In the present study, we investigated the effects of two bulking materials, Sphagnum peat and pine wood chips, on the early stages of biowaste composting in two pilot-scale processes. Emphasis was placed on studying the formation conditions of malodorous compost gases in the initial phases of the processes. The results showed that gas emission leaving an open windrow and a closed drum composting system contained elevated concentrations of fermentative microbial metabolites when acid Sphagnum peat (pH 3.2) was used as a bulking material. Moreover, the gas emission of the peat amended drum composter contained a high concentration of odour (up to 450,000 ou m−3 of air). The highest odour values in the outlet gas of peat amended composts coincided with the elevated concentrations of volatile organic compounds such as acetoin and buthanedion. We conclude that the acidifying qualities of composting substrates or bulking material may intensify odour emission from biowaste composts and prolong the early stages of the composting process.