Lessons from our home compost

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Do you have a burning question about compostable bags and how they actually break down?
So did we. So, we made sure our bags live up to the certifications we preach.

Over the last five months, we have been composting at home using our tumbler compost, we brought this as we don’t have much of a garden nor space.
This was best suited to our property. 

This test ran from 21st Feb to 31st July 2019. That was at the end of summer up until mid-winter.

Before we get into the details of how we went through it, we just want to point out that we are complete amateurs / newbies / beginners however you want to put it. It was our first time composting at home. Mistakes have happened and we have learned as we went.   

Starting our own little eco-system compiled of the following:

- Compost tumbler

- Compost starter

- 52L Open bin (To catch all the rich nutrients for the garden)

- Plant-ly Compostable bags

- Kitchen organic waste (Collected throughout the week)

- Lawn clipping

- Cardboard (From Plant-ly cartons, non-printed cartons)

- Leaves, sticks and other dried garden waste

From what we have read and researched, keeping a balanced carbon-nitrogen ratio in a compost brings everything together. Browns / Greens or loosely called dead or alive. 

Dry Leaves, Cardboard, Sawdust, Twigs, Straw

Fresh grass clippings, Coffee grounds, Fruit scraps, Vegetable scraps

Greens and browns into a compost

Start date was the 21st of February - We placed 3x Plant-ly Compostable Bags, semi-full of kitchen organic waste in our first chamber along with compost starter, fresh lawn clippings and torn up cardboard (these tumblers are designed to have small things put inside them to help speed up the process). Rotated the tumbler 10 times forward and 10 times backwards. This process is meant to be done every few days to mix it up and let oxygen through the compost as it decomposes. 

Two days later, (Warm consistent weather) I clearly couldn’t wait and wanted to see if anything had happened. I pulled a bag out and noticed the compostable bag had nothing in it, all the organics had dropped out the bottom because the bag had broken down and weakened. 

Compostable bag degrading

Three weeks later (Pretty consistent warm weather over this time) We looked inside the tumbler and started to see the bags breaking down into strips and torn pieces like someone had put them through a paper shredder. These bags were off to a great start proving to us that they actually break down. 

About a month in, we started to notice a smell coming from the chamber, we opened it up and we had maggot eggs all in there. This was due to some flies getting into the chamber when we were adding in waste and cardboard. We noticed it was pretty wet in there so we had to add in some dry browns. We ended up buying some straw and cutting it up and putting it in there to help. 

Over this period we added in more compost starter and all our browns and greens in proportions where possible.

This tumbler was placed around the back of the house where the afternoon sun could warm up the drum over summer, right next to our rubbish, organic and recycle bins. 

This was where our biggest mistake happened… Over the coming weeks, the temperature started to drop and the sun wasn’t reaching our compost bin. I somehow thought it would be okay there and we would keep doing what we were doing. Wrong! The heat inside the chamber wasn’t getting up to temperature. Therefore, all our organics and our compostable bags were rolling around in cold mush.

We became slightly lazy with rotating the drum at the start of winter, which also didn’t help at all. 

By mid-June, we had clumpy, wet mush, which started to look like compost with the compostable bags shredded throughout it. Some were in bigger pieces than others and some were not doing a hell of a lot.

So, we moved the compost tumbler around by our veggie garden where the winter sun reached to try and gain more heat. Having the cold weather really slowed down the decomposing for both organic waste and the compostable bags. We lost nearly two months of our test where it really didn’t do anything. 

Massive lesson learned, heat is key for compost to work!         

Where did your compost end up?

Fast forward to July 31st, bearing in mind rotating the tumbler once or twice a week, I couldn’t wait anymore and wanted to plant some veggies in the garden. So, I decided to pull out all the compost. 

Home compost

Over this period, the sun had helped the chamber heat up and finished off the rest of the decomposing of the organic waste and compostable bags. These bags are certified to break down by 90% in 90 days in a home or commercial compost. We had reached five months and we were well past 90% broken down which was amazing to see.

Clearly, our amateur composting skills let us down over the winter months.
Now we know what we can do for next time.

I dug a hole in the veggie garden and pulled all the compost out of the half chamber into the garden. As you can see, there were small amounts of the bag left from the winter months. Once in the garden, I added some veggie mix and mixed it all up before planting my spinach and bok joy.

What about the rich nutrient juices?

This was where our 54L Bin came in handy. It is long enough to stretch over both chambers capturing all the juices that dropped through the small holes. When it rained, we got a lot more but this was watered down. Either way, we had a full bucket every 2 - 4 weeks depending on the weather and what we fed the compost.

Rich compost juice for the gardenThese juices are overloaded with goodness for your other plants and veggie garden. Your plants will love you for it!   

The bin gets pretty rank afterwards, but a good hose out cleans it back to new. We noticed some of our creepers really flourished when we gave them this juice. 

Creating a circular economy at home was a pretty epic feeling. The compost is the heart of this. Knowing our product actually works is a huge relief and perfect for your plastic bag alternative.

In conclusion, I feel this is achievable by most people who are wanting to create a circular economy of their own at home.

Multiple ways to achieve a home compost

Our compost tumbler is only one of several ways you can produce compost, every option has there benefits and disadvantages. 

You can also try the following options:

- Bokashi Bins
- Warm Farms  
- Compost Heap
- DIY Compost Pallets
- Tui Garden Warm Farm (We have just started this and is great for a small number of scraps)

In conclusion, Plant-ly compostable bags do break down in a home or commercial compost, you just need to understand a few rules on how to treat and look after your chosen compost.