Composting at home

Great value garden compost bins, wormeries, kitchen (bokashi) composters, and water butts are available  to anyone living in East Sussex County Council’s area (which excludes Brighton & Hove). Food waste digesters such as Green Cones and Green Johannas  are also available. You purchase the units directly through our suppliers, Straight plc.

For further information or to place an order contact Straight plc:

Website: Get composting
Phone: 0844 571 4444

Other units are also on the market online and in garden centres. 

You could even have a go at building your own compost box or wormery – see the guides in this section.

Read about compostable and biodegradable packaging.

If you are interested in purchasing recycled compost, soil conditioner made from green garden waste collected at the household waste recycling sites and from the kerbside collection schemes, is available to buy at the household waste recycling sites.

Getting started – choosing the right system

With composting, there is no one size fits all. There are a range of considerations to be taken into account when choosing which composting system is right for you at home. This can include what type and size of garden or outdoor space you have, the amount and type of waste you produce, cost, and the amount of time you have available.

The main types of systems are detailed below. Units can be purchased online or from garden centres.

Garden compost bin


  • Various sizes


  • Handles garden and uncooked food waste such as vegetable peelings. Produces easily harvestable compost.


  • households with a fair amount of garden waste and uncooked food waste such as vegetable peelings
  • a garden needing compost
  • a food digester to deal with other food waste


  • takes garden waste and some uncooked food waste
  • does not need good drainage
  • does not attract vermin
  • easy to install
  • easy to get hold of


  • requires turning or stirring
  • compost must be harvested


  • Garden centres and online

Compost heap


  • As big or small as you make the pile!


  • Home built system. Handles garden and uncooked food waste such as vegetable peelings. Produces easily harvestable compost.

Suits households with

  • a garden needing compost
  • a food digester to deal with other food waste


  • takes garden waste and some uncooked food waste
  • does not need good drainage
  • no cost (do not need to buy a unit)
  • easy to set up


  • requires turning 
  • compost to be harvested


  • Not applicable

Green Johanna specialist composter


  • 330 litres


  • Handles garden and cooked/uncooked food waste (including meat, fish and dairy). Produces easily harvestable compost.

Suits households with

  • up to 5 or 6 people
  • quite a lot of food waste
  • some garden waste
  • a garden that requires compost
  • space for a large container


  • takes cooked and uncooked food
  • also takes garden waste(30% of volume)
  • can be placed on any free draining surface
  • does not attract vermin


  • requires stirring with stick provided compost must be harvested requires shady conditions


  • Online

Green Cone food waste digester


  • Underground chamber 80 litres


  • Handles cooked/uncooked food waste (including meat, fish and dairy). Solar heated cone circulates warm air and breaks down food waste in a digestion chamber below ground.

Suits households with

  • up to 4 people
  • a fair amount of food waste an existing Garden Compost bin or Heap
  • a sunny garden with space for installation


  • takes cooked and uncooked food
  • minimal residue (but does not produce compost)
  • does not attract vermin
  • residue feeds nearby plants


  • does not take garden waste
  • needs free draining soil and a sunny spot
  • requires some effort to install (hole needs digging) 
  • no compost to harvest requires bacterial activator


  • Online

Kitchen (Bokashi) composter


  • Usually around 18 litres and sold in pairs to allow continual composting


  • A small indoor composter, ideal for use in the kitchen, for all cooked food (including meat, fish and dairy). Two units allow continual composting.

Suits households with

  • a small to medium amount of food waste a use for compost limited garden space, OR
  • need for indoor compost production, but facilities to finish the process outside


  • takes cooked and uncooked food
  • fast process and small and compact does not smell or attract vermin/flies does not require installation produces liquid plant feed


  • requires activating bran (ongoing cost)
  • does not take garden waste
  • after two weeks contents need to be buried or put in traditional Garden Compost bin or Heap


  • Online



  • Various sizes


  • Uses worms to break down organic food waste matter. Produces compost and liquid fertilizer.

Suits households with

  • a medium amount of food waste (excluding meat, fish and large amounts of citrus fruits) 
  • a use for a liquid plant feed
  • limited outdoor space


  • takes some cooked and uncooked food
  • small, compact and flexible
  • can be used indoors and outdoors 
  • does not smell or attract vermin/flies 
  • does not require installation 
  • produces high quality compost


  • does not take garden waste
  • requires some attention must be kept cool compost must be harvested


  • Online

Getting going

What to put in your composter or food waste digester, plus techniques and tips for getting the best results

Composting cooked and uncooked food waste 

Food digesters such as Green Johanna, Green Cone, Kitchen (Bokashi) Composter or Wormery

You can put in such things as cooked vegetables, dairy products, fruit skins, vegetable peelings, tea bags, coffee grounds and eggshells. All except a Wormery will also take meat, fish, bones and citrus peel. A Green Cone can also accept small amounts of dog waste. A Green Johanna needs around 30% garden waste as well.

Composting garden waste and uncooked food waste 

Garden Compost bins or a home built Compost Heap

As well as garden waste, these take uncooked food waste such as fruit and vegetable matter but not usually meat, fish or dairy products. However, if these items have been in a Kitchen (Bokashi) Composter for 2 weeks, they can then safely go into a Garden Compost bin or Heap. A Garden Compost bin or Heap is a mini eco-system, with microscopic organisms doing all the hard work and the key is giving them the right balance of ‘green’ (nitrogen containing) and ‘brown’ (carbon containing) ingredients; usually a 50/50 ratio. Once you have begun to make compost, if you find nothing much is happening, it is likely that your mixture or the moisture content are not quite right.

Getting the right mix of ingredients

Green ingredients include: vegetable peelings, fruit waste, old flowers and bedding plants, hedge clippings, young annual weeds, tea bags, coffee grounds, garden prunings and grass cuttings.

Brown ingredients include: cardboard (torn up), egg boxes, scrunched up/shredded paper, loo roll tubes, fallen leaves, straw and hay, crushed eggshells, vacuum dust, bedding and sawdust from vegetarian pets, hair, wood ash, wood shavings, wool and natural fibres (torn up).

Getting the right moisture levels

Too wet: moist, sappy materials such as grass cuttings and vegetable peelings add moisture and break down quickly, but on their own become wet and smelly. They need tougher, drier ‘brown’ items to balance the mixture. These are slower to rot, but create air pockets, and allow mini-beasts, such as worms, room to move around. Also, it may help to move the bin or heap into a more sunny position or add air by sticking a broom handle (or aerator) into the compost and wiggling it, or dig the contents over with a garden fork. 

Too dry: if the mix is too dry, (often caused by dry, brown leaves and prunings in autumn), increase the amount of ‘greens’ and add water using a watering can or leave the lid off when it rains. Alternatively, materials may be too big to break down and need to be chopped up into smaller bits.

The wrong stuff

Whatever composter or digester system you have, the following items should not be put in: diseased plants, plants infected with club root, droppings from meat eating animals, cat litter, nappies, perennial weeds (such as dandelion or thistle), glossy paper (such as magazines), coal and coke ash and synthetic fibres. If it doesn’t rot – it can’t be composted! Non-biodegradable items such as plastic bottles, glass and metal, should be recycled through your kerbside recycling scheme or at a local recycling site.

Getting results

Commonly asked questions and useful hints and tips

I have a lot of flies

These are fruit flies and are common and harmless. To prevent them, cover materials waiting to be composted with newspaper or a lid. When adding them to a composter, cover them with a layer of soil, grass cuttings or cardboard. Alternatively try leaving the lid off overnight or bury new ingredients below the surface.

I have seen evidence of rats

If you live near water, farmland, open countryside or derelict buildings, you are likely to already have rats visiting your garden. You can discourage rats by taking some simple steps:

  • rats don’t like disturbance - tap the Garden Compost bin or Heap when you pass
  • rats like dry environments, so keep your compost moist
  • rats don’t like crossing open spaces - site the composter away from walls or fences that provide a sheltered ‘runway’
  • if your garden compost bin is open underneath, put thick wire mesh under the bottom to prevent rats getting in

Can I compost rose prunings/leaves?

It is not recommended as some rose diseases (especially black spot) survive the composting process and could re-infect new roses.

What about poisonous plants, evergreen shrubs (such as leylandii) or rhubarb tops?

Although poisonous when growing, these can be composted as the toxins break down during the composting process. If you have large quantities of evergreen clippings, compost them by putting them in a heap, adding ‘green’ materials (such as grass clippings) and water well. Leave for 6 to 12 months and use as a mulch around established trees and shrubs.

Can I put all my grass cuttings in the Garden Compost bin or Heap? Grass cuttings are fine but too many will cause a problem as they ‘slump’ and exclude air. They are also rich in nitrogen and heat up as they rot making the material wet, smelly and slimy. Try mixing them with more fibrous ‘brown’ materials (such as torn up cardboard, straw or scrunched up paper) which add air pockets and balance nitrogen levels. Alternatively, store them in the sun to dry off and add them gradually over time.

Can I put weeds in?

Weeds can go in, but avoid perennial weeds which can re-grow. Also avoid annual weeds which have gone to seed, as the seeds can germinate when you use the compost. A good way to get rid of perennial weeds such as nettles, couch grass, dock or bindweed, is to chop them up and leave them in a tied bin liner in the sun until they get hot and go brown and sludgy. Or, put them in a bucket of water with the lid on and add them to a composter when they have decomposed.

What if I have too much green waste to fit in my composter?

Start a Compost Heap. Chop the green waste up as small as you can and leave it on the ground in a pile in your garden. The decomposition process will begin, and you can add it bit by bit to your composter when you have room or keep it as a home built Compost Heap. If you still have too much, you can take it to your local household waste recycling site or use a garden waste kerbside collection service, if available.

Can I compost all my autumn leaves?

Autumn leaves take a long time to compost. Small amounts are all right, but it is best to compost the rest separately in loosely tied plastic sacks, well watered, with plenty of holes or in a ‘leaf-mould’ container with 4 posts surrounded by chicken wire.

How will I know when my compost is ready?

  • A Garden Compost bin takes approximately 6-9 months. Compost at the bottom should be dark brown in colour with a spongy, soil-like texture.
  • A home built Compost Heap takes approximately 6-9 months.
  • A Green Johanna will produce its first batch of compost in approximately six months, and every 3-4 months thereafter.
  • A Green Cone unit will not produce compost.
  • With a Kitchen (Bokashi) Composter the resulting materials can be buried in soil, or placed in a Garden Compost bin or Heap after 2 weeks.
  • A Wormery will produce a dark liquid fertilizer every few days and also produces a small amount of rich compost (worm casts) after 6-12 months.

Why does it smell bad?

  • A Garden Compost bin or Heap may need turning or stirring. Also mix in some carbon-rich material like torn-up cardboard.
  • The Green Johanna will smell of ammonia if not enough ‘brown’ carbon-rich material is added. Add some torn-up paper or card and mix the contents well with the stirring stick.
  • The Green Cone is a sealed unit and when set up properly emits no smells.
  • Using a Kitchen (Bokashi) Composter is an odour free process.
  • If your Wormery starts to smell, you have overfed the worms or put in too much of one type of material or it is lacking in air. You can help by putting rubber gloves on and stirring up any uneaten food as this allows the oxygen to penetrate.

Woman scrapping leftover food into a kitchen composter

Top tips for successful Bokashi use

  1. Use enough bran. It's nigh on impossible to use too much, and if in doubt, add a little extra. If you are adding high protein waste like cheese, eggs or meat use extra Bokashi bran.
  2. Don't put big lumps of waste in. If you put a whole cabbage in the Kitchen Composter, it will take a lot longer to break down than a sprout. Chop things up to make sure there is a large enough surface area for the bacteria to work on.
  3. Squash it down well. You can use an old plastic pot/potato masher for the squashing – make sure it's wide enough to have an effect, and tall enough so that you don't get bran all over your fingers.
  4. Keep the lid sealed tight. Any air in the system will prevent it from working properly. If you want to go all out, fill a carrier bag with rice or something similar, and place on top of the contents.
  5. Drain it regularly. Depending on what you put in, you might get hardly any, or loads of liquid. It's best to check it every couple of days, because allowing the liquid to build up will increase the smell. Dilute it and use as plant feed, or pour it down your drains to help clean them. Don't try to store it though.
  6. Keep the bin(s) at room temperature. If it gets too cold, the bacteria will slow down, and the waste will start to rot as opposed to fermenting.
  7. The smell should be vinegary/fruity. It's strong, but not unpleasant. If it smells bad or rotten, throw the contents away and start again.
  8. You can add anything organic to the bin - meat, fish, dairy, eggshells, etc. Denser material like eggshells and bones however will take a long time to break down. The meat on the bones will vanish long before the bones will.
  9. To start the process off, put a layer of Bokashi bran at the bottom of the Kitchen Composter. A sprinkling of Bokashi bran needs to be added every time you add some fresh waste.

Don’t let rats put you off composting

Having a compost bin doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have a rat problem. However, if there are rats in the area then it’s likely they may pay an occasional visit. Here are some ways you can discourage them.

  1. Place a sheet of strong chicken wire or weld mesh under your compost bin. This will stop burrowing rats getting into the bin. Chicken wire/weld mesh is available from garden centres and DIY shops for around £5 for a 1m2
  2. Disturb your bin. Give it a bang or rattle every time you pass it. Rats might not be so keen on hanging around if there is activity around the bin.
  3. Consider locating your bin in an open place in your garden. Rats dislike crossing open spaces, preferring the shelter provided by walls or fences. Avoid siting the bin next to old sheds or hedges.
  4. Avoid putting cooked food, dairy products, meat/fish or bones in an ordinary compost bin. There are other units on the market which can safely take cooked food waste. Cooked food can be put in a wormery (though not meat, fish or dairy products), a Green Cone food waste digester (to be on the safe side you could put a special wire wrap, obtainable from the suppliers, round the basket) or a Green Johanna compost bin. If you have a Green Johanna, remember to mix your food waste with garden material or paper/card. A Kitchen Composter is a further option: with the help of a bran-based activator called Bokashi, all the food waste added will start to ferment without producing nasty smells, and after about two weeks it can be added to a compost bin or buried in soil.
  5. Keep your compost moist. Rats prefer dry environments.
  6. Try sprinkling cat pepper or chilli powder around the bin.

Some facts about rats

  • The brown rat, also known as the common rat, is found throughout the country. The smaller ship or black rat mainly inhabits port areas, though is sometimes transported inland with cargo.
  • A wild rat lives for around a year. During this time a female will typically breed around 5 to 7 times, producing a litter of between 6 and 12. A rat’s gestation period is about 3 weeks.
  • Rats are good climbers and swimmers.
  • Even when they’re not eating, rats need to gnaw on hard material to keep their teeth from overgrowing.

How to build a wooden compost box

You will need:

  • 4 pressure treated timber posts (minimum 5cm by 5cm) all cut to 1m, or your required height
  • Pressure treated timber planks (cut to 1m lengths if 1m square bin)
  • 16m of roof tiling timber batten
  • Nails or screws (galvanised for longer life)
  • Hammer (if using nails) or drill with screwdriver attachment (if using screws)4m timber batten (2.5cm by 2.5cm) for lid
  • 1m by 1m weld mesh


1. Cut the roof tiling timber batten into 1m lengths and fix to the pressure treated posts (Fig.1) using nails or screws.

2. Position the batten so that the two lengths run parallel to each other with a gap in between large enough to slide in the cut lengths of timber planks (Fig.2).

3. Slide in the pre cut treated timber planks (Fig.3) and secure the bottom plank with a screw or nail through the batten and plank. This will stop it falling apart when you move it.

Figures 1, 2 and 3 of how to make a compost bin
Fig1, Fig 2 and Fig3

4. Repeat this process for the other three posts to build a four-sided square box (Fig.4). You may wish to secure the top planks on three sides of your compost box to add to stability. Leave the fourth side unsecured, so you can gain easy access and turn the compost.

5. Place the weld mesh flat on the ground. Put the compost box on top of it. Attach to sides with fencing tacks for added security (Fig.5).

6. To build the lid, measure the inside of the compost box and construct a square frame from the 2.5cm by 2.5cm batten and the timber planks. The lid should fit snugly inside the compost box (Fig.6).

Figures 4, 5 and 6 of how to make a compost bin
Fig4, Fig5 and Fig6

7. Start to fill with waste, remove front approximately every month and turn the material.

Suppliers of reclaimed wood

If you would prefer to build your compost box from recycled wood, the following organisations can supply all the necessary reclaimed timber.
They can also make wooden compost bins to your required size on request.

Brighton & Hove Wood Recycling Project
Municipal Market, Circus Street, Brighton BN2 9QF
Tel 01273 570500

Hastings & Bexhill Wood Recycling Project
Britannia Enterprise Centre, Waterworks Road, Hastings TN34 1RT
Tel 01424 715566

Mid Sussex Wood Recycling Project
The Dairy Barn, Rocky Lane, Haywards Heath RH16 4RR
Tel 01273 565243

How to build a wormery using stacking boxes

You will need

  • Three stacking boxes (the type you can store kids toys in). You
  • will need to buy one with a lid or make your own from a piece of
  • hardboard or plywood (big enough to stop any rain from getting
  • in)
  • 2m of weld mesh (smallest gauge is best)
  • A pair of wire cutters
  • Thin wire or garden ties
  • Drill with small drill bit or bevel
  • Hacksaw or sharp knife (such as a Stanley knife)
  • Plastic tap (from water butt or brewing barrel)
  • Small bag of stone chippings
  • A newspaper


1. Remove the base of two of the boxes, but leave a 5cm edge all the way round the base so that the weld mesh can be attached to it. Draw on guidelines with marker pen before cutting with a sharp knife (such as a Stanley knife) or drill large holes in each marked corner and cut with a hacksaw (Fig.1).

2. Cut the weld mesh to fit inside the box. Make small holes in the box edge (with the drill or bevel) to thread through wire or garden ties to secure weld mesh to box. Use around 8 attachments equally spaced around box edge, twist the wire or garden tie to make sure the weld mesh does not come off (Fig.2).

3. Make a hole to accommodate the tap in the uncut box about 5cm from the bottom. Secure the tap with a washer and plastic nut on the inside (Fig.3).

4. Add a layer of stone chippings (approximately 10cm deep) into the box with tap, this will allow the wormery to drain but will prevent any escaped worms from drowning.

How to build a womery fig1, fig2 and fig3
Fig1, Fig2 and Fig3
How to build a womery fig4

5. To build the wormery, place the box with the tap the bottom (place on some bricks or a wooden box to allow access to the tap), then add one of the boxes with the weld mesh. In this box add a layer of newspaper (to prevent the worms falling through) and then put in a 5cm layer of compost. Add worms (tiger or brandling) into the compost. Place the box with lid attached on top of the middle box and leave to acclimatise for 2 to 3 days.

6. Start adding your kitchen waste into the top tier. This will attract the worms up from the layer below.

7. Harvest the compost from the lower box when the top box becomes full up. Remove the upper box, empty the compost out of the bottom one and a place this one on the top of the stack. Then simply start adding your waste to the empty box in the top tier.

8. Make sure you drain the lower box on a regular basis. This will prevent the wormery from becoming waterlogged. If the waste looks like it is becoming sludgy, add some shredded paper to absorb excess moisture.

How to build a wormery using tyres

You will need

  • Three old tyres of the same size
  • A piece of plywood or hardwood (big enough to build a lid)
  • 3m of weld mesh (smallest gauge is best)
  • A pair of wire cutters
  • Thin wire or garden ties
  • Drill with small drill bit or bevel
  • Sack of shredded paper
  • Old newspapers or cardboard

1. The wormery will need to be positioned on a hard standing area. Create a base from old bricks or paving slabs (must be flat and with as few cracks as possible). Place a heavy/thick layer of newspaper on top of the bricks.

2. Cut the weld mesh in a rough circle, so that it fits into the tyre rim. Make small holes in the tyre rim (with the drill or bevel). Thread through wire or garden ties to secure the weld mesh to the tyre. Use around 8 attachments equally spaced on the rim edge, twist the wire or garden tie to make sure the weld mesh does not come off. Fix the weld mesh to the other two tyres as above (Fig.1).

3. Stuff the three old tyre rims with shredded paper. Pile the tyres on top of each other, with the first tyre on the layer of heavy/thick newspaper (Fig.2).

4. Add some shredded paper or torn up cardboard in the bottom to soak up any excess liquid.
5. Add about a 5cm layer of compost into the bottom tyre of the wormery.
6. Add worms (tiger or brandling) and leave to acclimatise for 2/3 days.
7. Start adding your kitchen waste into the top tier. This will attract the worms up from the layer below.

Build a womery from tires fig1, fig2 and fig3
Fig1, Fig2 and Fig3
Build a womery from tires fig4

8. Use a piece of board, weighed down with some bricks, as a lid. The lid must be big enough to stop rain getting in (Fig.4).
9. Harvest the bottom tyres worth of fertilizer when the top tyre is full up, remove the upper tiers of tyres, empty the compost out of the bottom one and a place this one on the top of the stack. Then simply start adding your waste to the tyre in the top tier. You may need to replace the paper layer at the bottom at this stage.

Worms for wormeries

Tiger or brandling worms (Eisenia fetida) are the best types to use in a wormery. There are also other types you can use such as Eisenia hortensis (formerly Dendrobaena). Earthworms from your garden are not suitable because they require different living conditions. You will need around 100 to 500 worms to start with depending on the amount of waste you intend to add.

Where can I get hold of the worms

Fishing shops usually stock the Eisenia hortensis worm for fishing bait which can be used in wormeries. Sold by the pot or by weight.

Mail order companies supply worms for wormeries

We cannot recommend or endorse any company listed. 

Was this page helpful?

Click or tap the rating which best represents your experience.