Composting at Christmas

December 6, 2021

Composting at Christmas

A surprising amount of Christmas waste can be composted, which has many benefits; It frees up space in your general waste bin (many people worry about running out of bin space over Christmas), It produces lovely free compost for your garden, and it’s better for the environment than sending waste for disposal (putting it in your black / residual waste bin).

If you aren’t in the habit of regularly using your compost bin in the colder months, Christmas is as good a time as any to get started, It’s definitely worth the effort of slipping your shoes on and venturing out into the garden to compost despite the cold!

Getting started

You’ll need a compost bin or heap if you haven’t already got one. Leicestershire residents can purchase compost bins at a subsidised price at www.getcomposting.com (be sure to enter your postcode to access the subsidy).

If you are the proud owner of a new compost bin / heap, or if you’ve previously tried and failed at home composting, here’s a general guide to composting to get your compost bin up and running. You can also watch a few short videos about composting here: https://www.lesswaste.org.uk/community-engagement/talks/individuals/

What can you compost at Christmas?

Technically, anything organic (anything that was once alive) can be composted. However, there are some caveats depending on where, when and how you are composting. Below is a short list of compostable Christmas items to get you started, but for more detail on what can / can’t be composted in general visit: https://www.lesswaste.org.uk/compost/home-composting/. If you are ever unsure if one particular item can or can’t be composted, visit www.carryoncomposting.com. If you have question about an item that isn’t listed write to Rod at carryoncomposting1@gmail.com for advice.

Food waste: Uncooked fruit and vegetable wastes can all be composted in a regular home compost bin or heap. That includes the peelings from your Christmas dinner vegetables, and the satsuma peel left over from your Christmas stocking. Cooked foods can only be composted if you have a hot compost bin, or if you use a food waste digester such as a green cone, bokashi bin or a wormery. Cooked food, meat and dairy products added to a normal ‘cold’ compost bin or heap will degrade into compost, but you run the significant risk of attracting vermin in the meantime.

If you are adding a lot of food waste to your compost bin, it’s worth knowing that these count as ‘green’ materials. You need to maintain a balance of 50% green to 50% brown materials in your compost;

  • Greens – items like grass cuttings, tea bags, fruit scraps and vegetable peelings
  • Browns – items dry leaves, scrunched-up newspaper, garden prunings and eggboxes

The green items contain bacteria and nitrogen to help kick-start the composting process. Too many greens in the compost bin will make the waste too moist and stop air from circulating amongst the compost. Not only will this slow the composting process down, but it could lead to unpleasant odours. If your bin is sludgy or contains lots of damp clumps, you need to add more browns and ensure the compost is well ventilated.

Browns tend to be drier and contain plenty of carbon, vital for balancing the composting process. They help make air pockets and make a great home for ants and woodlice, but they tend to compost very slowly and too many can mean your bin grinds to a halt. So, add a few extra greens to the mix to speed up the composting process.

The ideal compost bin will contain a good balance of greens and browns and will be home to a mix of creepy-crawlies. The mixture should be slightly moist and contain air pockets.

Wrapping paper, Christmas cards and cardboard (from packaging): Make sure your wrapping paper and cards don’t contain plastic or laminated materials by doing the scrunch test. Also, remove any plastic tapes from your boxes as these won’t break down in the composting process. Paper and card are a great way to add air pockets to your compost bin, so take the opportunity to scrunch them up a bit to maximise that benefit.

These paper and card count as ‘brown’ materials – so make sure you balance their addition to your compost bin with an equal amount of ‘green’ materials.

Christmas trees and organic material from wreaths: Yes, it is possible to compost a whole (real) Christmas tree. You’ll need to put in a bit of work by stripping the branches off the tree and breaking / cutting everything into small pieces first. The smaller the pieces better. You don’t really want any woody bits larger than your thumb going into your compost bin. Shredders make light work of this process if you have one. Thick woody pieces can take a very long time to start to decompose (we’re talking a year or two before you see any progress) so be prepared to be patient, or consider composting only the smaller limbs if you don’t own a shredder. There is a misconception that composting pine needles will result in acidic compost. It’s not true, by the time the needles are composted they will have lost most of their acidic potency.

If you are composting organic material from wreaths, remember to remove any wire or plastic fixings first. Don’t add anything covered in artificial / fake snow to your compost bin as it won’t decompose and you may add unwanted chemicals to your compost / soil.

What about the cold weather? 

It’s true that the composting process works faster in warm conditions, and that when the mercury drops the composting process slows down to the point that it’s imperceptible. However, the process resumes swiftly as it warms up. Adding compostable items to compost bin in cold weather means that once it warms up, the decomposition process can get started quickly as you’ll have a good bulk of materials in your compost bin ready to go. It is important however to always remember the green/brown balance.

It’s also possible to insulate your compost bin relatively cheaply to get the composting process kickstarted / keep it running through cold conditions. www.Carryoncomposting.com has an excellent guide. If you’ve got a wormery, remember to move that in to a greenhouse or shed otherwise the worms will all die in the cold.

If you’re being put off taking things out to the bin because of the weather consider using a lidded bucket by the back door to reduce the number of trips you have to make and maybe move the compost bin closer to the house in the spring.

The last thing to say is that it’s never too late to give the gift of a compost bin.