Compostable, Recyclable and Biodegradable – three words we’ve all heard, but what do they actually mean? Here’s a handy guide to all three.
When I think of ‘compostable’, I can picture the big plastic container at the bottom of my grandparents’ garden, where my Nanna would put the potato peelings on a Sunday afternoon.
But what happens in that big bucket in the garden? Adding organic matter, like those peelings, all together in ideal composting conditions starts a process of decay that leaves a soil conditioner that is rich in nutrients.
Not everything can go in a compost bin, but here’s a handy list of what you can chuck in there:
- vegetable peel
- plant cuttings/prunings
- weeds without seeds
- scrunched-up paper
- crushed eggshells
- untreated sawdust
- coffee grounds
Make sure you don’t add meat, fish, eggs (the shell is fine), treated wood, big branches, pet waste, glossy paper, dairy products, fats, grease, oils, coal/charcoal and seeded or diseased plants.
Composting reduces your volume of rubbish, which is always handy, but it also produces a nutrient-rich liquid that can be used to feed the soil when growing plants or veggies in the garden.
Get Started with Composting
Fill your backyard compost bin with a 6 inch layer of “brown” matter (wood, paper, card) and a 2-3 inch layer of “green” matter (food waste, grass).
Add some water till its damp, but not soaking wet. Every now and then give it a turn to get the process working faster and keep adding those “brown” and “green” layers. You can sprinkle soil or compost on top of your layers to disguise any bad smells.
Some local councils offer a food waste collection with a small caddy, which you can use in or near your kitchen to get rid of peelings without having to run out into the garden. You can then transport your caddy to the compost bin when it’s full.
If you have bought a compostable item, big thumbs up! Make sure you add it to your compost in order for the compostable element to work.
There are a lot of similarities between compostable and biodegradable materials, as they are both intended to return to the earth safely. However, biodegradable materials are designed to break down within landfills rather than needing composting conditions.
Although biodegradable materials return to nature and can disappear completely, they sometimes leave behind metal residue. Some biodegradable plastics break down into smaller pieces but never actually disappear.
Recycling is the process of converting waste materials into new materials and objects. Recycling can prevent the waste of potentially useful materials filling up our landfills.
Recycling means reduced production of materials like plastic, which means energy use, transportation and pollution is also reduced.
However, recycling isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, especially when it comes to plastic recycling. The truth is, only 9% of the plastic we’ve ever produced has been recycled. The other 91% has ended up in landfill or has been incinerated and scattered throughout the environment. There are huge floating islands in the ocean partly composed of plastic by-products from the manufacturing process.
Recycling at home isn’t as simple as you expect, either. If there are contaminants – such as a bit of Tetra Pak in a cardboard shipment – in a recycling centre, whole lorry-loads of recycling has to be sent to landfill.
Because of this, make sure you’re sorting your recycling correctly at home, as determined by your local council’s collection rules.
There are so many upcycling options and ideas out there! Here are some of the upcycles I’ve done:
- Using old yogurt pots for paintbrushes
- Repurposing old bedding and towels for bed bedding
- Used empty toilet roll tubes for bird feeding
- Reusing glass jars for food storage solutions
- Sewed scrap materials and old clothes into masks, customised clothing and pillow covers