The next question you should answer is “How will I accomplish it?” Most communes collect compostable organic matter between April and November, and then collect Christmas trees in January. Alternatively, you may compost at home regardless of urban, suburban, or rural dwelling or time of year. Whichever route you choose, you can take small steps towards a sustainable solution. The choice to compost at home reduces your carbon footprint one small step further.
You can choose the commune route. Communes differ in the method they choose for collection of household or garden organic matter. In some communes you need to transport it to a collection site (e.g. a container park), yet others have you collect the waste in green bags (only garden waste) or GFT bins (which stands for Groente-, Fruit-, en Tuinafval, or vegetable, fruit and garden waste. Be aware that there is a list available at your commune on what belongs to these categories and what not). The green bags or GFT bin you purchase yourself and leave at the curbside at the appropriate time. If you live in Brusselsm please check the website of the waste management agency and the Environment Institute for more details.
“Whichever route you choose, you can take small steps toward a sustainable solution”
If you live in the Flanders Region, check www.interrand.be or www.interza.be or do a search by commune on www.fostplus.be. Remember that your commune will only collect organic matter for six months of the year so you must consider how you will dispose of your material for the other half of the year. You could benefit by visiting your commune’s composting site to collect organic matter in your own container for home use (less waste), but there is no guarantee how organic/bio the compost will be.
Two major brand names in Belgium sell organic compost in plastic bags of 20 or 50 kg (DCM and Center Park). Buying compost is a better choice than not composting at all, but making your own has quite some advantages. It is also good to know that some communes provide demonstrations at specific dates, usually at their container park (check the calendar of your commune). At such events, trained compost masters explain how to go about and some of them are even willing to come to your home (check above mentioned websites and search for “compostmeesters”).
Your small steps to composting at home
Choosing to compost at home provides a treasure trove of rewards. Composting at home returns the waste from what you eat or grow at home back to your soil, terrace, or in-house plants without adding to your carbon footprint by transporting it to a different site.
At home, you make black gold when you compost, thus saving you money by eliminating the need to buy organic matter for your plants. Black liquid gold, known as compost tea - collected if you choose to worm compost - again can save you money by reducing your need to purchase man-made fertilizers (organic or synthetically manufactured). Finally, it is an excellent opportunity to teach your children about the cycle for decay of organic matter.
Determining where to set-up your composter
The most desirable location for fast decay will be a sunny spot where the composter will receive water and adequate aeration. That is all it needs: sun, water and air. However, the decay process will occur anywhere (think forests!). There is one exception: a worm bin should be in the shade. Before you buy or make one, check out if your commune sells them and/or gives subsidies for buying a compost bin.
There are different options to set up a composting container. If you have a big garden and quite some grass and leaves, opt for making your own garden heap. On De Groene Klusser's website you might find an original one woven with willow or you can just fix some wooden plates (remember space for the aeration) or even wooden pallets together. Another option is to buy a tumble bin, a plastic cage or a worm bins (e.g. Can o’Worms which you can get at Nature et Decouvertes).
It is best, but not essential, to begin by placing a first layer or nest of sticks/branches to allow for aeration at the bottom of the heap/bin. Make sure you alternate brown matter, like dead organic matter such as leaves from a spring or autumn clean up, with green matter, like fruit or vegetable or grass or green leaves from your garden.
It is important not to add fats or bones to your compost as this will attract animals. Another trick to avoid small rodents in a garden heap or compost heap is to surround it with metal wire (with small holes). Small flies can be avoided by adding a layer of paper on top of your pile. It can help reduce odor by assuring your pile is not too wet and to add some more brown matter. Add water periodically if your heap/bin is not receiving enough water through green matter.
Compost piles can be left to their own life cycle, or aided by stirring periodically, turning once a year, or by the addition of a compost starter. Check the bottom of your pile, tumbler or worm bin regularly to examine the result of your efforts. Have your actions generated black gold for your earth bank?
This article can be found in the April 2009 edition of the Sunbeams Newsletter.