Composting domestic waste

  • Information home composting
  • Locating your compost bin
  • Cost
  • How to apply
  • Where to apply

Information on composting

Composting is the breakdown of organic material such as kitchen or garden waste by organisms that feed on waste and convert it into an earthlike mass. This earthlike mass (compost) can then be used as a soil conditioner.

As part of Irish Government policy on waste management, targets were set in 1998 to reduce biodegradable waste consigned to landfill in Ireland over a 15-year period. These targets include a 50% diversion of overall household waste from landfill in the same period. Recycling and composting of domestic waste has been established as one way of reaching this target.

Most garden waste, such as grass cuttings, hedge clippings, old plants, weeds, garden cuttings, fallen leaves and vegetable waste can be composted. Kitchen waste like fruit and vegetable remains, tea bags and coffee grounds, crushed eggshells, flowers, newspaper and light cardboard can also be composted. Most local authorities provide home composters at subsidised rates for people interested in composting their household waste. Organic materials can also be brought to civic amenity centres to be composted.

In addition to contributing to the recycling process, composting reduces the volume of your weekly domestic waste and therefore will cut your domestic refuse charges. This is even more important now that pay by weight bin charges are now in legislation.

Home composting

compost binThere are various forms of home composting – you can have a compost heap at the end of your garden or you can make or buy your own compost container. It is useful to remember that it is best to start a compost bin in the spring, summer or autumn as the decomposition process slows or stops in winter.

If you are using a compost container, this container will protect the contents from the elements. You can buy a compost container in most garden centres and hardware shops. Some local authorities in Ireland have schemes in place that offer compost containers to households in your area for reduced rates.

Before buying a container, you should take into consideration the size of your garden and the number of people in your family or household. A container of 250 litres would be suitable for a small to medium garden, with 4-5 people in the house. It is always better to have a slightly larger container than one that is too small and will overfill quickly.

separate food waste for compostingIt is useful to have a small container in your kitchen that collects your organic waste for composting. This will reduce the number of trips to your compost container. You will also need a garden shovel or fork for turning and removing the compost. You can add activators to your compost bin to help establish the bin or speed up the decomposition process, but these are not necessary to compost successfully.

Anything organic- that is anything that was once living, whether animal or vegetable can be composted but some materials are more appropriate than others for home composting. Organic material falls into two categories  : “Green” & “Brown” .“Green” or  “Nitrogen Rich” organic material is wet and often green like grass clippings or fruit and vegetables.“Brown” or “Carbon Rich” organic material is dry, woody material that is usually brown, such as fallen leaves, and tree-cuttings .

You can view further information about items you can compost here. You can also view further information about waste items you should not compost and the reasons why here.

You do not need a compost container to begin to recycle your domestic waste – you could have a compost heap at the end of your garden.

Locating your compost bin

When deciding where to place your compost container, there are a few guidelines to remember from a health and safety perspective,to ensure that you are composting correctly:

  • Place the composting bin on grass or earth: This allows worms to enter the bin from underneath. Worms will help keep air circulating through the material. Plenty of air is required to speed up the composting process and to avoid odours. As the material decomposes, moisture seeps out and you will need to allow this liquid to soak into your grass or earth. Bins with bases have holes to allow for worm entry and should be raised slightly off the ground (i.e., by 1-2cm.). You can achieve this by placing a few flat stones under the base. Bins with bases are raised slightly to prevent the holes becoming blocked, which would prevent worm and oxygen entry.
  • Distance from the house: Place the bin not too far from the kitchen door. This allows you easy access to the bin but ensures the container is far enough away to avoid contamination.
  • Place the container in a sunny spot: Containers made of dark colours will absorb light from the sun, without drying out the material in the container.
  • Protect the container from heavy rain: Heavy rain can waterlog the container, preventing composting. When you have chosen the location, loosen the soil in order to help drainage and make it easier for the contents to degrade.

The following list of materials can be composted at home. It has been separated into “Green” and “Brown” for simple identification.

  • Coffee grounds
  •   Tea leaves and tea bags
  • Fruit and vegetable waste (cooked or uncooked) – roots, cores, etc
  • Bread, pasta & rice
  • Cut and dead flowers
  • Manure from any vegetarian pets (Good Activator) #
  • Grass cuttings and green leaves (Good Activator) #
  • Weeds (Avoid weed seeds)
  • Old plants (Not diseased)
  • Seaweed or garden-pond cleanings (Good Activator)#

# Activators are the primary food of the organisms, and help to establish the bin or speed up the process

  • Egg shells
  • Kitchen paper
  • Newspaper*
  • Papers and light cardboard ,e.g. cereal or shoe boxes (crumpled)*
  • Pet hairs and human hairs
  • Wood/peat/peat ashes ( no coal ashes)
  • Tree prunings and woody material ( chopped )
  • Hay and straw
  • Sawdust or wood shaving

* Newspapers, cardboard and paper can be added in small crumpled amounts but it is better to recycle them if you can



Some local authorities in Ireland have schemes in place offering compost containers to households for reduced rates. The cost varies from county to county but generally ranges from €25 – €35 per bin. Most local authorities require you to order your compost bin in advance by contacting their Environment Section.

Compost containers are also available to purchase at most garden centres and hardware shops.

How to apply

Further information about home composting is available from the Environmental Services section of your local authority.

Where to apply

Material on a wide range of environmental matters are also available on the ENFO website.

The Composting Association of Ireland (Cré) was established in 2001 by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to promote public awareness and establish best practice in the development of composting and compost utilisation in Ireland. Cré has published a report on a Study of the Quality of Waste-Derived Compost (pdf).


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