The Benefits of Composting.
Updated: Mar 19
An average person in the US throws away almost five pounds of solid waste every day. This is a major environmental problem because most of it ends up in landfills or incinerators emitting greenhouse gases (GHG), heating the planet, contributing to climate change, and poisoning the land, air, and waterways. People who live close to landfills often complain about odors. In some research, the proximity of landfills was related to a heightened risk of cancer (Friis,2017).
Most municipal solid waste (MSW) is sent to landfills or incinerators. 24 % of waste can be composted to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills decomposing and generating greenhouse gases. The gas given off by landfills consists of 50% methane (CH4), 50% carbon dioxide (CO2) gas, and volatile organic compounds. Landfills are the single largest methane source in the U.S. and they are 28 times more potent than CO2. Landfills also produce leachate, possibly contaminating soil and aquifers. Anaerobic bacteria release methane as they break down a paper, food, and other organic waste (Robertson, 2018). Therefore, composting is a good solution to reduce methane emissions from landfills.
The following items can easily be composted:
Browns, high in Carbon: cardboard, paper, ashes, wood, corn stalks, leaves, fruit waste, pine needles, sawdust, draw, wood chips, wool and cotton rugs, hair, and fur. (Also adds aeration to the compost)
Greens, high in Nitrogen: vegetable scraps, healthy plants, and plant parts, some food waste, tea bags, coffee grounds, nut and eggshells, yard trimmings, grass clippings, hay, and straw.
Why Compost and the benefits of composting.
Improves the quality of the soil, strengthen the sink (land, ocean), and buffer capacity.
Compost enhances water retention in soils, reduce erosion, and evaporation. Reduces the amount of watering.
Compost reduces the need for chemical fertilizers, provides free organic nutrients, nitrogen, carbon, and many micronutrients for the plants, increasing yields.
Compost is also good for potting soil and as a soil amendment.
Decontaminates polluted soils, binds with toxins like lead and cadmium so that plants cannot absorb them (Smith, 2011)
Improves degraded lands and clay soils.
Suppresses some plant diseases, such as clubroot in cabbage.
Most fruits and vegetables are grown in nutrient-depleted soils; these soils contain fewer minerals and vitamins. Growing vegetables in rich compost can improve the nutrition value of the products, which improves the overall health of people and addresses food security. Healthy soil, healthy plants.
Compost is locally available, it doesn’t have to be manufactured and transported.
“The compost becomes food, and the food becomes compost” (Smith,2011).
By 2050 there will 9.5 billion people living on this planet and most of them will be in big cities. Resilient cities must address among many other things, waste management/reduction and food scarcity. Cities around the world must adapt to a circular economy or closed-loop economy.
Composting and thereafter using it as fertilizer reduces society’s environmental footprint. Turning municipal solid waste, into a resource for plants reduces GHG emissions, improves soil quality and water absorption, therefore improving the nutritious value of the plants, combating food scarcity.
"Composting proceeds best at a moisture content of 40-60% by weight. At lower moisture levels, microbial activity is limited. At higher levels, the process is likely to become anaerobic and foul-smelling". (Cornell)
My compost bin in Washington, D.C.
“Circularity Is Key in Developing Bioeconomy.” Interreg Europe, www.interregeurope.eu/bioregio/news/news-article/2986/biowaste-challenge-in-europe/.
Compost Connection, compostconnection.com/.
Estabrook, Barry. Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit. Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC, 2012.
Friis, Robert H. Essentials of Environmental Health. Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2019.
Plastrik, Peter, and John Cleveland. Life after Carbon: the next Global Transformation of Cities. Island Press, 2018.
Razza, Francesco, et al. “The Role of Compost in Bio-Waste Management and Circular Economy.” Designing Sustainable Technologies, Products and Policies, 2018, pp. 133–143., doi:10.1007/978-3-319-66981-6_16.
Robertson, Margaret. Sustainability Principles and Practice. Routledge, 2017.