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Shredder or composter? How to make the right choice

Shredder or composter?

To convert your green waste into green gold like mulch and compost, invest in both a shredder and a composter.


As you’ll discover in the following lines, they both help you meet your goals in the garden. Both recycle organic material into fertilizer, but they do so in different ways.

Chipper shredders

Shredder used to reduce branchesA chipper shredder can divide the volume of your waste by a factor of 6 to 12 for hedge trimmings, tree and shrub pruning waste.

  • Resulting mulch can be recycled into compost or plant mulch.
  • You can apply the shredded trimmings directly as mulch on growing beds. This is what RCW mulch is all about.
  • Using this material for mulch lets you bypass a compost completely.

Similarly to lawn mowers, there are two kinds of chipper shredders: electric and gas-powered drives.

  • Electric drives are quieter, and are recommended for gardens smaller than 2000 sq yards (2000 m²). When they are powerful enough, (at least 2000 W), they can chip branches up to 1 ½ inches (35 mm) across depending on the design.
  • Gas-powered chipper shredders are able to shred larger branches faster. But they are quite noisy and are thus reserved to large gardens and major garden work.

In any case, since chipper shredders are only occasionally used in the garden, feel free to just rent one out. Websites dedicated to sharing or renting equipment among peers are a great help for this. It’s also a good idea to rent one out before buying, just to see if it matches your needs.


Composter built from planks and mesh wireA composter lets you deal with lots of different kinds of inputs: kitchen waste, leaves, grass trimmings… and even everything that’s spit out of the shredder described above!

If your garden is big, it will be easy to set up heap compost, create a wire mesh compost tower or simply assemble a few boards together in a secluded spot of the garden. If your garden is small, a composter helps maximize space and also increases the visual appeal. They can come in either wood or plastic, and have different sizes.

  • Choose depending on the amount of organic matter and of the size of your garden. Consider around 1 quart (1 liter) per square yard or meter.

To function correctly, the composter must not have any bottom (contents must lay directly on the ground), must have air vents, proper drainage, a lid and some kind of opening that helps collect mature compost. Remember to mix it well and check on residual moisture during droughts – you might need to add water.

While more expensive, drum composters rotate and ensure that compost matures much faster than conventional composting units. Thanks to its rotating drum, compost matures in 2 to 6 weeks. Every day, with a few turns of the wheel, the compost is ventilated, heat is spread and bacteria can work at an accelerated pace.

If you live in an apartment and wish to provide nutrients for your plants and garden boxes, a vermicompost is what you need. In a set of bins piled on one another, worms scuttle through kitchen waste and cartons to turn them into soil mix.

Whatever your option, sometimes local municipalities offer to help out in buying a composter. Check with the town hall.

Laure Hamann

Images: 123RF: Jurate Buiviene, CC BY 2.0: Andy Carter, Matt Montagne
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