Notes from the Compost Heap

At Westaways we realise that certified compostable packaging is not the total answer, but we do feel it is a valuable part of a truly circular economy. And way to help cut the damage to our environment.

Food manufacturers must develop alternative packaging substrates that are truly sustainable, that maintain shelf life and protect their products. Yet these new designs and materials cannot slow productivity or add cost. This is a big ask.

But as the UK waste management system evolves, and as consumers are looking for brands that have similar values to their own, so businesses will adapt and change.

We must reach a point where waste is treated a resource that has real value, which can be monetised. This will take innovation, collaboration, and a change of behaviour throughout the supply chain.

We will learn lessons, and we must be open to criticism, it is an essential part of the journey we are on.

What lessons have we learnt so far?

There are obvious lessons like:

-It is hard to make changes, but even harder to change behaviour.

-There are always entities and individuals keen to challenge your actions.

-It takes persistence and time to make real changes.

What we had not realised:

-The silent majority are apathetic regarding the need to change.

-There is a growing minority that want hope and want change.

-Successful changes need constant coverage to generate awareness and adoption.

-The system needs to change in the right way to benefit your approach.

Gather around the Compost heap.

At Westaways we live and work in the heart of Devon, here maybe one in four households have compost heaps. If you live in an urban area, then composting might be seen as a bit alternative.

We fully understand this, but we do see that composting can play an important part in this lovely part of the world.

What have we learnt on home composting.

  1. The quality of the compost can easily be compromised. We have four large composting bays; this enables us to evaluate what degrades and how quickly. For example, before certified compostable tea bags became mainstream, they were included in our compost, even today some 5 years later these fibres are still clearly evident. Two years ago, we started a bay and used quite large quantities of brown cardboard outers, we wanted to trial what happened to the plastic packaging tape on the outers so left this attached. This whole bay is now contaminated and the tape easily visible. What goes in, determines what comes out.
  2. Biodegradable means diddly squat. Do not be hoodwinked by labels. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it just may a duck. We have salvaged a rogue’s gallery of packaging from the bays that looks as strong as the day it was first composted. Try to focus on just using packaging that is clearly uncoated material with no laminate and ideally has clear branding that it is Home Compostable Accredited (EN 13432 for example)
  3. You can sup up performance of your Compost heap. If you have followed advice and best practise on siting and building your compost heap, and have put the right stuff in. Now is the time of year when the heap should start to heat up and really get working. We have learnt that getting air into the heap is important, so jump in with a fork and turn over the top couple of foot. Also, we use a piece of old black plastic sheeting cut to size to cover the top of the heap, this catches the heat from the sun and heats up the top layer whilst retaining heat on the cooler nights.
  4. Enjoy your Compost heap. You have created a living thing, which will provide material to enhance any flower bed or vegetable patch. We use a 600mm long thermometer probe that shows just what temperature the heaps are generating. We have a board that sits over the bay that doubles up as a potting bench, a quiet hour pricking out seedlings and potting them up to grow on with a cup of tea is the perfect way to unwind at the end of a busy day. This has to be a better way than kerbside recycling in a rural area.

So why not consider:

“Turning your spoil into soil?”