Well, that was an easy post. See you later.
What’s that? You want more? Fine. Here are some excellent reasons to start composting today.
- Food waste makes up roughly 30-40% of what goes into landfills (Americans toss out about 40% of the food they purchase – mostly residential waste: that is, from people like you and me – but that’s another story), and that organic material, smothered and deprived of oxygen, releases immense amounts of methane gas when it’s dumped in landfills.
Methane, as you’ve probably heard, is a potent greenhouse gas, up to 25 times more powerful than CO2. Landfill emissions are the third largest source of methane pollution in the US, after industrial sources (mostly from coal, natural gas, and oil production) and enteric fermentation (that’s livestock farts to you and me). Composting can keep that organic material out of the waste stream, and millions of tons of methane out of the atmosphere.
- Compost eliminates the need to purchase chemical fertilizers, which frequently contaminate groundwater, wells, and natural watercourses. Chemical fertilizer is pretty nasty stuff (a 40-pound bag of conventional fertilizer contains about 2.5 gallons of petroleum), energy-intensive to produce and environmentally disastrous to use. Chemical fertilizers are why there is a dead zone the size of New Jersey in the Gulf of Mexico.
- Compost greatly improves soil structure, preventing erosion. Erosion pours pesticide- and fertilizer-laden runoff into rivers, lakes and ponds, causing tremendous damage. (In the US, the average industrial farm loses about 3 tons of topsoil per acre annually.) By adding compost to the soil, it increases its ability to retain water (thus also cutting down on the need to water your lawn or garden), while also creating soil that is far better at supporting the root structures of plants. Flowers, lawns, and vegetables show marked improvement with the addition of compost.
- It’s easy, fun, and cheap. After minimal start-up costs, composting is an essentially free source of high-quality fertilizer. Composting can be as simple as dumping your organic waste onto a pile in the back yard, or you can get really high tech and encircle it with chicken wire. Discarded wooden pallets make good bins, or, Mr. Fancy-Pants, you can purchase a bin at any home store or online. Here’s a video showing one way to make a bin with pallets.
- Composting teaches your kids that in nature there is no such thing as waste, that everything exists in a state of growth, death, decay, and regrowth, and that sometimes what we think of as trash can become a thing of value. They might begin to view the food they eat differently, as part of a natural cycle, and encourage them to reduce their own waste.
If, like us, you don’t have a yard, you can still, like us, compost. Vermicomposting uses worms to turn organic material into soil, and a vermicomposter can fit on a terrace, in a garage, or even indoors in your kitchen or laundry room. We keep ours outside under our carport, where our little worms consume all of our kitchen waste. The ‘tea’ that comes from the extra liquid content of the vegetable waste makes a miraculous fertilizer.
Here’s a short and entertaining video on vermicomposting from TED-Ed.
I’m not going to get into the details of actually how to compost (it’s incredibly simple, really), because there are great resources out there to assist you, but I hope that I’ve provided a bit of the why you should. It’s something that you could do immediately to have a significant positive environmental impact, and it’s really satisfying to boot. So please, if I have inspired you to compost your waste, drop me a line and let me know how it’s going. I’d love to hear your stories.