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Benefits of Composting (Yup, Even In Your Apartment)

Benefits of Composting

Guest Authored by Joy Mack, of Sustainable Jungle

 

In 2017, Americans sent 267.8 million tons of waste to landfills.  Food waste alone accounted for 15%, about 41 million tons.

However, not every scrap of organic waste can be turned into delicious bars and snack puffs.

So, what can we do with unusable food scraps and inedible organic waste?

Compost them, of course!  

Composting is a process by which organic materials biodegrade under optimal conditions. By organic materials, we mean anything from the earth, or once living. Think paper (trees), plants, and food. Composting optimizes moisture, heat, and oxygenation, so that microorganisms, insects, and fungi can regenerate waste into life.

HOW DOES COMPOSTING WORK?

First, we’ll answer the glaring question: How do we humans harness the power of composting to break down our food waste and other organic matter?  It’s actually a pretty simple process, with only three main requirements: 

  • 1) Water: A successful compost pile needs a good moisture balance, something like that of a damp sponge (not too dry, not too wet). 
  • 2) Green matter: Nitrogen-rich live plant material (i.e. grass trimmings, vegetable peels, fruit cores, and cooked grains)
  • 3) Brown matter: Carbon-rich dead plant matter (i.e. fallen leaves, ashes, branches, paper, cardboard, dry grains)

For more on green and brown material classifications, see these guides on what is and what is not compostable. Essentially, composting requires roughly equal parts greens and browns, and occasionally a little added water.  

Why are we so crazy about composting, you ask?  Because composting is AMAZING. It is nature’s own way of endlessly recycling itself, with numerous environmental benefits.

COMPOSTING REDUCES VOLUME OF LANDFILL WASTE

A big part of our Sustainable Jungle journey, is to strive towards a zero waste lifestyle. And, the single biggest thing that’s reduced our trash output?  You guessed it… composting!

In the EPA’s most recent Municipal Solid Waste study, conducted in 2017, a whopping 60% of U.S. landfill waste was organic (not accounting for that which was been contaminated by non-compostable chemicals).

By composting, we can essentially halve our landfill-bound waste, a theory proven by practice.  After Portland introduced curbside composting, the city saw a 44% decrease in landfill waste.  If that’s not impressive enough, San Francisco decreased landfill usage by 80%, due to both composting and mandatory business recycling law.

COMPOSTING COMBATS CLIMATE CHANGE BY REDUCING CO2 EMISSIONS

Organic waste CANNOT compost in a landfill.  Composting is an aerobic process, meaning it requires air.  Because landfills have massive amounts of trash constantly heaped on top, any item deposited there breaks down anaerobically, or without oxygen. Anaerobic biodegradation releases methane gas, which is 30x more potent than carbon dioxide, in terms of trapping hot air in the atmosphere.

By diverting waste from landfills, composting actually improves the earth’s carbon cycle. It can also be an end-of-life solution for plant-based single-use plastic packaging, a complex issue in and of itself. 

COMPOSTING COSTS LESS

If we’re putting less waste in landfills, municipalities (read as: taxpayers) won’t have to invest so much on landfill upkeep. In 2019, New York City spent $411 million on trash disposal; compare that to their fledgling composting initiative that cost only $15.7 million that year.

COMPOSTING SUPPORTS MORE EFFICIENT, ORGANIC AGRICULTURAL PRACTICES

Composting doesn’t just prevent organic waste from becoming something harmful.  It actually turns it into something useful: humus (no, not the dip!). Colloquially referred to as “compost”, humus is essentially waste turned yummy food for the earth. 

Being formulated from carbon and nitrogen-rich materials (remember those browns and greens), humus is rich in nutrients like phosphorus, potassium, and nitrogen. When added to soil, it spurs plant growth and balances pH, creating an excellent growing environment for even more types of plants.

Compost isn’t just rich in nutrients, either.  It’s rich in bacteria and fungi that protect plants from insects, certain types of disease, and even invasive weeds. That means humus is an all-natural alternative to chemical fertilizers and pesticides.  

Think of the implications this has for our agricultural system!  It means we can not only grow food organically with fewer chemicals, but it also means we can grow more nutritionally dense crops at an even higher yield.

COMPOST CAN REMEDIATE DAMAGED (EVEN TOXIC) SOIL

Humus not only helps plants grow, but actually remediates the very soil with which it is combined. First, it restores nutrients to the soil, as noted above.  Second, it improves the structure and temperature regulation of the soil, preventing erosion, aerating tough soil to make it more workable, improving drainage to clay-based soils, and adding water retention to arid soils.

Small scale, compost can turn the sandy, nutrient-dead soil into an all natural and healthy garden.

Large scale, it can be used in reforestation efforts and to make the agricultural industry less water consumptive. It can even turn unusable or nutritionally depleted swaths of land into those with agricultural potential.  

At its most extreme, compost can “restore contaminated soils, manage stormwater, control odors, and degrade volatile organic compounds”, a practice known as compost bioremediation.

FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE BENEFITS OF COMPOSTING AT HOME

Have we convinced you to compost yet?  If the answer is yes, there are a number of compost bins to suit any lifestyle and any level and even if you live in a small space like an apartment, it’s the right equipment is a low barrier to re-purposing your excess food!

Composting is a way to make inedible waste meaningful. Follow in the footsteps of ReGrained, and do more with less!

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