by turning your compost.

To turn your compost you can empty the contents of your compost bin and turn your compost with a fork before returning it to the bin. Or, you can turn your compost while it is still in the bin using a garden fork or aerator stick. To order an aerator stick call the Home Composting Helpline on 0845 6000 323.

Making sure that your compost doesn’t get too wet or dry

Your compost needs the right amount of moisture to work. You can tell if your compost is too wet or dry by gently squeezing a handful – if a couple of drops of water emerge between your fingers the compost has the right amount of moisture in it.

If your compost feels dry and dusty add some green materials and some water.

If your compost feels slimy or soggy, mix in some brown materials such as scrunched up cardboard/ paper, sawdust or small twigs.

How long does it take?

The time it takes to get useable compost depends on:
  • The type and quantity of materials in your bin
  • The time of year
  • How often you turn your compost
It usually takes between 6 and 18 months to produce compost. If you have a lot of materials you might like to try ‘hot composting’ which can produce compost in around 6 weeks. Add a link to hot composting or explain what it is

When your compost is ready it will be dark brown in colour and crumbly. You should not be able to recognise any of the original materials, although some twigs, egg shells and items such as peach stones may still be visible.

Hot Composting

Hot composting allows you to create compost in a very short time. To create a hot heap it is best to use a container as this will create the best conditions.

To build your hot heap you should add equal amounts of green and brown materials and mix them up well. Fill your compost bin to the brim with your materials and place the lid on.

Every 2-3 weeks you will need to turn your compost to add air and allow materials which were towards the outside of your bin to reach the centre of the bin where the temperatures are greatest. If you mix your hot heap regularly it can produce high quality compost in as little as three months


Home composting:
  • Creates a useful product that can be used as mulch, soil conditioner, lawn conditioner or as part of a seed and potting mix.
  • Reduces the need for landfill.
  • Reduces the risk of global warming. When kitchen and garden waste breaks down in a landfill, methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, is produced.
  • Saves the Earth’s natural resources by reducing the need for peat taken from endangered habitats.
Uses for compost:
  • Mulch – a layer of compost can be applied to the surface of soil. This will add nutrients, helping to encourage plant growth.
  • Soil conditioner – mix compost into the soil to improve structure and add nutrients.
  • Lawn conditioner – mix an equal amount of sand and fine compost and spread over your lawn.
  • Seed and potting mix – mix equal amounts of soil and compost. Experiment to find out the best proportions.

Local Schemes

WRAP home composting schemes are running in the following areas: Some local authorities run their own HC schemes. For details on these schemes and where to buy HC equipment please visit Sort It.
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