Composting

The discussion surrounding waste humans create is an interesting one. It’s not often that the typical American thinks much about what happens after they throw a candy wrapper in the dumpster next to their apartment or toss a plastic bottle in that blue recycling bin. If an individual does consider the path that “garbage” may take, it is usually brief and with little consideration to alternatives. But who can really blame someone for having this mindset? We live in a world of convenience and instant gratification in which fast food is expected, single-use plastics run rampant and fashionable clothing is dirt cheap; we live and breath this culture. Regardless, this is no real excuse. I am one person who aims to shake the common comfort we have come to latch onto and refuse to be shaken from. I will not accept that this is just how the world works and neither should you. Now, onto my topic of the day–composting.

We, as a general people, simply accept that our trash is sent directly to landfills or incineration plants, so I’ve made it a personal goal to produce no waste at all. By buying less or in bulk, or diverting trash to the recycling bin, I have significantly reduced what I throw directly into my trash can at home. I am not nearly as close to zero waste as I want to be, largely due to having to work up the energy to cook from home or travel to markets with bulk options, but my habits has drastically improved already.

Despite this change, I couldn’t have been nearly as successful at changing my lifestyle without the help of one of life’s most natural processes–the decomposing into organic matter. As microorganisms and bacteria break down organic matter like fruits and vegetables, they create a very nutrient-dense soil called compost (University of Illinois, para. 2). This means that almost all the food that is left over in our lunches that goes bad in our fridge or is undesired can end up contributing toward a very helpful substance. I’ve been extremely lucky to live in a city that provides a compost collection service nearly once every week at local farmer’s markets. I’ve found it increasingly easy to incorporate the habit of collecting my leftover food and dropping it off at the collection points every few weeks as I’ve become more passionate about the fight to reduce municipal waste.

Food waste has become a serious problem in America and around the world. Only 5.1 percent of more than “38 million tons of food waste” generated in the U.S. in 2014 was composted instead of being sent to a landfill (Environmental Protection Agency, para. 8). Since food makes up more than 20 percent of municipal solid waste, this is an issue for multiple reasons, but one significant issue in particular. Trash placed in landfills are
essentially put in an airtight bag so that none of the potential nutrients from food waste
are ever returned to the soil (EPA, para.12).

Overall, composting is a viable option for reducing municipal waste. There are ways it can be better implemented in cities and developed as a process on a large-scale, but it has earned it’s role as a refuse alternative. There are various studies out there showing the benefits and disadvantages of food waste composting, so I encourage all readers to look into it more. This is just a brief synopsis for those who are not familiar and could benefit from some extra fun facts in their back pockets.

It seemed fitting to share this on Earth Day 2018, when we seem to be causing more damage, but caring much less about our environmental impact than I remember ten years ago. My intention when writing is to show that there are ways we can change the status quo and improve how we live. Nothing is set in stone and there are ways to better almost every situation we come into contact with. What works best now is not guaranteed to be correct in years to come, but the least we can do is avoid complacency and exemplify continuous improvement.

Editor’s Note: I welcome feedback and conversation, so if you have any thoughts to share, please do!

Resources

Environmental Protection Agency. (2017, July 06). Sustainable Management of Food Basics. Retrieved January 14, 2018, from https://www.epa.gov/sustainable-
management-food/sustainable-management-food-basics#what

Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (n.d.). Getting Started: 10 Questions for Cities
and Towns Considering Residential Curbside Composting. Retrieved January 16, 2018, from http://mitsloan.mit.edu/actionlearning/media/documents/s-lab-
projects/Guide-to-Composting.pdf

University of Illinois. (2018). The Science of Composting. Retrieved January 16, 2018,
from https://web.extension.illinois.edu/homecompost/science.cfm

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