Over 51 percent of the trash that goes to landfills (including food scraps, paper, yard trimmings and wood) is compostable. Globally, we throw away roughly 1.3 billion tons of food each year, an amount worth nearly $1 trillion. Unfortunately, by throwing food in the trash, we’re not only wasting valuable resources, we’re also inadvertently contributing to climate change.
The environmental costs of food waste are quite staggering. 3.3. billion metric tons of carbon dioxide are released each year through the production, harvesting, transporting and packaging of (ultimately) wasted food. Once food reaches the landfills, the scraps begin to decompose, releasing methane gas into the atmosphere. Methane gas has a warming potential of roughly 21 times that of carbon dioxide, meaning it has an even larger impact on the global climate than CO2.
This is where composting comes in. By composting our food and other organic scraps, rather than throwing them away, we can actually help the environment instead of hurting it. Layering “browns” (dead leaves, branches, twigs and paper) with “greens” (grass clippings, fruit scarps, old vegetables and coffee grounds) in a compost pile or bin can create high quality organic matter used to fertilize farms and gardens. By composting, we can close the nutrient cycle, put wasted food to good use, mitigate climate change and support the creation of arable soil.
What are the best ways to get involved with composting?
- Create your own compost bin or pile for personal food scraps and other compostable materials.
- Talk to your landlord about providing a green bin for your apartment building.
- Encourage your city to supply green bins and start a community composting program.
- Connect with local farms and community gardens that want organic compost.
- If you live in an apartment, consider investing in a vermiculture system, in which worms process the food scraps. Vermiculture systems produce pure, nutrient-dense soil and essentially eliminate the problem of smell.
General Composting Guidelines:
- Add equal layers of “browns” and “greens” to provide the proper carbon to nitrogen ratio in your compost pile.
- Consider utilizing vermiculture if you’re working out of an apartment and have limited access to “browns.”
- Consider “no-turn” composting methods or utilizing compost bins, if you’re limited on time.
- Do not put meat or pet droppings in your compost pile – stick to wood, paper and vegetable and fruit scraps.
- Avoid all pesticide and/or herbicide-treated material.
- If you’re adding weeds to your compost pile, make sure the internal temperature of the pile is hot enough to kill the seeds (internal temps should be kept between 120 and 150 degrees for optimal results).
- If you’re composting using traditional methods, turn the compost pile regularly to speed up the decomposition process.
Tips on how to set up the right composting system for you: http://eartheasy.com/grow_compost.html
State composting permits, laws, and regulations: http://compostingcouncil.org/state-compost-regulations-map/
Community composting initiatives: https://furtherwithfood.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/growing-local-fertility.pdf
Fighting climate change doesn’t always have to be an expensive or complicated enterprise. Sometimes supporting the environment is as simple as starting a community compost bin and donating the contents to a local farm. Sometimes it’s about only buying as much food as you need, and eliminating your contribution to packaging as much as possible. Sometimes it means using the fall leaves to fertilize your garden, instead of setting them out on the street for the garbage truck. Sometimes, it’s just about putting yourself back in the natural nutrient loop as much as you can. By doing so, you pull the whole world a little bit more back into balance.