Some people think that composting is done without a second thought. For others, it’s a messy process that doesn’t seem worth the hassle.
Composting is one of the many ways people can reduce their negative impact on the planet, but is it worth the effort?
In short, yes, but only if you do it right.
Food waste produces harmful greenhouse gases in a landfill and little in a compost pile, Gunders said.
There will always be food scraps like banana peels, so you can avoid losing nutrients to the landfill by composting and using soil from your backyard, Gunders said. When you compost, the nutrients are returned to the soil for further use. When it goes to a landfill, the nutrients get trapped in the trash and don’t help anything grow.
“When you add up that waste from all over the country, it’s a lot of material,” he said.
What is composting?
The art of composting involves mixing the correct proportions of organic matter like food and garden waste with nitrogen, carbon, moisture (like water) and air to speed up the decomposition of unwanted waste. That’s Sally Brown, a research associate at the School of Forest Resources at the University of Washington in Seattle.
This environment allows microbes to quickly eat the contents of the compost, making it very fertile soil, he said.
It takes four to six months to decompose the matter. A compost pile needs to be heated to about 131 degrees Fahrenheit (55 degrees Celsius) to properly decompose, so it takes less time to break down in warmer climates like Florida than in colder climates like Seattle, according to Brown.
Soil can be used to grow new plants or feed plants that are already growing, which completes the food cycle, he said.
In her garden, she often uses home compost to feed her vegetable plants. “You never doubt it when you put your hands in that dirt, you see how beautiful it is, you see the worms scurry and then how productive your soil is,” Brown said.
Don’t forget the oxygen
Composting has gotten a bad reputation for smell, but it shouldn’t stink if it’s done right, according to Brown. When a compost pile isn’t properly aerated, it’s because it’s anaerobic, meaning oxygen isn’t getting to the pile, he said.
If the compost pile is anaerobic, there are more serious consequences than stench.
Brown materials such as dead plants help aerate the mix, so having enough in the pile can also help, said Nena Shaw, acting director of the Division of Resource Conservation and Sustainability in the EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management. .
Commercial home composting vs
There are multiple composting methods, such as backyard composting, according to the EPA.
Compost bins should be placed in a dry, shaded area, the environmental agency said. Then add a combination of brown material, such as dead leaves, and green material, such as grass clippings, and moisten them as they go into the container.
Cover the top of the pile to lock in moisture and turn the pile when needed until the bottom material is dark, which means it’s ready to be used as soil.
“I love gardening, so I think it’s the ability to have food in the garden,” Gunders said.
Composting also brings awareness to the environment and the natural cycle of food growing and waste, he said.
Gunders recommended that when learning to compost, invest in a compost bin. The container rotates like a washing machine for easy ventilation.
If the do-it-yourself method seems too difficult, many cities offer composting services that take people’s organic waste and compost it at a commercial facility.
“Basically, you can move compost from California to Oklahoma and still come out ahead,” he said.
Commercial composting can also handle more types of waste that a backyard composter can’t, Shaw said.
The higher temperatures of commercial composters can compost meat, bones and dairy products, which wouldn’t work well in a home composter, he said.
However, back composting is great for recycling produce scraps and yard waste that become usable soil for home gardens, Shaw added.
Why try composting?
Commercial nitrogen fertilizers are energy-intensive to manufacture and expensive, said Joseph Heckman, extension specialist in soil fertility in plant biology at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Composted soil helps alleviate the need for commercial fertilizers, improves soil health, and makes crops and soils more drought-resistant.
In addition to creating rich soil, composting reduces the amount of waste a person creates, said Tara Scully, associate professor of biology and director of sustainability in the biological sciences department at George Washington University in Washington, DC.
He grew up composting with his family and has been doing it himself for the last 20 years after moving to a house with enough space for it. Since composting at her home, Scully noticed that much of her landfill waste was diverted to the home compost pile.
“It’s reduced our garbage every week so much, I didn’t realize how much waste we threw away,” Scully said.