Our 12 tips of Christmas

Still on the topic of sustainability at Christmas, here are a few more tips to add festive joy without waste to landfill.

  • Borrow Christmas

If you have ever wished it was possible to ‘borrow Christmas’ by renting as much as possible, check out this article in the Observer Christmas for hire: shoppers turn to renting for trees, toys and outfits | UK cost of living crisis | The Guardian with ideas on renting toys, bikes, clothes, tables and sofas to cope with an influx of guests, as well as table decorations.

  • Buy sustainably

 One of my favourite things at this time of year is Christmas cards. Controversial, I know, to those who would ban them if they could. But I believe it’s possible to buy carefully, sustainably and recyclably, (avoiding glitter, foil, ribbon etc) and buying cards that are Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified so you know the paper used has been sustainably and ethically produced. Greetings card companies know that consumers increasingly want products that are as sustainable as possible and are raising their game as a result.

Recycle cards

  • Remember to remove any items that can’t be recycled – glitter, foil, ribbons, batteries in musical cards. Many supermarkets and household recycling sites have card drop-off points.
  • Make gift tagsYou don’t have to be creative to make gift tags from old cards – both Christmas cards and ordinary birthday cards – so you never have to buy them. Or cut out images for children to make their own cards next year.

Recycle wrapping paper

  • If your wrapping paper stays in a ball when you scrunch it up it can be recycled (providing it’s not covered in glitter). If it unfurls itself, it can’t. Remove plastic tape. If you retrieve paper as people discard it you can smooth it out and reuse it. 
  • Save your stamps

Don’t forget you can save stamps for charities.  Most charities accept all stamps, including new or used, first or second-class and foreign.

Stamps are sold by weight so the more the better for raising much-needed funds.

 Cut the stamp off the envelope making sure to leave roughly 1cm of envelope bordering the stamp.

  • Compost at Christmas

Where suitable, our cards get recycled or torn up to provide valuable carbon content in our Green Johanna and Compost Tumbler compost bins, helping to keep the composting process going throughout the winter months.

At Christmas, composting really comes into its own. We know that when it comes to food, reducing waste is best but if you have unavoidable waste, it’s great to put it through the composting cycle to return as soil food in the spring. For great advice on reducing food waste see the Kitche food waste app at kitche.co and Love Food Hate Waste.

Composting your food waste and biodegradable cards and wrapping paper also means not having the annual problem of storing growing piles of black bin bags while anxiously awaiting the first refuse collection in January.

Anything you could wish to know about composting can be found on Rod Weston’s carryoncomposting.com website. The following tips from the website are especially useful for Christmas:

  • Composting Christmas trees – shred them first to increase the surface area exposed to the composting microbes to speed decomposition. If a shredder is not available, branches can be cut into thumb-size pieces but these will be slow to compost and it is easier to donate the tree to the local authority to be shredded into chippings which are then used locally in parks. Local authorities often arrange drop-off points in January.
  • Pine needles can be composted or turned to leaf mould but they will be slow to decompose and any significant quantities are best treated separately from deciduous leaves.

Here are a few more tips from my go-to green bible – Jen Gale’s The Sustainable(ish) Living Guide.

  • Rent a real tree for Christmas. More and more places are offering this service – you return the tree for them to look after the rest of the year.
  • Use reusable crackers – (keepthiscracker.com). They slot together for you to fill yourself and can be used year after year.
  • Check Freecycle or charity shops to pick up items donated by people who are having a clear-out. Julie Halford

On a roll with Compost Tumblers

On a cold day in February we interviewed Michael Kennard from Compost Club in Lewes, East Sussex, about the role that Compost Tumblers play in creating gold-standard compost.

What exactly is Compost Club?

The club’s mission is to help build ‘healthy soil to produce healthy plants for healthy humans and all life on earth.’

Working on a subscription basis, the club offers a double service, taking in people’s food waste and turning it into quality compost.

Members – households and businesses – are given a 30-litre bucket to fill with food waste, which gets collected every three weeks and turned over time into compost. Members receive compost in the Spring and any surplus is sold.

‘This turns the ethical choice into a convenient one,’ says Michael. ‘Often the convenient choice is a negative one when it comes to ecology.’

The service is so popular that membership is full and there is a waiting list. The club is crowdfunding to double the number of households they serve to meet the growing demand and there are plans to develop more sites.

Living compost that regenerates soil

The Lewes site currently recycles 160 tubs of food waste every three weeks, around 80,000 litres per year, but the hope is to expand to a point where they can recycle 60 tonnes of food waste per site per year, serving 240 – 300 households in the Lewes, Brighton and Hove area.

Michael is enthusiastic about the quality of the compost that is produced.

‘It’s full of the organisms which give life to the soil. We call it Living Compost Inoculum but we’re thinking of rebranding it as Zero Waste Compost because it literally is made from waste and turned into something really valuable – living compost that regenerates soil. I’ve looked at it under the microscope – there’s bacteria, protozoa, fungi, nematodes….right up to bigger things like worms.’

Michael also runs workshops and courses for community groups to spread the message so the whole community can grow – literally – along with the club.

How did Compost Club come about?

Michael has always had an interest in gardening and been engaged environmentally.  He and his wife got an allotment and composted all their own food waste. When the first lockdown hit, Michael was growing on a market garden scale and needed a lot of compost.

‘If I was looking to regenerate soil, it had to be of a certain quality, but it just wasn’t available. The only option was to make it, so I needed it on a bigger scale with more food waste and other input.’

He quickly had more people asking him to take their food waste than he could cope with, so the idea for the club came into being. Compost clubs are more common in America but there are not many in the UK. ‘There’s a massive gap for something here,’ says Michael.

The 24 Compost Tumblers on the club’s Lewes site have proved very helpful.

‘We’ve been able to get through a lot more volume because the Tumbler’s turning handle saves time and makes turning effortless, so I’m able to go along the row turning the handles. They also hold moisture and the vents mean the contents can breathe.’

Winter is a particularly busy time as the composting micro-organisms are given a helping hand to keep working efficiently in cold temperatures.

Getting ready to tumble

Food waste is put through the Tumblers mixed 50/50 with wood chips. Wood chips are used because a high volume of carbon is needed to balance the high nitrogen content of all the food waste. When the waste has been tumbled and broken down enough it joins the end of a windrow. From there it continues breaking down, getting turned occasionally and gradually progressing down the windrow until it reaches the maturing stage. Fungi proliferate the pile and worms are added for a finishing flourish. The site is a hive of activity, with different tumblers and maturation bays all playing a part.

Michael adds that many people are now adding biochar to their compost bins. This is a product formed by pyrolysis, whereby scrap wood is burned without oxygen. Biochar provides pure stable carbon, which locks carbon in the soil.

Waste is a human thing

‘It’s beautiful stuff,’ says Michael. ‘It boosts carbon in the soil and if you use the no-dig method it stays there.’

The club hopes to form links with agriculture providing food for the area. Compost Club would intercept the waste that is produced, before exporting the finished compost back to the fields to be used instead of inorganic fertilisers.

‘So you create a closed loop with no waste, which is how natural systems work.  Waste is a human thing. I’m trying to become a giant earthworm, I guess!’

Members come from all walks of life. One is a local footballer who signed for Lewes and had heard about the club on social media. He got in touch with Michael and there is now a community garden at the stadium, along with a couple of Tumblers composting the food waste created there.

‘In Brighton we’re quite lucky, it’s a green city with a lot of green-minded people and businesses,’ says Michael.

Any composting tips for other would-be earthworms?

Michael says he sometimes sees people with a Green Johanna who have added food waste but not provided enough carbon so the mixture is too wet. They have too much nitrogen and not enough carbon.  In such cases, he suggests adding carbon in the form of shredded card and paper.

Again, he recommends wood chips as they ‘last longer, hold structure and create pathways for the air. If you add a bucket of food waste, add a bucket of wood chippings.’

He adds that the compost mix should contain 50% moisture. A test is to take a big handful and squeeze tight – only a couple of drops of liquid should come out.

And don’t forget to turn your compost to get plenty of oxygen into the mix.

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