The hobby that makes us happier and healthier

What if your children or grandchildren could take up a hobby that would make them happier and healthier throughout their lifetime?

Well, give those kids a little watering can and take them outside because introducing them to gardening is the gift that keeps on giving. 

Research has shown that for children and adolescents gardening helps to:

  • reduce stress and anger.
  • provide quiet time for reflection.
  •  improve concentration and memory.
  • create a sense of achievement and empowerment (especially in children who struggle academically)
  • improve educational performance.

When I worked in a primary school one of the most popular activities was Gardening Club; children constantly asked when the club was starting up again. Some of the children who showed the most natural ability were ones who struggled academically.  Children should be allowed to find what they’re good at; it might not be algebra.

This week it was announced that gardening is one of the activities that the NHS is to prescribe to children (aged 9-13) as part of a campaign to improve mental health and tackle loneliness following evidence that anxiousness among pupils has worsened following the pandemic.

Around 40 per cent of the UK population describe themselves as active gardeners and it’s estimated that around 7 million took up gardening for the first time during the pandemic.

Neuroscientist and psychologist Andrea Mechelli, who is professor of early intervention in mental health at King’s College London, is studying how nature affects wellbeing. His research has shown that even small pockets of green spaces can lead to measurable improvements in mental wellbeing that last over time.

He says: ‘Even in a dense urban environment you can access trees, you can hear birdsong. We found that when people can see trees, there is an increase in mental wellbeing, and this lasts at least eight hours. We find similar results for birdsong. Small can still be impactful.’

Active participation – when you perform an act of care for the landscape – can be powerful. ‘For example, planting, or taking care of trees will increase biodiversity but will also reduce air pollution and will have a direct benefit on our own mental wellbeing.’

He has found that people are 28 per cent less likely to feel lonely when they are in an environment that includes natural features such as trees, plants and birds.

If you have no access to a garden, he suggests watering green areas around where you live. There is a group of people in London who are taking care of tree pits – planting flowers and watering tree pits.

‘When people take care of the landscape where they live, they’re taking care of themselves.’

He is puzzled as to why we are not capitalising on this resource. ‘It’s a free intervention that can lead to measurable improvements without side-effects, which is amazing.’ (Interview in The Observer 26.05.24)

Many other studies have proven that gardening is good for your mental and physical health.   

Scientists have found that soil contains a natural anti-depressant which stimulates the production of serotonin. Gardeners inhale the bacteria, mycobacterium vaccae, and have contact with it when touching soil. No wonder so many people call the garden their happy place.

The physical activity involved in planting, weeding, digging, raking and mowing means keen gardeners can expend the same amount of energy as running or going to the gym.

Gardening has been shown to:

  • increase life satisfaction.
  • promote relationships in families and communities.
  • promote bone health.
  • reduce falls and delay dementia symptoms in the elderly.
  •  encourage people to exercise and socialise more.
  • improve blood pressure.
  • reduce stress hormones.

Therapeutic effects have also been seen, alongside other treatments, in cases of depression, substance abuse and schizophrenia.

Those new to gardening can start small, growing in little pots or tin cans. Salad greens such as lettuce, rocket and chard can be grown in small spaces.

Take inspiration from people who have proven that gardens can be everywhere – by the front door, on steps, on a balcony and in community spaces.

 Horticulturalist Alys Fowler managed to grow plants on her apartment fire escape in New York and joined a gardening community which reused discarded objects found in the city’s streets.

People who don’t have a garden of their own can volunteer in urban or community gardens. There are also schemes where people with the gardening space but no time or inclination can make their gardens available to those with the passion but no plot.  Contact your local authority or check online for details.

In his book The Science of Gardening, Dr Stu Farrimond describes gardening as ‘the perfect antidote to doom-scrolling through today’s news, it reconnects us with the perpetual cycle of life, death and renewal of which we are all a part. In fact I can think of no other pursuit that offers more.’

Julie

Waking your compost bin in Spring

This is the time compost fans have been waiting for.  At Great Green Systems we leave our compost ‘cooking’ for two grand occasions a year – April and October – for the Spring and Autumn retrieval of mature compost from the Green Johanna.

If you’re a first-time user of a Johanna, we recommend waiting 6-8 months before taking your compost out. After that, depending on conditions, 4-6 months should be fine.  

You can take compost from the bottom of the Johanna by unscrewing the hatches and removing compost using the aerator stick or a garden hoe.

To remove larger amounts of compost that have been left longer to mature, you can unscrew the Johanna’s modular sections, then remove materials from the top that are still decomposing and place them on a tarpaulin to enable you to get to the mature compost. Then put the decomposing materials back into the reassembled compost bin to continue breaking down.

Taking a Green Johanna apart to take out compost

Compost is ready when it looks like soil – dark and crumbly – and also smells like fresh soil. There may be some items that have not fully broken down, such as sticks, bits of eggshell and tea bags. These can be taken out and put back into the composter to go through the breakdown process again.  If there are other recognisable waste items and an unpleasant smell, the compost is not ready and should be left to continue breaking down.

This is also a good time to take leaf mould out of composters that are used only for leaves for use in your compost mixes.

Leaf mould taken from a Graf Thermo King 900 litre composter after two years breaking down

Use your compost for:  

Planting – Compost acts like a natural fertiliser enriching the soil and helping plants to thrive. As it is taken into the soil by worms and other organisms, the compost feeds plants and micro-organisms in the soil. For different compost recipes, check out the Garden Organic website – www.gardenorganic.org.uk.  

Mulching – At the beginning of the growing season mulches warm the soil, helping it to retain heat which would be lost at night.

  • Mulch also creates a haven for insects and worms which in turn attract birds and other wildlife, creating a mini eco-system in your garden.
  • Gardeners appreciate the neat weed-free appearance that mulch creates.
  •  If you have a dry garden, you’ll be glad of the protection that mulch offers plants in retaining water and cutting down on evaporation. This means you don’t have to water as frequently. Apply mature compost on soil after a spell of rain to retain moisture. Lay the layers at least 5cms thick after first removing weeds.

Planning your planting

  • Choose plants that peak at different times from June through to September.
  • Check the eventual height and spread of each plant before you plant it.
  • Water in each new planting and keep them watered regularly during their first summer.
  • Tackle weeds – the best approach is little and often. Hoe once a week to dislodge annuals. Perennials can be pulled out by hand if they’re still small, or if larger they can be dug out with a trowel.  
  • If you want to embrace No Mow May, allowing wildflowers to flourish and creating a habitat for insects, but you’re worried your lawn will look too wild, compromise by mowing a path through the grass and neatening edges.
  • Support Peat-free April – although the UK government has banned the sale of bagged peat for home gardeners, peat is still used for growing plants to sell. Support peat-free nurseries and suppliers by going to the Peat-free April website (www.peatfree.org.uk)

Tips from the experts

Sarah Raven is surely the Queen of Pots – she has 382 pots in her garden. In her book A Year Full of Pots (Bloomsbury) she advises:

  • Keep your eyes peeled for pests as the weather warms – deal with aphids with a jet of water from the hose.
  • Label everything because it’s easy to forget what’s what. Always start writing at the blunt end of your label.
  • If you don’t have a polytunnel, greenhouse or cold frame, it might be easier to buy seedlings online rather than sowing everything into trays and filling your windowsills. Perhaps select one or two to sow, ones that you know are easy, and buy the rest as young plants.
  • The commonest method she and her team use is the seed tray method – using peat-free potting compost, they place everything on a heated propagator mat. Warmth helps to speed up germination, so keep bags of compost inside if you can. Water the compost in the trays with watering cans that have sat on the hot bench.
  • Storing seed – if you have any leftover seed, secure the packet and put it in an airtight box. Store somewhere cool until next year.

Poppy’s plants

There may now be enough light for tender plants to grow outside but is it still too cold for them?

Poppy Okotcha, writing in her Observer gardening column, uses the rule of thumb that if it’s chilly outside for her and she needs to wear more than a T-shirt, then tender plants are probably feeling the cold too. She advises:

  • A sunny windowsill, warm conservatory or porch will do them well until the frosts pass and day and night temperatures consistently reach 8-10 degrees C.
  • It’s worth finding out the hardiness rating of the crop you’re sowing so you can cater to its needs. After the seeds have germinated, any hardy seedlings can be relocated somewhere with plenty of light that is not too warm. A cool, bright windowsill, conservatory, porch, or cold frame would do, or for those lucky enough to have one, an unheated greenhouse is fine. If seedlings have too much warmth and not enough light they will grow ‘leggy’, which just means spindly and weak.
  • Source seeds that are ethically grown, such as those certified organic by the Soil Association or Biodynamic by Demeter.
  • Keep tender plants safe from slugs and snails through Spring by covering them with cloches, plastic bottles or glass jars to act as physical barriers until the plant is vigorous enough to withstand some nibbling.  Put the containers on in the evening and take them off in the morning.

Let’s not forget wildlife

Remember visiting creatures when you’re out and about in your garden.  

  • Leave natural materials outside for nest-making.
  • Create resting places for bees just waking up.
  • Plant quick-growing flowers for pollinators.
  • Deep clean any bird feeders and baths.

Dos and Don’ts of recycling

You may be a keen recycler but are you as green as you think?

For example, do you wash out yogurt pots or do you believe that dirty items will be washed as part of the recycling process?  Do you think grease on cardboard takeaway containers doesn’t count?

People who recycle wrongly cause tonnes of recyclable items to be rejected and incinerated, costing councils £48m a year.  

The recycling industry has a name for people who have the right motivation but the wrong methods – ‘wishcyclers’.

Wishcyclers feel so guilty about waste that if in doubt they put items in the recycling and hope for the best.

The most common contaminant is food in unwashed containers and crusts left in pizza boxes. At recycling centres loads are sorted and checked for sources of contamination. Even small amounts of leftover food (including grease on takeaway containers) and liquid make other items in the collected recycling dirty and can damage or clog the sorting machinery.

According to a report in The Sunday Times,  a used teabag in a bag of paper would count as low contamination and depending on the facility would get removed by hand or machine, but if the contamination is high – lots of food waste , wet paper, used nappies – then the whole bag and possibly other bags in the same lorry will be incinerated.  

The costs are disastrous for local councils – not only do they bear the cost of incinerating the waste but they are also losing out on money they could have earned from selling the recyclable materials. 

In 2019/20, 525,000 tonnes of household recycling collected by councils was rejected at the point of sorting, according to the Local Government Association.  Each tonne from a household bin that cannot be recycled costs an extra £93 to incinerate, amounting to £48m a year.

Foods or liquids can contaminate other recyclables. If bottles contain liquid they may be deemed too heavy by the automatic sorting process and rejected.

Other items mistakenly put in recycling bins include clingfilm, plastic wrapping, nappies, wet wipes,  used tissues, kitchen towel and foil.  

It’s in all our interests to recycle better. Check out these Dos and Don’ts of Recycling:

DO

  • Check out the Recycle Now website by typing in your postcode and tracking what can and can’t be recycled locally – www.recyclenow.com.
  • Ask staff at your local recycling centre for information if you’re still not sure what can go where – don’t guess.  Currently there are regional variations in what can be accepted for recycling.   
  • Rinse out plastic bottles, squash them and put the lids back on – this means they take up less space in bins, in the lorry and at the recycling centre.
  • Add envelopes with plastic windows – the windows aren’t recyclable but the sorting system at the recycling centre can extract them.
  • Rinse out tins to get rid of food residue – use your washing up water to do this.
  • Check out what recycling options supermarkets offer – large stores are keen to offer recycling services because that’s what their customers want. It makes sense because people will go to a certain supermarket because of this.  Our local Tesco is a magnet for recyclers, with containers collecting soft plastics and other items.
  • If you have more plastic bags than you can possibly reuse, recycle them at supermarket drop-offs.
  • Use refills where you can. Many companies offer refill options for appropriate products, such as Abel and Cole’s Club Zero refillable options. You return the original container and store the produce at home in a container of your own.  They also collect hard-to-recycle plastics and transform them into sustainable building materials.
  • Repurpose containers – the plastic containers that your shop-bought fruit or veg comes in can be used for planting seedlings in.  
  • Use charity shops – as a donor and customer. Charity shops keep 339,000 tonnes of textiles a year out of landfill. Buying second-hand clothes also encourages you to be creative and customise clothes in a way you might not if you’ve spent more. Eco-influencer Nancy Birtwhistle has a recipe for odour neutraliser for second-hand clothes and furniture. And it’s not just clothes that are second-hand bargains. You can also make some money if you’re savvy; I heard that a customer who bought pottery items from my local Oxfam resold them for £1,000.
  • Check out freecycle.org and ilovefreegle.org. These are brilliant way of donating – and finding – a huge variety of things based on the philosophy that one person’s trash is another’s treasure.  They are non-profit, free organisations that link you with people in your area who need things or want to get rid of them, keeping good stuff out of landfill.
  • Check out vintage furniture – Buying second-hand furniture is not only the planet-friendly choice but the stylish one too these days as more and more people appreciate the character and workmanship in vintage furniture. Pieces from the 60s and 70s are currently in demand as people scour eBay for items such as smoked-glass tables or boucle chairs that they remember from their childhood. If trawling round antiques markets and reclamation yards isn’t for you, check out websites such as vinteriors.co.uk, selency.co.uk, or the Narchie shopping app.
  • Upcycle furniture with a lick of paint. If you use chalk paint you don’t need to sand it down first. We love Lakeland paints (lakelandpaints.co.uk) which are organic and chemical free and, we can confirm, odourless. There are also recipes online if you want to try making your own.
  • Transform pallets into planters, garden furniture, bug hotels and seed trays. You can ask at a local builders’ merchants or ask permission to take them if someone is throwing them out in a skip.
  • Learn more locally –with the Horizon app (horizonapp.uk). By scanning barcodes you can  learn how to recycle packaging in your area.   
  • Look up The Recycled Candle Company, which makes all its hand-made candles from scrap wax, saving more than 40 tonnes of wax from landfill every year. They extract the wax from the containers so the containers can be recycled. They have collection points for consumers to drop off used candles in churches, libraries and gift shops.

DON’T

  • Don’t use charity shops as dumping grounds for your rubbish that you can’t be bothered to sort through yourself.  Anything donated should be clean, undamaged and in good condition. Poor quality leftover clothes are commonly exported overseas and the local textile economies are swamped by European cast-offs. Artisan traders buy bags of castoffs hoping to repair and upcycle items for resale, but increasingly poor quality means it’s harder and harder for them to make a profit. So the clothes end up as waste and are dumped or washed out to sea. Remember the first rule of the ‘buyerarchy’ is Refuse – as in refuse to keep consuming.
  • Don’t throw away pots and tubs with the film still on, it can’t be recycled.
  • Don’t try to recycle pyrex dishes and drinking glasses – they are chemically heat treated to stop them melting at the same temperature as other glass.
  • Don’t put corks in recycling without checking first. They can be recycled at some recycling points – check at www.recyclenow.com. You can home compost them or use as mulch on plants, chopped into small pieces. Alternatively send them to cork recycling schemes such as Recorked UK, who resell them and donate a percentage of profits to charities – recorkeduk.org
  • Don’t rely on clingfilm – instead use reusable, washable beeswax food wraps.
  • Don’t try to recycle containers from scented candles if they still contain some wax – scrape off the residual wax.  

On the subject of candles, try to buy them from renewable sources, such as soy-based or beeswax candles. Cheaper candles are made from paraffin wax, which is derived from petroleum by-products. Paraffin burns quickly as it has a higher melt point whereas a high-quality wax burns more slowly.

Julie

When did we start wasting food?

 Not very long ago the notion of wasting food was unheard of.

Let’s imagine the UK a hundred years ago – how much food would you think the average family was throwing away in the 1920s? Not so much, probably.

Yet recent research on food waste shows that:

  • 70 per cent of food waste in the UK happens at home.
  • 85 per cent of people say their food bills have increased yet they are still wasting food.
  • Twenty per cent of people questioned said they struggled to know where to find a recipe for their leftovers.

Food waste is in focus during Food Waste Action Week (March 18-24) with more grim statistics but also advice on how to cut waste at home.

How did it come to this?

My grandmother was born in 1901. The poverty of her life was evident in the form of rickets – the result of childhood malnutrition. My mother, a war baby, also grew up in poverty and was no stranger to hunger. Lack of money meant making meals out of anything and wasting nothing.

Fast forward to my childhood in the 60s and 70s, which, thankfully, never featured hunger. Meals were simple homemade British dishes that women had learnt in the home as they were growing up. These dishes didn’t involve recipe books or ingredients you might struggle to buy, such as liquid glucose or star anise.  Stews and pies were staples, with little red meat. Egg and chips were a perfectly acceptable meal.

 Somehow over the last 50 years many of us lost touch with the kind of resourceful home cooking that had been handed down over generations. What happened?

Perhaps under the influence of TV (and advertising) we started to feel that shepherd’s pie wasn’t good enough and we should be serving something more sophisticated and aspirational, something that mum and gran had never cooked?

 At some stage it seems we all bought into the idea that foreign was better. Now, I love Indian and Italian food as much as the next person but that does not mean that stew and dumplings are inferior.  I remember my auntie, in her eighties, telling me there was something she had always wanted to try. Her tone suggested something daring, and I was mentally preparing a risk assessment to take her white water rafting or bungee jumping, until she said shyly, ‘Pasta’. She was one of the best cooks I’ve ever known, but somehow she felt this Italian substance was exotic and out of her league.

My mother always loved cooking and learnt from her own mother to use up every scrap of food. Today we would think these women were great role models; they’d be designing food waste reduction apps for multi-national companies.

If I’d had any sense, I would have learned a lot from her. Unfortunately, I was a bolshy know-all teenager (is there any other kind?) taken in by the educational rebranding of cookery in the 70s and 80s as Domestic Science. As a science it was something you could get wrong and fail. I thought my mum couldn’t possibly know as much as the teachers. Sure, what my mum made tasted good, but it was just basic low-level cooking that kept people alive, whereas this was an O-level.

 Part of our task in Domestic Science was to balance colour and texture. You would be given a scenario to cook a menu for and you’d be marked down if there was too much of one colour or texture.

My mum took a keen interest and would make her own menu suggestions, and I would roll my eyes and inform her that, No, obviously you couldn’t have apple pie as a dessert because you’d already had pastry in chicken pie for the main. Obviously you couldn’t have two lots of pastry – it’s the same colour and texture.

My mother would argue that it made sense to use up the pastry remains from the chicken pie as a topping for the dessert and to also cook it at the same time while you’d got the oven on. That would mean no waste and less expense.  And I would retort, Fine and if I do that I’ll fail!  And my mother would shake her head in disbelief as if the world had gone to hell in a handcart.

(At this point I would like to add that in 20 years of child-rearing, at no time did any child complain that a meal was too brown or too crumbly.)

 My mother was a working mother, but in those days there was no school run (children walked with other children) no after-school activities and no parents’ evenings/school meetings to erode parents’ time.  The pace of life now means we don’t plan meals, even though just 10 minutes a week doing this would save time and money in the long run.

Take time to plan

But how to choose what to make? For decades we’ve been overwhelmed by thousands of recipes from celebrity chefs using ingredients you had to buy in specially. In many cases this leads to one-attempt meals, leaving ingredients never to be used again.

 Somewhere along the way we became so comfortable with wasting food that one third of all food that is produced for human consumption globally is lost or wasted, contributing as much as 10 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

 Why do we waste so much?

One problem is lack of knowledge of the damage that food waste does to the environment. Research shows that only 30 per cent of people understand the harm caused to the planet. First there is the cost in terms of production and transport, then there is the cost in terms of waste.

 Food waste has typically been incinerated or buried in landfill along with residual waste and left to rot anaerobically, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. Food waste is still disposed of this way in almost 50 per cent of councils in England who have yet to implement separate food waste collections. This means that currently in the UK, millions of tonnes of food waste still go into landfill. For every tonne of that, there are over 600kg of carbon equivalent emissions, such as methane and nitrous oxide. The home composting of organic waste avoids this fate, of course, which is why so many people choose to do it.

I know that I’ve not been organised enough in the past. Now that I’m more aware, I can’t bear to throw any scrap of food away, even though all our food waste is composted in the Green Johanna or Compost Tumbler.

Unavoidable food waste goes in the bokashi bin and composters

The internet is of course a treasure trove of tips and recipes – you can learn a huge amount from eco-influencers. If you saw Jen Gale on The One Show (along with her Green Johanna compost bin), like me you may have been impressed on seeing that her fridge contains little notes telling the family which items need using up first.  

Easy wins to waste less are:

  • Plan menus for the week
  • Save leftovers and use apps (such as Kitche) for flexible recipes
  • Batch cook and freeze some for later.

  And yes, before you ask, I am finally listening to my mum.

Julie

Johannas give hope to South African townships

There can’t be anywhere on earth putting Green Johannas to better use than the townships of South Africa.

The food waste composters are a vital tool there in the work done by local women to sustain their families, communities and the environment.

The women, known locally as Kamammas (‘mothers who carry their child and community’), use the Johannas to recycle food waste into compost to grow their own food.  They then use this produce to cook traditional homemade cuisine for tourists who stay in their guest houses, providing a true taste of the real South Africa.

A Kamamma and Johanna

These ‘Homestay’ experiences are organised through the Dreamcatcher South Africa Foundation, a non-profit social enterprise which gives communities, especially women and youth, the opportunity to raise themselves out of poverty through training and employment.

Township residents are trained as hosts, guides and small business owners, enabling them to introduce tourists to the culture of their country.

Dreamcatcher’s founder Anthea Rossouw remembers the Kamammas’ reactions when she first showed them how they could learn to compost using a Green Johanna (shown in the video below).

‘Their reaction was amazing. Such joy, because they could see what this meant for them – to be able to grow their own food.  They started singing – ‘Give Me Hope Jo’Anna’ and dancing round the compost bin!’

Dreamcatcher’s recycling work is now even more important since the South African government has committed to halving food loss and food waste by 2030.  In recent months Anthea and her team have been running workshops to get more people recycling their food waste with Green Johannas.

A lorry load of Green Johannas destined for South Africa

The idea for Dreamcatcher came to Anthea more than 30 years ago during the apartheid era when she knew she had to do something about the suffering she saw around her.

‘There was so much injustice, inequality and insanity on a human level and an environmental level,’ she says. ‘It was obvious it couldn’t continue.’

Raised in South Africa by parents who championed diversity in defiance of the apartheid system, Anthea believes in turning challenges into opportunities.

Her father, a master builder of English descent, used to tell her, ‘Forget the pie in the sky and get down to earth.’ He could never have imagined how literally his daughter would take that advice, as getting people composting is one of the many strands of her vision for a better world.    

Over the years she has run many composting workshops, both in South Africa and the South of England where she divides her time.  She reckons that 99 per cent of the people she talks to have never composted before, but before long they are as evangelical about it as she is.

‘Composting is all upsides – you’re taking food waste out of landfill, where it’s an environmental disaster, and out of homes, with all the health and hygiene issues that involves. And it creates free, organic compost for people to grow their own food and flowers.’

When starting Dreamcatcher, she felt that an answer to many of the problems faced by townships could be found in a new kind of tourism. The tourism industry at the time was booming but completely bypassed the townships, with tourists being driven straight past the communities as though they didn’t exist. She saw a way for the inhabitants to share a piece of the tourism pie by offering visitors the chance to ‘life-see’ as well as sight-see.

A Kamamma gives tourists an authentic taste of South Africa

Anthea’s first proposals centred on the community of Melkhoutfontein, Western Cape, which at the time was one of the most destitute areas in the country, situated between two rubbish dumps and surrounded by waste.

The response from the authorities was ridicule. ‘The attitude was, “But no one will want to go there, no one will want to eat there!” ‘

 But Anthea connected with the international marketplace, convinced that tourists would relish the chance to meet the people (as well as the elephants!) of South Africa, thereby getting to know the soul of the country, not just its beauty spots. And she was proved right. Since its inception, Dreamcatcher has facilitated trips to South Africa for hundreds of tourists from over 30 countries.

Dreamcatcher developed authentic tourism experiences led by local people. It is based in the region that boasts the earliest known examples of human artistic activity, in the 73,000-year-old drawings discovered in the 1990s at Blombos Cave.

 Homestay with Kamamma

Focusing on struggling areas situated within established tourist routes, Dreamcatcher gives people the skills and knowledge they need to support themselves. Then, armed with these new skills, they develop enterprises such as ‘Homestay With Kamamma’ and ‘Cook-up With Kamamma’ and they go on to mentor others in the community

Educational programmes help to transform children’s lives, breaking the cycle of poverty. A good example of this transformation is one Kamamma who has three children – one is now a trained chef, one is training to become a teacher, the other to become a doctor.

Anthea knew that tackling waste was essential to Dreamcatcher’s tourism aspirations. So she set up a waste education scheme called ‘Waste – it’s Mine, it’s Yours’ in collaboration with the University of Brighton. She describes the waste problem in South Africa as a legacy of apartheid, when the dumping of waste was a way of expressing opposition to the system, as well as a protest against the lack of infrastructure caused by the forced removal of citizens. Moreover, in many communities the inadequate infrastructure led to waste being openly burned in the community or at dumpsites. Over time, waste and litter became a way of life, so training was invaluable in introducing the best ways to manage waste. An environmental ethos soon followed with local people taking pride in their role as custodians of their environment. And what a stunning environment it is!

Rubbish as a resource

Waste is no longer seen as rubbish but a resource. Dreamcatcher has created a thriving crafting industry, with tuition provided by visiting artists, so that young people can intercept waste that might end up on the beautiful beaches and in the ocean and turn it into craft products to sell to visitors. Plastic films are turned into bowls depicting the rich cultural heritage of the area, porcelain pieces incorporated into tiles to embed in walls and old jeans and waste textiles are transformed into bags and backpacks.  

Anthea is understandably proud when describing how mass-produced items that are deemed worthless can be given value thanks to the skill of a local craftsperson.  

The University of Brighton partners with the Dreamcatcher community. With the help of visiting volunteers and artists, local people have transformed the sides of buildings with brightly coloured paintings that tell the stories of their ancestors – bushmen and women with a rich history and many diverse cultures.

A volunteer takes compost from a Johanna

So how did Green Johannas come to play a part in this story?

Anthea first worked with Green Johannas through a community composting project she started when she was living in West Sussex in England in 2008. She took the same method of training back to South Africa, where she knew it would be transformative.

She believes the fact that the Kamammas were already producing their own food meant they were protected from some of the hardship caused by the Covid pandemic.

Inspired by a Nelson Mandela quote – ‘Something is only impossible until it’s done’ – Anthea says she is excited to see what can be achieved over the next few years.

A daily source of inspiration are the Kamammas themselves.

‘When I first met them I was overwhelmed by their warmth and generosity,’ says Anthea. ‘Each woman brought something from the little she had to make me welcome.

‘These are women who were rejected by their own culture, who had to struggle to raise their children but succeeded in sending them to university. They are survivors every day of their lives. They’ve gone from being servants to service providers.’

Great Green Systems couldn’t be prouder to be part of the Kamammas’ inspiring journey.

Locals learn how to use the Johanna with Anthea, right.

Tips to deal with fruit fly nuisance

One summer several years ago our house was besieged by an infestation of fruit flies, the source of which was eventually tracked down to a rotting, black banana under my teenage son’s bed.  It is known in the family as Bananagate and is still referred to even though the son in question is now nearly 30.

If fruit flies happen to you once, you will make sure they never happen again. They are a common nuisance in the UK, affecting more than 60% of households.  Each female may lay as many as 500 eggs and they proliferate quickly.  

They’re most common in summer and autumn because they’re attracted to ripe and rotting food, especially bananas, melon, tomatoes, squash and apples. The smell attracts adult flies, which lay their microscopic eggs in the fruit skins. The eggs might already be present in fruit that you buy or get from the garden. If you then put the rotting fruit or peel into your food waste caddy and then into your garden composter you might be unwittingly transferring fruit fly eggs to the compost to hatch out later when the temperature is right.  

Good composting management usually keeps flies away.   

A few flies can be beneficial since in the compost food web they are considered physical decomposers, helping to break down compost material. Their eggs are also a source of food for other compost creatures. But flies breed fast and if there are a lot of them it’s both a nuisance and a sign that something has gone wrong. 

Their presence is likely due to the following issues in the bin:

  • Lack of oxygen – when there is not enough air, composting is slow and the temperature drops – conditions which attract flies. So add oxygen by aerating with an aerator stick. You can also poke holes in the compost with an iron bar. Deep aeration also disturbs the fly reproductive cycle; some types breed every five days. Raise the temperature by fitting the Insulating Jacket on the Green Johanna and adding bokashi bran, which will introduce more beneficial microbes and speed up decomposition.
  • Too much moisture – the water content should be about 50 per cent. If there is more water than this, it can force air out, which leads to anaerobic conditions (without air) causing slow decomposition and bad smells, which attract flies. You can monitor compost moisture levels by testing with a moisture meter or by squeezing it in your hands. If it feels like a wrung-out sponge, it has the right consistency. There should only be one or two drops of liquid visible. If it’s wetter than this, add some absorbent material such as shredded paper or sawdust and aerate.
  • Imbalance of materials – a mixture of materials high in carbon (Browns) and nitrogen (Greens) is essential for active composting. Aim for roughly half and half of both.  
  • Poorly-covered nitrogen-rich materials (Greens) – bury smelly foods in the compost, wrapped in newspaper if possible. Create a covering layer over the top to capture smells. This can include straw, sawdust, wood chips or mature compost.  A fly-proof mesh over the top of the contents will keep flies out while allowing air in.  

As the compost becomes active, with raised temperature and faster decomposition, the fly infestation should end.

A word about fruit waste

If you add large amounts of fruit waste to your composter be aware that this will be high in water content. To avoid making the compost too wet (which attracts flies) it should be well mixed with equal amounts of dry carbon-rich content, such as woody garden waste, dead leaves, shredded paper/cardboard, wood chips, sawdust. An equal addition of sawdust, for instance, would be an effective way to absorb some of the moisture in fruit waste.

To avoid attracting flies, reduce the smell of fruit by wrapping it in newspaper and burying it in the existing compost, then cover with carbon-rich content and add mature compost or soil over the top. 

 Take these steps to reduce the chance of attracting flies.

In the home

  • Because fruit flies lay eggs on exposed food, take care to keep food stored in a fridge or lidded containers, not out in the open in fruit bowls.
  • Use up ripe fruit and vegetables as soon as possible.
  • Compost organic matter quickly as flies are attracted by the smell of decomposing food.
  • Keep stored waste in a lidded kitchen caddy. Always keep the lid on your caddy, even between new additions of waste as you are preparing food.

In the compost bin

Follow the steps mentioned above regarding composting management and also:

  • Add more carbon-rich materials (woody garden waste/shredded paper/cardboard/wood chips), and mix in well so that any food waste is covered.
  • Top the contents with a layer of fresh soil.
  • Try putting the composter in sunlight – flies like a warm but not hot environment.
  • Make sure that you always lock the lid securely.
  • Take care not to spill any food around the composter.
  • Monitor acidity – if you have added a lot of fermented content from a bokashi bin to your composter, add a handful of crushed baked eggshells to neutralise excessive acidic conditions as flies prefer a low (acidic) pH.
  • Flies don’t like the smell of certain plants – peppermint in particular – so you could add sprigs of peppermint to your waste and wipe round the compost bin with lavender, lemongrass, eucalyptus and peppermint essential oils.
  • Leave the lid off the bin for a while to allow predators such as ground beetles, rove beetles and earwigs easy access to the flies.
  • Use nematodes – microscopic worms that feed on fly larvae in soil.  

In the Green Cone

 In the case of the Green Cone Food Waste Digester, no garden waste can be added as the Cone only accepts food waste, so covering with garden and paper waste is not an option.

Because the Cone’s basket is underground, smells are filtered out by the surrounding soil, meaning there is no obvious attraction for ordinary flies. But if fruit fly eggs are already in fruit skins when added to the Cone, they might hatch inside it. Avoid this by following the advice above on preventing infestations in the home.

Also:

  •  Freeze your fruit and veg scraps in a plastic bag or container overnight to kill any eggs or larvae before adding them to the Cone.
  • Flies don’t like the smell of certain plants – peppermint in particular – so you could add sprigs of peppermint to your waste and wipe round the Cone with lavender, lemongrass, eucalyptus and peppermint essential oils.
  • Add accelerator powder to add more beneficial bacteria to speed up decomposition.
  • Remember food waste should never come higher than the top of the Cone’s underground basket; waste should always be below ground level.

 Get trap happy

You could also try a home-made trap that will act as a magnet.

Add an inch of apple cider vinegar to a glass jar with two drops of washing up liquid. Put a plastic wrap cover over the top of the jar and poke small holes through with a toothpick. Flies are attracted by the smell and can get in but can’t get out. Remember to change the liquid regularly to keep the fly trap working.

If all else fails, consider disposable fly traps which come pre-filled with bait or attractant and can be placed in the bin. Be aware that these may also kill other beneficial decomposers in the compost.                                                            

Keep food covered to discourage fruit flies.

Why is recycling harder than it should be?

This is a complaint commonly heard across the UK, except perhaps in Wales, which has one of the best recycling rates in the world – currently nearly 66 per cent, with plans to bump this up to 70 per cent by next year. 

But across the rest of the UK, recycling rates have plateaued at around 43 per cent in recent years.

A report to the House of Commons recently (December 2023) noted that there had been no improvement in recycling since 2011.    

Although 90 per cent of households in the UK routinely recycle, most people don’t find it easy. Confusion around council rules doesn’t help, with at least 39 different bin regimes running across 391 different local authorities.

 This postcode lottery is set to change within the next two years under the government’s Simpler Recycling plans. From the end of March 2026 all councils in England will be required to recycle the same materials and have a standard of three containers (bins, boxes or bags) – for general refuse (residual), mixed dry recycling and food waste.  

 There is now a list of items which all councils will recycle, including aluminium foil and certain types of plastic packaging. Similar measures will apply to businesses, hospitals, schools and universities, so people will be doing the same thing at home, work and school and will no longer need to check what their council will accept for recycling. The rules could also apply to places of worship, charity shops, prisons and hostels.

A game-changer in recycling will be the new rules governing extended producer responsibility (EPR), which mean producers of packaging will have to label their products to make it easier for people to know what can and can’t be recycled. They will also become responsible for the cost of recycling the packaging. To get ready for this, manufacturers of products such as Pringles, ketchup and toothpaste are upgrading production lines so that packaging will be fully recyclable.

It’s hoped that these initiatives will increase recycling rates to between 52-60 per cent by 2035.

Ready or not?

These are big changes, but will councils be ready?  The report mentioned above stated that uncertainty is stopping businesses and local authorities from preparing for the changes. As a result, there is a risk that there will be insufficient facilities to deal with increased volumes of recycling, meaning more plastic could be sent to landfill than before.

 Without the certainty of a long-term infrastructure plan, private sector companies are reluctant to invest in new recycling facilities. 

One such company, Veolia – the French international waste giant – said this month that it wanted to spend more in the UK to divert waste for reuse but was put off by lack of clarity on policy.

Countries with the best recycling rates understand the importance of educating the public. Germany has achieved the best rates in the world – almost 69 per cent – thanks to information campaigns and simplified labels on packaging.   

The best 16 councils for recycling in the UK are all in Wales. Pembrokeshire is top, with 73 per cent of household waste recycled. The Welsh school curriculum includes lessons on how food waste is converted into energy and schools organise trips to anaerobic digestion plants.

Dividing recycling into separate bins reduces contamination, such as cardboard getting wet from washed glass jars. Because uncontaminated waste is easier to recycle into higher-quality materials, councils get more money as a result. If people don’t know how to add items correctly to the right bins, the collected material is often heavily contaminated.

Recycling for profit

Part of the success in Wales is down to the public being well informed about the cost of contamination and the fact that their council can make money from the waste collected. Because every household has the same bins and separates the same materials, recycling is far less contaminated, which attracts companies that can recycle it for profit. Understanding this makes people far more likely to take care not to contaminate waste materials.

Insight into the cost came last year when Maidstone Borough Council in Kent launched a scheme to clarify what can and can’t be recycled by putting hangers on bins. This came after a two-month period in which contamination of recycling loads had cost taxpayers £25,000. Extra costs are incurred when contaminated loads are refused by the recycling centre.

  If refuse collectors see that the wrong materials have been put into recycling bins they will not empty them – they place a sticker on the bin to say it is contaminated but don’t have time to let householders know what it is that has contaminated each individual bin.  

Did you know:

  • The council with the most waste collections in the country is Bristol with 13. It’s the only big English city to achieve above average recycling rates, with 46 per cent.
  •  According to WRAP (Waste and Action Resources Programme) more than half of the population miss opportunities to recycle common items.
  • People under 35 dispose of more items incorrectly than older people. Councils with a higher median age have better recycling rates.
  • The age group that recycles the most is 55 – 64-year-olds, who say they always recycle to the best of their ability.
  • The most rural areas recycle almost 10 per cent more than urban areas on average.

When is the right time to get another dog?

This time last year we marked the first anniversary of our dog’s death.  I wrote a blog at the time (below) about how hard it is to lose your animal best friend, and how people deal in different ways with their pet’s remains.

Since then, people have kept asking us when we’re getting another dog, and we still don’t know when – or if.

So now we’ve been without Rocky for two years. Some people get another dog straight away, others decide they can never go through that loss again.     

Rocky was my first dog; I used to be one of those people who didn’t understand and I’m ashamed to say must have been useless when people around me were grieving for their dogs.

I’m drawn to hearing about other people’s experiences. I read a very moving article by James Middleton, brother of the Princess of Wales, about the loss of his therapy dog Ella, who had helped him to cope with suicidal depression. Dog trainer Graeme Hall, the star of Channel 5’s Dogs Behaving (Very) Badly, wrote about the loss of a beloved dog, saying he struggled so badly he now realises he should have had therapy at the time.

 I also read about a book that has become a surprise word-of-mouth bestseller in France, about a teacher’s journey through grief following his dog’s death (His Smell After the Rain). The book’s author, Cedric Sapin-Defour, says he wrote it because he wanted to state plainly his love for his dog, Ubac, without feeling ridiculous. The English translation is due out later this year, but I found a translated paragraph in the online magazine The Connexion, which describes how Ubac ‘recalibrates the atmosphere to make it better. His mere presence is a blessing. He swallows all the rancour, and, as if filtering it through an invisible gill, releases joy. Those who aren’t used to dogs, surprised to be feeling suddenly so much better, must wonder what has imperceptibly loosened in their life.’  This is such a wonderful way of describing how dogs make life better. The change is real, we don’t just imagine it.     

 For Christmas my husband got me a book – Keira and Me – by the TV Supervet, Noel Fitzpatrick, about the loss of his border terrier Keira. He expresses something that all animal lovers understand when he says, ‘People who have never cried in their lives despite all manner of crises, cry when the animal friend they love is in pain. As one man who wept in my arms recently said to me, in reference to the dog he loved, ‘She unlocked a part of my heart I didn’t even know existed. ‘

When we lost Rocky, his vet said to us, ‘Perhaps your next dog will find you.’ I liked this idea, it felt like we wouldn’t have to make an actual decision.  I’ve spent the last two years waiting for our next dog to find us. In my mind it would be like a film, with us discovering a puppy left on our doorstep, or finding one that’s been abandoned in the park.  But it hasn’t happened yet.

 My husband wanted to wait a decent length of time so he wouldn’t feel somehow disloyal to Rocky, but he is now prepared to take the plunge again and it’s me who’s hesitating. I wonder whether if we wait too long, we might pass a point of no return.

On our pointless human-only walks, my husband never notices people, only their canine companions. He rushes up to every dog we see trying to befriend them.  I call him a dog botherer. I, on the other hand, avoid Instagram because of course it knows I love dogs, so I’m inundated with them.

I argue that getting another dog is easier for my husband because he won’t have the job of dog-training. It quickly became obvious when we got Rocky that despite my total lack of experience, I would have to be the trainer in the house. My husband would always give Rocky anything he wanted after resisting for all of a nano-second.  Rocky would glance over at me – I swear he could roll his eyes – as if to say, What a pushover!

At mealtimes, Rocky always left me in peace while begging constantly at my husband’s feet, betraying the fact that Dad fed him scraps when my back was turned. Dog training is time-consuming but essential.  You must also be prepared to change your life so that your dog’s needs are met, and you need back-up care too. When we got Rocky we had three children living at home so back-up was usually available. Our sons promise us they would always be available to help out with a new dog-brother, but would they really, or would it be like loading the dishwasher – always somebody else’s turn?

Our dogless lives have become easier in a lot of ways but smaller too. Anxiety and irritability seem closer to the surface, and we certainly don’t laugh as much as we used to. The house was full of laughter with Rocky. Nothing makes me laugh quite as much as his performance every morning when he would swagger proudly across the room with one of my bed socks dangling from his mouth. He would deposit this sock under the dining table, looking for all the world as if he had cunningly hunted and killed a fluffy pink rat. He did this with a pretend casual air, but it was really just a big show to impress us, to prove he was a natural born killer – of bed socks. Ah yes, as Sapin-Defour says – the joy….

Do dogs make us better people? I’m sure they do. There’s a quote that I love – ‘Be the person your dog thinks you are.’ How much better the world would be if we could! 

When we lost Rocky, people reached out to us and it really did help to know that they knew he wasn’t ‘just a dog’. There’s a fear that you’re not allowed real grief because it wasn’t a human being that died.  I was moved when a friend who has a fear of dogs came round with flowers. I’d always kept Rocky away from her, respecting her fear. But she knew how I was feeling; she remembered how she’d felt as a teenager when she lost her pet cat. 

Dogs have silent wisdom, they know stuff. They know that sometimes you just have to wait till things get better, and they wait right alongside you. Rocky used to pick up on every emotion and sit out the bad ones with us. You can relax with a dog, knowing they will never say the wrong thing or make you feel bad about feeling bad. It’s why they’re so good as comfort animals for children and adults who are struggling to cope with this world. Dogs don’t try to hurry you along, they let you go at your own pace – unless it’s dinnertime. And sometimes that’s what you need too – to be brought back down to earth (and food).

Shortly after Rocky died, I bumped into an acquaintance I hadn’t seen in over 10 years. I had no energy for small talk and just came straight out with ‘Our dog’s just died.’ He immediately empathised and advised me to get another one straight away, as he had done. This reminded me of a friend who, on the very day that his cat died went out and bought another black cat identical to the one he’d just lost. He even gave it the same name.  This struck me at the time as a futile attempt to leapfrog grief – but what do I know? I’ve become a person who moves my dog’s ashes around the room so he doesn’t get bored with the same view.

 When people decide they’ll never get another dog it’s because they can’t face the grief again. This is the thing – unless you’re elderly when you get a dog, you know you will outlive them.  You are voluntarily entering into a pact that will end with your heart breaking in around 10 years’ time.

It makes you wonder why we do it to ourselves. But we know why. Despite everything, it’s worth it. And it was. It really was.

Julie

Read more about Rocky and the different ways that people deal with their pet’s remains – including composting – here.

Top tips on making your own compost mixes

If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about making your own compost mixes, Garden Organic is the place to go – and with the ban on peat compost for home gardeners coming in this year, there’s never been a better time.

 Last week I joined a Garden Organic online talk about peat-free growing, which I can thoroughly recommend. Talks are helpful if you find it easier to learn through listening rather than reading, especially if the talker is as knowledgeable as our host, Anton. Having the chance to ask questions anonymously in the Q and A session is really helpful too.

A Garden Organic (GO) survey showed that very few gardeners make all the compost their garden needs; the majority use a mixture of homemade and shop bought. If you want to garden as sustainably as you can, GO has loads of advice on achieving this balance.  

A few things I learned:

  • Peat only came into use in the 1960s with plants being sold in containers in garden centres. Garden plants don’t need peat, which is virtually devoid of nutrients. Some countries, such as Australia, have no source of peat so their horticulture industry has never depended on it. 
  • In a bag of peat-free compost you will find:  wood fibre (a waste product from sawmills that is also in demand for use in bio mass boilers)/ composted bark (adds structure and air spaces)/ coir waste (a waste product from coconut plantations)/green waste compost (from council garden waste collections).
  • Growing media shouldn’t be used on a large scale to improve the soil – the resources used to make potting compost are limited. To improve soil, use garden waste compost, homemade compost, manures and green manures. To fill raised beds, use topsoil.
  • It’s a good idea to buy in seed compost because it’s difficult to get right yourself. Get the best you can afford because a little goes a long way. Seeds contain their own nutrients so they will germinate successfully in low-nutrient material with good drainage.
  • If you want to adapt multipurpose compost for use as seed compost, remove larger pieces, put through a coarse sieve, mix 50/50 with rewetted coir block.

Peat-free challenges

  • Peat-free compost behaves differently to peat – the main challenge is watering. Because of their high coir and woodchip content, peat-free mixes tend to dry out more easily. They also have a coarse texture, which can appear dry on the surface but still be damp further down.
  • With pots, watering little and often is best. Check by putting your finger in the mix to see if it’s dry all the way through. Water by going round the pot in a circle to get water to drain all over. Repeat a few times.
  • Water seed trays from below. Use a fine mister or waterer for the surface.
  • Peat-free compost doesn’t store as well as peat so only buy what you need. Don’t leave out in the rain; tiny holes in the bag will let in water which will wash away nutrients. Don’t subject to high temperatures by leaving out in glasshouse. Don’t buy bags that are faded as they might have been lying around for a while. If a mix smells bad it may have turned anaerobic, so return it.  

Feeding tips

A challenge with peat-free compost is that it can run out of nutrients more quickly – after 4 weeks.

  •  After 4 weeks, water with a sustainable liquid feed using comfrey or nettle leaves. Make your own comfrey feed by leaving 1kg of comfrey leaves in 15 litres of water for 5-6 weeks. Use neat to water plants.
  • For a concentrated comfrey liquid feed – stuff leaves into a drainpipe and let the liquid drip out of the bottom. Dilute 1 -10 and use on flowering and fruiting plants. This feed doesn’t smell – adding water is what makes the concoction smell.
  • Urine also gives a very good balanced feed (dilute 1 – 10). Fun fact – the average person produces enough nitrogen in their urine to fertilise 1 and a half tonnes of tomatoes, yet this usually gets flushed away to be treated at high expense, together with drinking-standard water.   
  • Use worm compost mixed with homemade compost as top dressing. Worm compost provides high levels of readily available nitrogen. Use sparingly.

For information and advice about making your own mixes, check out the GO website –  Garden Organic – Discover organic growing

Garden Organic recommends trying different peat-free composts to see which you have most success with. The charity has had good results with Melcourt’s Sylvagrow range for seed and potting mixes.

A word about peat

Garden Organic has long campaigned for an end to the use of peat in horticulture.  Peatlands cover 3 per cent of land surface but store 30 per cent of the earth’s soil carbon. Peat only regenerates at a rate of 1mm a year. In the UK, peat extraction accounts for 5 per cent of CO2 emissions. More than 95% of lowland bogs in the UK have been destroyed or damaged as peat has been extracted on an industrial scale.

Garden Organic’s online talks (webinars) are held on a donation basis to help support the charity’s work in helping people to garden organically. 

If you live near the charity’s Coventry base, you can attend courses or workshops in person, or else watch out for the next webinar. Online courses are also available and you can write in with questions too.

Julie

England’s best kept ‘secret’ – food waste collections

If you were under the impression that the whole of the UK should now be full speed ahead with weekly separate food waste collections, you’d be right.

 That was the plan under the Environment Act of 2021. In our house we talk of little else, of course, but if you don’t, and you’ve been too busy to keep up with new developments, you might have missed the news that the deadline has been pushed back from 2023 to March 2026. This is to give councils more time to prepare. (Some councils will be given longer than this to allow existing long-term disposal contracts to expire.)

Around half the councils in England already provide a separate food waste collection, as do all those in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

But if your council is one of the 50 per cent in England that doesn’t, you may be surprised to hear that this is going to happen at all.  It’s the best kept secret in England. Half the country knows all about food waste collections, the other half thinks you must be joking or mistaken if you mention them. If you know someone who doesn’t have a food waste collection in their local area, ask them what they know about it.

Keeping food waste separate

When I discussed the impending changes with my father-in-law (a resident of Worcestershire), he was shocked to learn that in the not-too-distant future he will have to separate out his food waste and put it in a designated container kept outside his house to be emptied by his local council.

He looked dubious as though I must have got my facts wrong. When I managed to convince him, he asked ‘Why don’t I know this?’

 It’s a good question. When the change comes, it will be big news in large parts of the country. If people are not used to scraping peelings and leftovers into a caddy on a kitchen worktop, it’s a huge change to their daily habits.   

7 litre Kitchen Caddy

Of course, people who compost are already used to treating food waste differently from other waste – they know it’s not rubbish but a precious resource – so this will be nothing new for them. They will simply carry on composting. Depending on how much waste they have, they may use the council service for overspill.  

Nearly two years ago I got my parents using bokashi bins for their food waste. They have no council collection service and were horrified to think that their food waste was going to landfill or incineration. We started a system which involves me taking their filled bokashi bins – after the requisite two-week fermentation period – to empty into our Green Johanna composter. At 85 and 82, my parents are now enthusiastic bokashi fans and wouldn’t dream of throwing an apple core in their general bin.   

Experienced composters think the implementation of food waste collections could prompt more people to compost. Since people will already be separating waste, it’s not much more effort to empty a kitchen caddy into a compost bin rather than a bigger external container.

Carry on composting

At least with composting you’re managing the process of decomposition so it’s breaking down aerobically, and at source – where the waste has been produced. You also benefit from the results too – your own free compost.

There’s no doubt that separate food waste collections are a great thing; they need to happen and happen well. In the UK 70 per cent of food waste happens at home, but only around a third of people understand the harm that this causes the planet, not only in the disposal of the waste but in the production and transport of the food in the first place.

 So educating people around these issues is a vital part of the new system. An additional benefit to separating waste out is that as people become more aware of how much they are wasting, they tend to waste less. 

 Learning about food waste

When food waste is collected along with general waste (usually called residual waste) it is either incinerated or buried in landfill and left to rot anaerobically, which causes greenhouse gas emissions. For every tonne of rotting food waste, there are over 600kg of carbon equivalent emissions, such as methane and nitrous oxide.

 But when food waste is collected separately, it is taken to specially designed anaerobic digestion (AD) plants, where it is reprocessed to create fertiliser (for spreading on land) and biogas, which can be used to generate electricity. The government’s website says this digestion process will not include a composting phase due to concerns around cost and planning.

The website sounds confident that all these changes will occur smoothly, as part of the government’s target to eliminate biodegradable waste sent to landfill from 2028. But some people in the industry are concerned at the scale of how much infrastructure needs to be in place before the March 2026 deadline.

As yet, little seems to be being discussed upfront – hence my father-in-law not having a clue – and yet it will be a considerable task to inform and educate millions of people so they know what to do to avoid costly waste contamination.  In addition, with election year upon us, will these plans slip from focus?

As mentioned above, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and half the councils in England have already made the change, but with the other 50 per cent in England yet to join the party, it’s still a long way to go.

 More AD plants will be needed – some estimates suggest there should be another 20.  If not, will the waste be transported long distances out of area, which will wipe out some of the carbon benefits? Also needed will be new containers and vehicles. The government has allocated £295 million to support councils in putting plans in place.

Most councils provide households with either a 5 or 7-litre internal kitchen caddy plus a 23-litre external container. These accept all food intended for humans and pets, including inedible food parts, such as bones, shells, skins, teabags and coffee grounds. The government is still looking into the greenest options regarding caddy liners.

Councils have the choice of collecting garden waste together with food waste.

At the AD sites, biomethane will be injected into the gas grid and the producers paid a tariff.

In Wales – one of the best countries in the world for recycling rates – school trips are organised to AD facilities to teach pupils about food waste recycling. Research shows that the more knowledge people have about recycling, the more effective their recycling efforts will be.   

Let’s hope the rest of the UK will follow the Welsh example – and soon.

Spare Parts