Posts tagged "composting"

How can I reuse/use up really, really old coffee beans?

I mentioned in passing on my simple/frugal living blog that we’re having our kitchen ceiling replastered at the moment.

Ahead of the plasterer starting on Monday, we had to tidy off all the work surfaces and tops of cupboards – quite a challenge for hoarders like us with many, many culinary hobbies! Anyway, among our tidying, I found a couple of half-used bags of coffee beans in an old biscuit tin. My boyfriend John bought them from an expensive coffee bean shop but didn’t really like them – he couldn’t bring himself to throw them away though, better to keep them as a back-up just in case he runs out of his preferred ones. That sounds like a good plan, doesn’t it? Except they’ve been waiting in reserve for quite a while now. So long so that I had to search my old email to find out when we went to the place we bought the beans from (Lincoln). 2007. Five years. Gosh.

They do still smell quite coffee-ish but I suspect they’re long, long, long past their prime!

They could go on the compost heap but I’d rather reuse them in some other way rather than just letting them rot.

They could be ground and used in the same way you can reuse any coffee grounds — the magical internet tells me I can use it for dyeing fabric/yarn or even my hair, and I imagine these virgin beans would result in a deeper colour than already used once ones.

But does anyone have any ideas for ways I could use them whole? Crafty ideas or practical ones?

How can I reuse Sunday roast/Christmas dinner leftovers?

Most food scraps are great for a compost heap – they tend to rot down quickly and can help keep a brown-heavy compost heap balanced, particularly in the winter when there is less fresh green matter around the garden.

But care should be taken with cooked veg and the like – if it’s been cooked with meat, fish or dairy, or soaked in a rich meaty gravy etc, the smell of that may attract undesirable vermin to the pile. Some people (particularly people with sealed bins or wormeries) are happy to chance it but other people are more cautious.

Anyway, we all know it’s much better to use them up in some other way first rather than just slinging them into the compost.

Sunday roast leftovers were always the basis of Monday night dinner in my house when I was growing up. The meat would be the star of another meal – chicken curry sticks in my mind most clearly but there were other things too – and I remember my mum used any leftover veg to make bubble and squeak.

What do you make with your Sunday roast/Christmas dinner leftovers?

We’re not really roast eaters now and steamed/boiled veg is an area in which we’re actually pretty good at only cooking what we need – but any leftovers we do have usually go down to the chickens as treats. I’ve heard you can also use them in homemade dog food.

Do you do anything else with your leftovers?

How can I reuse or recycle Leylandii/conifer branches?

We’ve had an email from Jennifer (sorry it’s taken a few weeks to feature it, Jennifer!):

We hacked down a couple of huge nasty Leylandii conifer trees from our garden this weekend and don’t know what to do with the wood and branches. It’s far too much for our own compost bin, fear for the state of our car if we tried to take them to the council compost collection because they’re dropping resin and I’ve read that you shouldn’t burn them. My husband thinks the only option might be hiring a skip for landfill but I’d still prefer a green option!

Ahh, Leyland Cypress. Depending on your point of view, it’s either the useful sound/pollution blocking instant-hedge or the scourge of urban gardens with its own Asbo law.

As we have a woodburning stove and a father-in-law who skip-dives for all sorts of wood, we’ve read quite a bit about burning leylandii – some people say as long as it is sufficiently dry (seasoned), it’s fine to burn and is actually a good start-of-fire accelerator. But it is full of sticky resin which can clog up chimneys with creosote and cause chimney fires – the pro-burning-it people say as long as it’s seasoned and completely dry, this isn’t a problem but it takes a good couple of years to reach that state. (Outdoor fires, such as bonfires, won’t have a build-up problem but if you burn it fresh/green, it will give off clouds of smoke and spit furiously.)

A quick Google tells me that some people use sections of cut-down Leylandii trees in aviaries to provide secluded roosting space for small birds. Other people shred them up and use them as woodchippings for paths – they will compost down eventually but will probably take a few years. If you don’t fancy doing either of those things, perhaps someone on your local Freecycle/Freegle may be interested in doing it…?

Any other suggestions or ideas?

Composting teabags

Over on the Really Good Life the other day, I listed all the consumables I used in one day and their packaging. I think it’s easy to become blind to things you routinely use and listing them helped me realise where I was creating unnecessary waste/exposing myself to unnecessary synthetic chemicals in my day to day life. I’m going to do the exercise again a few times over the next couple of weeks to get a more accurate broader picture (for example, on the first day, I didn’t do any household cleaning or laundry, or much cooking).

The reason I’m mentioning it here is two-fold — firstly, I thought it was a useful exercise and I’d recommend it anyone wanting to reduce. Secondly, I categorised my teabags as “probably not compostable” so possibly destined for landfill, which caused a bit of discussion in the comments (we do actually compost our teabags but not without a little hesitation). As I mentioned over there, Alice in Blogland looked into the issue a few years ago and found that teabags often include synthetic material in the heat sealed bit – the paper bag and the leaves are but not everyone wants synthetic materials in their compost heap. Without the heat sealed bit (typically food grade polypropylene), the bags wouldn’t stay sealed during manufacture and use.

It’s four years since Alice’s research though and the corporate world has made many green(washing) steps forward since then – so I thought it might be useful to check the situation again. I contacted ten tea companies and asked them whether I could compost their tea bags. Here are the responses:


Tetley got back to me very, very quickly – which makes me think they get asked this question quite a lot:

The material used to make the actual tea bag is a mixture of mainly cellulose fibres and a small amount of polypropylene fibres to give the heat seal. Under normal composting conditions the cellulose fibres will break down, as will the tea, leaving the very small polypropylene fibres which are normally so small they are not seen. It does however take a reasonable amount of time to do this and really needs to be placed into a ‘proper’, established compost heap.

If it has not broken down it may be because:

  • It has not been left long enough
  • It hasn’t spent enough time at the centre of the heap where the temperature is higher
  • It has been put on the garden, not on a compost heap
  • It hasn’t been mixed with enough vegetable or organic matter
  • The worm population is not high enough

The packs themselves are not compostable. We are working with our packaging suppliers on an ongoing basis as they are currently unable to supply us with fully biodegradable packaging that we can use for our packs. Comments like yours actually help us keep the pressure on our suppliers to produce a solution.

Continue Reading →

5 fantastic reuses: what to do with egg shells

We’ve had loads of really good suggestions for what to do with egg shells over the years but here are some of my favourites:

1. Feed them back to your chickens (or lizards, or dogs…)
Eggs shells contain a considerable amount of calcium – they’re 95% calcium carbonate, with the remaining 5% being a binding protein to hold the shell together – so they can be used as a useful mineral supplement for birds, reptiles or animals.

To feed them back to chickens, bake them in a hot oven for about half an hour then crush them into small grit-sized pieces. Bake them while you’re cooking something else to be more energy efficient – it kills bacteria, makes them easier to crush and changes the taste so are less likely to encourage the hens to peck their fresh eggs. The hens will reward you by recycling the old broken egg shells into fresh new eggs!

The same baked crushed shells can be added to the food of egg-laying reptiles (same principle as chickens) but for dogs on raw food diets, most people simply blend/crush a whole fresh egg in with the dog’s other food every now and then as a calcium boost.

2. Use them for cleaning
Again, baked and crushed, they can be used as a mildly abrasive, natural way to clean stains off the insides of bottles, flasks, vases, or other hard to clean things. Place a couple of tablespoons of crushed egg shells in the container, add water, then shake, baby, shake! The egg shells should help remove stains from tea & coffee or wine, without scratching the much harder surface. After you’re done, you can tip the shelly water into your compost (see #5).

3. Make your own Sterno/heating fuel
Again, taking advantage of all that calcium, you can turn egg shells into homemade Sterno – a long-burning heat sauce made from jellied alcohol, used instead of tealights to keep food warm or as a camping stove fuel. Full instructions on how to make it can be found on the Zen Stoves website (along with advantages and disadvantages of using Sterno as a cooking/heating method).

4. Turn them into chalk – or other pieces of art
If that’s a bit too much like a chemistry experiment for you, how about just making them into floor chalk instead? It’s a pretty easy thing to do – perfect for kids as it doesn’t involve stabbing instruments or flames.

5. Use them in the garden
Roughly crushed egg shells have traditionally been used as a slug deterrent in the gardens – the theory is if you sprinkle a circle of shell around plant stems, slugs won’t cross the sharp rough surface to get to your precious plants. It’s very much more of a deterrent than an eradication measure though and while some people swear by it, other people just swear at the continued loss of their lovely hostas.

Egg shells can also be added to the compost heap – whole shells take ages to break down but crushed ones disappear into the general matter very quickly.

More reuses or recycling ideas for egg shells…