There’s no time to waste

MORE and more people are turning to composting as a way to transform kitchen scraps and garden waste into a natural garden wonder product. More than 200 volunteers across Cambridgeshire have already signed up to the county council s Master Composter schem

MORE and more people are turning to composting as a way to transform kitchen scraps and garden waste into a natural garden wonder product. More than 200 volunteers across Cambridgeshire have already signed up to the county council's Master Composter scheme, which gives anyone who is interested expert advice on composting. In return, volunteers help out at roadshows and give talks about how easy and effective the process is.

Ely Standard reporter IAN RAY visited an Ely couple who have reduced the amount of waste they are sending to landfill.

IWAN Hedlund and Zarine Jacob got involved in the Master Composter scheme last summer when they saw a National Trust presentation at Ely Museum, and asked for some leaflets.

The couple told me they had composted before but an eye-opening visit to the landfill site at Donarbon on the A10 through the scheme made them realise they could do more.

"We really got a clear idea of the waste problem when we looked around at Donarbon," Iwan said.

"It gave me a lot of thoughts about how serious it is."

Most Read

"It's a real problem for Britain," Zarine added.

"I think it's about how we can close the loop in how we live; we're not fanatics by any means, but it's nice to make a difference where we can."

Iwan and Zarine were then invited to take part in a course at The Organic Association in Ryton, near Coventry, where they learned at first hand from the director of research how much can be composted.

They were also taught how to avoid vermin and how to get the best results.

Zarine said one of the figures that really stood out was that 50 per cent of the 25m tonnes of waste that is sent to landfill could be composted.

"I think it's very much this idea that you throw something away and it disappears into the ether," she said.

"There's way too much consumerism; in India, where I grew up, everything is re-used and repaired."

Iwan and Zarine have applied this philosophy to the way they run their house; they have a small, separate bin in the kitchen, where uncooked kitchen waste is disposed of, before it's thrown in one of their three compost bins with some card from food packaging.

Although Iwan admits to getting the odd slap on the wrist from Zarine when he lapses into old habits, the system works effectively for them.

Iwan and Zarine showed me around their garden, and I took a peak inside one of the modestly sized plastic composting drums. I must admit that I expected a dodgy smell, but the aroma couldn't have been further away; when Iwan lifted the lid I was hit by a rather invigorating earthy smell.

Apparently it's only cooked food, unsuitable for composting, that gives off a real stink when it degrades (and also attracts our rodent friends).

The results of the composting are evident in Iwan and Zarine's garden; when they arrived at their home five years ago, their vegetable patch was like clay, they said.

Now, it's covered in a richly-coloured compost that is not only free, but will be full of nutrients and will resist pests and diseases.

The couple have also taken part in roadshows to raise awareness about composting, but the most immediate results of the scheme have been in their home; they have reduced their weekly waste from three bags a week to just one.

"Imagine how much less would go to landfill if every house could take these steps," Zarine said.

INFO: The Master Composter scheme started in 2001. For more information about how to get involved, contact the county council on 0845 045 5207.

Alternatively, visit the county council website at

For more information about composting, visit

How to get involved

COMPOSTING has never been easier, and local authorities are spending time and money getting people interested.

- How do I get started? The first place to start is to get hold of a composter. The plastic containers normally retail at around £30, but you can get hold of one for just £8 through the county council. If you buy online, via a link on the county council website you can also save another pound. Next, get a separate kitchen bin to collect uncooked scraps.

- What can you compost from the home? A vast amount of material from around the home can be composted, including vegetable and fruit peelings, which are prime material, and tea leaves, coffee grounds and crushed egg shells. Paper and soft cardboard are essential because they speed up the process. Believe it or not, hair is also useful, and so is the dust from your vacuum cleaner.

- What about the garden? The garden is an equally rich source of material. Weeds, grass cuttings, prunings, leaves will all add to the mix.

- But what can't you put in? Meat will only attract animals, while metal, stone and glass are a no no.

- Is a composter high maintenance? No. To get the best results, they need to be stood in sunlight, with the lid kept on. Heat and moisture is key, so they need to be checked once in a while to make sure the compost hasn't dried out. They also need air, so scrunched-up newspaper forms air pockets to allow it to breathe.

- How will I know when it's ready? The compost is ready when it doesn't resemble anything you put in. It will be a rich brown and crumbly. It will normally take around 12 weeks. The process can be sped up with 'activators', like seaweed, manure and...urine.

- Wormeries

You don't need to have acres of space to start composting. A wormery is a smaller-scale version that harnesses the power of worm hunger to break down waste from the home. Wormeries can be bought from retailers like or you can convert a plastic dustbin. They require little maintenance and will transform kitchen scraps into perfect compost.