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What to do with Green Waste during Lockdown

May 4, 2020

Green waste getting you down? With tips closed and councils not collecting brown bins, here’s how to deal with it during coronavirus lockdown.

If you have garden waste piling up around your ears, you may be wondering what to do with it while tips are closed and your brown bin is full to overflowing. Should you compost it? Landfill it? Sit on it until everything reopens?

Here are our three top tips on how to handle your green waste during coronavirus lockdown.

1. Composting Green Waste

‘I know! I’ll pile it in a corner and it’ll turn into lovely compost.’

If this thought has crossed your mind, then this bit’s for you. Done right, home composting turns rubbish into nutrient-rich, environmentally friendly compost for your plants. That’s right: rubbish into compost. For free. Magic!

But the operative phrase is ‘done right.’ Do it wrong and you’ll end up with a slimy, stinky mess that’s no good for anyone.

Brown & Green Materials

So, what’s the trick? The most common mistake when composting at home is to put in whatever you have to hand without thinking about the ratios of materials needed.

This results in large blocks of grass clippings or hedge trimmings and not much else besides. Do this and you’re on your way to that slimy mess we talked about.

To get it right, you instead need to layer your compost with, what gardeners call ‘green’ and ‘brown’ materials. You’re looking for a ratio of about 50-50. So, which are which?

It’s simple. Anything woody is brown. Everything else is green:

Brown materials Green materials
Paper Grass clippings
Cardboard Leafy hedge trimmings
Straw Fruit & vegetable peelings
Wood shavings Tea bags

This means that your home composting success will be vastly improved if you pop all those cardboard delivery boxes you’re receiving during lockdown on the pile as well.

Note that, while your hedge trimmings are woody, they’re also thick.

Large chunks can take years to break down because bacteria have to munch slowly from the outside into the centre. Thick leaves, tough materials and large amounts of card or newspaper are, therefore, best shredded before adding to the pile.

How Long to Green Waste Compost?

It’ll take about a year for the green waste you’re adding today to break down into compost.

In the meantime, you’ll need to make sure your heap is nicely moist—not overly dry in the warm months, not waterlogged in the wet ones.

You’ll also need to keep an eye on how your compost is progressing—watching which bugs set up home is a good way to tell—and be prepared to get down and dirty turning the heap over from time to time. (Watching out for hedgehogs who like to hibernate in heaps!) For more tips on making compost at home, see the RHS’s compost masterclass.

Then, and only then, will you have turned your green waste into beautiful, sustainable, free compost!

2. Easy Leaf Mould

But if you haven’t got the space or the energy for a permanent heap, then here’s a very easy alternative: leaf mould!

Unlike traditional compost, leaf mould really does make itself. Simply follow these four easy steps:

  1. Rake up fallen leaves or strip from your prunings
  2. Put leaves in a strong plastic bag (you can re-use empty compost bags to be more environmentally friendly)
  3. Add a little water, tie closed and punch a few drainage holes
  4. Leave in a shady spot for 1 year

Kapow! Nutrient-rich soil conditioner that can be added to your borders or pots for happy plants.

You can even do a good deed for your neighbours and collect their fallen leaves from their gardens to add to your pile. Be sure to socially distance while you’re doing it!

3. Wait for the Green Waste Fairy

Ok, ok, so leaf mould only deals with leaves. What should you do with the rest?!

If you’re tempted to sneak it into your landfill bin, don’t! When biodegradable waste goes to landfill, it contributes to the problem of overflowing rubbish dumps and – dun dun derr! Climate change.

This is because, capped landfills cause waste to break down in anaerobic (airless) conditions, producing methane. And methane is 30 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Wowsers!

By contrast, when your green waste goes into your council collection at the tip or via your brown bin, it gets aerobically composted. This means it doesn’t take up precious space in landfills and releases far less methane.

Green waste also gets used in the production of environmentally friendly, peat-free composts. This further cuts down on the environmental costs of peat mining and puts your rubbish to good use growing plants.

“But where shall I put it all?!” we hear you cry.

Get your hands on some sustainably-sourced thick, paper garden rubbish bags. Pop your waste into these and pile them out of the way somewhere dry (if you don’t the bags will get very heavy and may start to break down!).

When the collections open up again, you can dispose of your green waste bag-and-all. Easy.

Follow these top tips and get your green waste working for you, not against you!