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Compost - Why Compost?

Composting your food and yard waste, and recycling your recyclable "stuff," are among the simplest yet most powerful ways to reduce your environmental footprint and help the Earth. As a bonus, the compost you can easily create from kitchen scraps like coffee grinds and vegetable peels is phenomenal to add to your flowerbeds and vegetable garden. As it stands, the majority of Americans (72 percent) do not compost their food waste, but 62 percent said they'd be willing to if it were more convenient.1

Residential food composting programs are currently being tested in a number of U.S. cities, including New York City, Austin and Milwaukee, and more than 180 communities collect food waste from residences.2 Many of the programs started out by allowing residents to add food scraps to their yard waste recycling bins. However, it's easy to start composting at home, even if your community doesn't offer curbside pickup.

Why Compost?

On the surface level, composting doesn't sound like a glamorous or even all-too-important topic. Yet, dig below the surface and you'll quickly realize that diverting a banana peel here and a pile of spoiled greens there from U.S. landfills is a very big deal. Food waste is actually the second largest component of waste sent to U.S. landfills, making up 18 percent of the waste stream, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).3

Yard trimmings make up another 7 percent. When combined, this organic waste makes up the largest share of U.S. trash, more than any other material, including paper and plastic.

In all, the food waste alone amounts to more than 30 million tons of waste entering U.S. landfills every year. This is particularly tragic since food and yard waste is easily recycled via composting. Aside from helping to conserve limited landfill space, cutting back on the amount of organic matter entering landfills leads to a reduction in methane gas emissions.4

And, when applied to soil, compost adds valuable organic matter, a crucial gift since topsoil loss and erosion are major concerns in the 21st century, leading to watershed problems and threatening "our ability to sustain life on Earth," according to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR).5 ILSR also notes that amending soil with compost improves water retention, reduces chemical needs and improves soil quality and structure.6 Even the U.S. EPA lists the following benefits of composting:7

  • Enriches soil, helping retain moisture and suppress plant diseases and pests
  • Reduces the need for chemical fertilizers
  • Encourages the production of beneficial bacteria and fungi that break down organic matter to create hummus, a rich, nutrient-filled material
The Marin Carbon Project in Northern California has also revealed how valuable composting can be to communities on a larger scale. "The research has demonstrated that a one-time application of compost can sequester almost 1,000 pounds of carbon per acre per year," the Environmental Defense Fund noted, adding, "It has the potential to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by 28 million metric tons per year if compost can be applied to just 5 percent of CA's [California's] rangelands. That's equivalent to removing nearly 6 million cars from the road."8

1 PR Newswire January 8, 2014
2, 4 The Christian Science Monitor January 1, 2017
3 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Reducing Food Waste
5, 6 Institute for Local Self-Reliance, State of Composting in the US
7, 10 U.S. EPA, Composting at Home
8 Environmental Defense Fund October 16, 2014

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