- A version of this article was first published on the Sparkle Kitchen.
San Francisco does it. Portland does it. Vermont does it. NYC is doing it next. Composting is coming to a bin near you. Are you ready?
Composting is serious business. We bury 1.2 million tons of food waste in landfills every year at a cost of nearly $80 per ton. Our country is throwing out 40% of the food we grow. Poof, gone, all that hard labor, time and money into the trash.
And all this garbage could be helping us. That wilted lettuce in the back of your fridge could be working for you. There is good reason it’s called “black gold.” Time to get over the ick-factor, be a responsible adult and give back to the soil.
How exactly does composting work and what are the real benefits?
I sought out expertise from Rebecca Louie, the self-proclaimed Compostess. I first saw her speak at an alternative energy event in the city and I have never met someone so jazzed about compost. Her enthusiasm was palatable and I think she convinced every person in the room to begin a home composting program.
Rebecca says, “About ⅓ of what goes to landfills can be composted. However, instead of being transformed into something useful, most of it sits tightly squeezed under junk in landfills releasing methane and CO2 into the atmosphere and leaching ammonia into the soil and water streams. The effects of pollution and climate change we all know: it’s not good, and it touches every aspect of our daily lives.”
Our food scraps are full of energy to harvest. Rebecca proclaims, “Imagine if we could eliminate that burden on the planet and instead create an amazing soil amendment to grow things in. Imagine if we harnessed some of the byproducts of composting and decomposition as energy and heat sources. The beneficial ripple effect — an alternative to fossil fuels, an increase in healthy soil/green-space/agriculture, a general shift in how we define resources vs. waste…this is all very powerful stuff that can heal the health of many social, political and economic ills!” Composting has the potential to be an abundant energy source considering the annual food waste rate of 1.2 million tons.
Composting also leads to healthier soil. Years and years of poor soil management has led to stripping of the earth and we’re actually losing top soil at an alarming rate. And without top soil we are unable to grow nutritious food. Soil contains key nutrients like magnesium, zinc, and copper that are absorbed by the plant as they grow. Composting adds these nutrients back to the soil, producing better quality food.
And to bring composting back to the smaller scale, it will impact the health of your home. Throwing food matter into the garbage makes for a smelly trash can and multiple trips to the outside receptacle. I remember having to take out my trash a few times every week. Now it’s maybe once every two weeks. Composting cuts down on smell, indoor air quality, and trips to the trash can.
All I need to do is save all my food scraps in a plastic bag or a brown bag in my freezer and drop them off once a week to the farmer’s market. If you feel awkward about putting “trash” in your freezer, think of it this way: the top of tomatoes, banana peels, etc, were all just your food (or a part of our food) seconds before, and putting it in the freezer keeps it from going bad. It’s “food” you’re putting in the freezer, not “trash”–how to reframe your thought makes a vast difference. In addition, keeping a full freezer actually cuts down on energy costs.
If you live in an area with a compost pick-up (select cities like San Francisco, Portland, or parts of NYC) or drop-off at farmer’s markets, composting is very easy. Even if your city doesn’t have a ready option, you can still take the matter into your own hands. Starting a program with a community garden is one idea–or if you have a large backyard in the suburbs, you can create your own compost system so you can use your own “black gold” instead of chemical fertilizer. Whatever option you choose, composting is one of the easiest and best ways to be environmentally friendly. If you care about the health of our planet, try composting as a challenge for just a few weeks–you probably won’t go back.
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Photo: Alan Levine via Flickr