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Composting: About

How-to and Environmental Benefits


What is Composting?

Composting is the natural process of recycling organic matter, such as leaves and food scraps, into a valuable fertilizer that can enrich soil and plants. Anything that grows decomposes eventually; composting simply speeds up the process by providing an ideal environment for bacteria, fungi, and other decomposing organisms (such as worms, sowbugs, and nematodes) to do their work. The resulting decomposed matter, which often ends up looking like fertile garden soil, is called compost. Fondly referred to by farmers as “black gold,” compost is rich in nutrients and can be used for gardening, horticulture, and agriculture.

Organic discards can be processed in industrial-scale composting facilities, in smaller-scale community composting systems, and in anaerobic digesters, among other options. This guide focuses primarily on home composting, which is a great way to keep your organic discards out of the waste stream and produce a valuable soil amendment for your own use. 

Typically when organic matter decomposes, it undergoes aerobic decomposition,  meaning that it’s broken down by microorganisms that require oxygen. When compostable waste goes to a landfill, it gets buried under massive amounts of other trash, cutting off a regular supply of oxygen for the decomposers. The waste then ends up undergoing anaerobic decomposition, being broken down by organisms that can live without free-flowing oxygen. During anaerobic decomposition, biogas is created as a by-product. This biogas is roughly 50 percent methane and 50 percent carbon dioxide, both of which are potent greenhouse gases, with methane being 28 to 36 times more effective than CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere over a century. Although most modern landfills have methane capture systems, these do not capture all of the gas; landfills are the third-largest source of human-generated methane emissions in the United States. Continue reading from NRDC

How Does Composting Help the Environment?

America throws out immense amounts or trash, most of which is dumped into landfills or burned in trash incinerators. This is a costly system that damages the environment and harms our health. Luckily, communities across the country are turning toward a common-sense and beneficial solution: composting. Composting programs divert organic material – such as food scraps, leaves, branches, grass clippings and other biodegradable material – away from landfills and incinerators and turn it into a valuable product. Compost can replenish and stabilize soil, helping to boost and sustain food production in the future. It can also help pull carbon out of the atmosphere, helping to tackle global warming, and replace polluting chemical fertilizers, protecting public health.

Americans landfilled or incinerated over 50 million tons of compostable waste in 2015. That is enough to fill a line of fully-loaded 18-wheelers, stretching from New York City to Los Angeles ten times.

The system of collecting, landfilling and incinerating waste is a costly one that contributes to global warming and creates toxic air and water pollution. Composting could reduce the amount of trash sent to landfills and incinerators in the U.S. by at least 30 percent.

Thanks to strong composting and recycling programs, San Francisco has reduced the amount of trash it sends to landfills by 80 percent and composts 255,500 tons of organic material each year.  The state of Vermont passed a Universal Recycling Law in 2012 and is phasing in policies and programs until all of its recyclables, leaf and yard debris, food scraps and other organics will be banned from landfills in 2020. Continue reading from Environment America

From the Collection
Link to Citizen Farmers by Daron Joffe in the Catalog
Link to An (Almost) Zero-Waste Life by Megean Weldon in the Catalog
Link to Composting for a New Generation by Michelle Balz in the Catalog
Link to Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof in the Catalog
Link to Permaculture For The Rest Of Us by Jenni Blackmore in the Catalog
Link to No Waste Composting by Michelle Balz in the Catalog
Link to Composting for Dummies by Cathy Cromell in the Catalog
Link to The Healthy Vegetable Garden by Sally Morgan in the Catalog
Link to Composting: Bob's Basics by Bob Flowerdew in the Catalog