Your essential recycling guide Food and garden waste
This article, Your essential recycling guide, was last updated on 31 March 2009 and is now out of date and held in our online archive for reference. Explore our latest Home & garden articles.
More than a third of the waste from homes is made up of kitchen or garden materials.
Although food and plant waste biodegrades naturally, it releases the dangerous greenhouse gas methane as it breaks down in landfill. It also produces harmful liquids that can pollute local water supplies.
Composting prevents these harmful side effects and most local authorities now offer a green bag scheme for collecting garden waste.
Reduce food waste
The best way to reduce the amount of organic waste you send to landfill if not to buy too much food in the first place! It’s estimated that a third of all the food we buy in the UK is thrown away.
The government has launched the Love Food Hate Waste campaign to reduce this statistic by helping people reduce their own food waste. Top tips include:
- By smaller packet sizes.
- Freeze leftover portions of meals.
- Only cook what you realistically expect to eat.
- Plan out your meals for the week, make a shopping list and stick to it.
- Check use-by and best-before dates when shopping and decide whether you'll get to eat the food before this time.
- Freeze food on the day of purchase if you don't expect to eat it before the use-by/best-before date.
- Use recipes that use up leftover ingredients, such as bubble and squeak.
If your local authority collects food and garden waste
Check which materials your council accepts and when they're collected, by ringing the relevant department or visiting the authority’s website.
Many authorities that collect food and garden waste will need you to sort them into separate containers.
Don't put plastics – such as plant pots or bags – in the collection bag. If you want to wrap food waste, most authorities allow you to do this with paper or cornstarch bags.
Recycling food and garden waste at home
Consider composting natural waste by installing a compost bin in your garden. See our making compost guide for more information.
Recycle Now has a step-by-step guide to home composting and also runs a home composting helpline 0845 600 0323.
What you can compost
- Fruit and vegetable scraps
- Tea bags, coffee grounds
- Crushed egg shells
- Grass cuttings, prunings and leaves
- Small amounts of shredded paper and soft cardboard
- Animal hair
- Vacuum dust (only from woollen carpets)
What you can't compost
- Pet droppings
- Disposable nappies
- Shiny card
- Hard objects
To recycle kitchen waste you could also consider a wormery. Wormeries are easy-to-use, efficient units that house worms which recycle organic waste into rich compost and fertilising liquid.
They can also be used to dispose of shredded newspaper, cardboard, dry leaves, mature compost or manure.
Wormeries come in a variety of sizes, from miniature kitchen tabletop models to outside versions the size of wheelie bins. As a rough guide, two kilograms of worms will digest one kilogram of materials each day.
Starter kits are available from garden centres and worms (Eisenia foetida, often known as red wriggler or brandling worms) can be found in fishing shops or in established compost heaps.
You could also build your own DIY wormery using a compost bin with drilled drainage holes – find out more at The Gardeners Calendar website.