This is International Compost Awareness Week, a global effort by the composting industry to increase acceptance of a truly elegant process that reduces waste going to landfill, enriches gardens and farms, and sequesters carbon emissions.
Some 300 U.S. cities and universities have started collecting food scraps for composting in the last four years, but there is much more composting to be done. According to the EPA, “Yard trimmings and food residuals together constitute 26 percent of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream.” Natural composting has been around since the first plants took root: as dead vegetation decays, it provides minerals and nutrients that benefit the plants, animals and microorganisms. Mature compost uses high temperatures to destroy pathogens and weed seeds that natural decomposition does not destroy.
There are multiple benefits to composting, including:
- Healthier Water: Using compost instead of chemical fertilizers keeps chemicals out of groundwater and wells, and helps soils retain rainwater.
- Healthier Soil: Compost promotes healthy microbial activity and also improves soil structure to prevent erosion.
- Healthier Plants: Compost-grown plants are nutrient-rich.
Growing Great Wine
Residential composting programs are slowly gaining acceptance in the U.S., with some tasty results. The city of San Francisco started its composting program with a small pilot project in 1996; residential composting was mandated by the city council in 2009. Since the program’s beginning, 907,000 tons of food scraps and garden “waste” has been separated from garbage that was bound for the landfill. The city now generates 95,000 cubic yards of finished compost a year, 95% of which goes to nurturing the soil in nearby Wine Country. While contributing to some fine winemaking, San Franciscans’ compost program is also key to offsetting the City’s carbon emissions: employee-owned garbage and recycling company Recology calculates that since inception the compost program has created a total CO2 Equivalent benefit (a calculation of methane avoided and carbon sequestered) of 354,600 metric tons.
- Homeowners can take composting into their own hands, with garden compost piles or worm bins.
- If curbside composting is offered in your area, be sure to participate and encourage your neighbors.
- If curbside composting is not offered where you live, ask your local government and waste management company why not.
- For details on composting regulations in your state, go to this interactive map on the EPA website.
Photo by Larry Strong, courtesy of Recology