December 13, 2016
By Blair Wojcik
With as much abundance as there is around us, the amount of waste in this world is truly astonishing. According to the United Nations Environment Program, in the US alone, organic waste (i.e. perfectly compostable material) is the second highest component of landfills, which are the largest source of methane emissions. Fruits and vegetables are said to have the highest wastage rates of any food, and in our country, 30-40% of the entire food supply is wasted, equalling more than 20 pounds of food, per person, per month, or 1.3 billion tons a year. By comparison, over 40 million Americans are currently living in food-insecure households, which means they don’t have the money or resources to properly feed their families. When less is wasted, more can be given. So the phrase, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” can be perfectly affirmed in compost.
The reality is that our current waste management systems are completely unsustainable. Carcinogens created from burning trash send greenhouse gases straight into the atmosphere and are attributed to climate change. Chemicals in these landfills can also seep into our waterways polluting our most vital resource. Electricity that could be used to power millions of homes is instead being routed to manage an overwhelming amount of garbage. At the rate we are going, our planet cannot continue to sustain itself if we don’t make a change, now.
The importance of composting then, is two-fold. First, it helps drastically eliminate the amount of organic matter being thrown into landfills and the energy being depleted from this process. Second, it supports the regenerative practice of naturally fertilizing and nourishing our Earth, without the use of harmful or poisonous chemicals. It re-builds carbon within our soil, allowing it to retain moisture and suppress plant disease and pests, while encouraging the production of beneficial bacteria and fungi. This symbiotic relationship returns that which comes from the ground, back to the ground, creating new life.
The myth about composting is often that it’s too difficult to maintain. Or, that you have to be a whiz in your garden to even get it going! Composting is actually a very accessible process and with the right ingredients, takes on a life of its own. Furthermore, as we become more aware of the impact that food scraps uselessly thrown into our garbage make, we can wake up to the immense value of this simple and incredibly supportive act.
So, how do we start?
To start composting you need two basic components in equal parts: 50% green matter and 50% brown matter. This means live stuff vs. dead stuff. For example, green leaves would be considered green matter. If you dried them out, they would be considered brown matter. Anything from egg shells to coffee grounds, apple cores to potato peels can be composted. Avoid any animal matter (meat, bones or feces) and for optimal results, ensure that what goes into the pile is chemical and pesticide-free. Meat, bones, and feces can be composted, they just require special attention (if you’re new to composting, try that next year?). Then, select a convenient location for your compost pile with easy access, away from trees (especially those with needles.) A city-supported compost bin is also a great option. A helpful tip is to put your food scraps in the freezer, as opposed to on your counter, while you collect and prepare them for your outdoor area. This eliminates any possibility of smell and the potential for fruit flies. Plus, moisture is created on the food through the freezing process which aids in its ability to be broken down later. As you become more savvy with your compost, you can explore more complex ways of producing and harvesting your pile. Alternating your ratios will also produce different results. Ultimately, the end-goal is the same: healthy soil and a thriving Earth.
So, get in there and have fun! Your garden will thank you.
And look to our handy infographic as well: