Everyone knows the importance of recycling. It clears landfills, reminds us to reuse things as much as possible, generates less energy, and reduces greenhouse gases. To maximize the potential of finite resources, recycling is key. But how can we recycle other items, such as food?
Enter composting, a practice that can help improve the environment by recycling waste generated by humans. The process is initiated by recycling organic materials to fertilize and improve soil. It improves the environment for bacteria and fungi to grow in, resulting in highly nutritious earth. People have been using variants of composting for thousands of years; almost 12,000 years ago, Scottish farmers boosted the output of their small scale farms using composting. So what are the main benefits of composting? And more importantly, how can you embrace composting?
The entire idea of composting is to prevent organic waste from taking a trip to the landfill. An EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) study found that organic and yard waste makes up more than 30 percent of what is thrown away in the USA.
In 2018, about 25% of municipal solid waste (MSW) in US landfills was made up of food waste! Another 7% was made up of yard trimmings. So, composting can help divert some of this waste from the landfill to our gardens.
Composting encourages the production of bacteria used to break down organic material in soil. Compost contains 3 essential nutrients used in soil which are needed by garden crops: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. These all can help accelerate successful plant growth.
Research has also proven that compost is capable enough to increase the productivity and resiliency of soil: farmers regularly use compost since it’s usually a guarantee of effective yields.
In the United States, agriculture uses almost 80% of the country’s available consumptive water supplies. Expensive irrigation systems are difficult for farmers to manage, and water inefficiency plagues many farms; this is a major problem, especially as water becomes scarce around the globe.
Yet composting can help. Each one percent increase in the organic matter in soil assists soil in holding approximately 20,000 gallons of water per acre. That’s a lot of water!
And by switching to compost instead of normal soil, farmers can save and reuse more water for other forms of agriculture.
How to Compost
The way you compost depends on the way you live. You could compost in your backyard, or you could even do it indoors!
Let’s start with composting outdoors. First, select a dry and shady spot near a source of water for your compost pile. Then, lay twigs or straws at the bottom of the pile to add drainage, and to aerate the compost. Add the compost materials in layers, alternating between dry and moist (food scraps should be in “moist”). After, add manure i.e. clover, wheatgrass, or grass clippings. This will help activate the compost and speed the entire process. And you’re done! Make sure to water sporadically, cover the pile to ensure heat and moisture, and turn the materials to give oxygen to the compost.
To compost indoors, first buy a bin from a local hardware store (you could also make a DIY custom bin for yourself!). Then, repeat the steps for outdoor composting to make your compost. Tend to the pile often and make sure to water it.
Any properly managed compost will not attract rodents or pests, and will not smell bad. The compost should be finished anywhere from 2 months to 2 years. However, you can always comfort yourself with the fact that you have recycled your food and yard waste, supplemented your soil’s health, and helped your garden retain more water. Moreover, you have created something with your bare hands! Congratulations!