Last week I dedicated a good amount of time to our community garden. The garden is really starting to shape up. We added three more raised beds and did a good amount of weeding, composting, and mulching.
|Before: Bin full of weeds|
Speaking of compost...one of my big garden projects for the week was weeding the new compost bin. This was quite a chore because the weeds were as tall as me! Although it took a lot of physical labor to weed the beds, I was happy to be outside in the sunshine, enjoying a beautiful day. For the past month I have been cooped up inside writing my thesis, so that didn't leave as much time as I would've liked to enjoy the outdoors. Now that my thesis is written, I was more than happy to be working outside working with my hands, making a tangible difference. It was very rewarding to see the end result of my efforts. Now the garden has a working compost for community gardeners that will be free of weeds!
You would think that after dedicating the past two years to researching compost practices for my thesis that I would be sick of talking about compost, but that is not the case! I have always been interested in composting, but I have learned about so many benefits of composting that I can't help but want to share some of them with anyone willing to listen. So if you're interested in learning more about why composting is important, this blog is for you!
For starters, many people think that composting is only for people who want to use the soil for gardening. Although it makes wonderful nutrient-rich soil, composting is also important as a waste management strategy. In 2010 the EPA recorded that 33 million tons of food waste were sent to landfills. This makes food waste the biggest contributor to landfills. Waste is becoming a big issue with growing population and consumption patterns. The U.S. municipal waste stream has tripled since the 1960s. Today, 4.5 pounds of food waste is produced per person per day compared to 1.8 pounds 45 years ago. That is a HUGE increase that needs to be fixed with sustainable solutions. Composting is one solution to help with food waste because the EPA projects that 67% of American household waste can be composted.
|After: Weeding Success!|
Composting is still a relatively new practice for food waste diversion in the U.S. There are some cities like San Francisco that require composting, but most cities do not have composting pickup available because it is still cheapest to send food waste to the landfill. Many European countries that are facing space constraints have adopted new waste management strategies to reduce the amount of waste going to landfills. Scotland is one of these countries. A few years ago Scotland was only recycling 4 percent of possible materials, but new targets in the Scotland’s Zero Waste Plan require Scotland to recycle 70 percent with a maximum of 5 percent to landfill by 2025. In order to achieve a zero waste Scotland in the next 10 years, the government has been progressively increasing the landfill tax each year in order to encourage more sustainable methods of waste disposal. This government-inspired shift in protocol has made composting an increasingly attractive waste disposal practice for businesses. The United States needs to create government mandates like Scotland and other European countries have done in order to make composting a viable waste management option.
There are tons of benefits to composting, and it is a great tool for climate change mitigation. The following list of benefits relates to the potential of composting as a mitigation tool for climate change. Composting results in:
•Removal of atmospheric carbon through soil carbon sequestration
•Reduction of GHG emissions through reduced production of chemical fertilizers and pesticides
•Landfill cover reduces GHG emissions
•Reduction of GHG emissions through reduced irrigation
•Reduced diesel use for soil cultivation from improved tilth and soil workability
•Reduced need for biocides reduces GHG emissions from biocide production
•Reduced nitrogen loss that causes N20 emissions
•Reduced erosion that results in N20 emissions from loss of nutrients and organic matter
•Abatement potential for manure management
•Effective bio-filter for reducing pesticide contamination in water spills
Provides a less costly alternative to conventional methods of remediating (cleaning) contaminated soil
•Helps prevent pollution
Compost has also been shown to prevent erosion and silting on embankments and prevents erosion and turf loss on roadsides, hillsides, golf courses, etc.
•Realistic Energy Option using Anaerobic Digestion Plants
•Restoring nutrients to the soil
When used for growing crops, compost has shown to increase soil water holding capacity, add nutrients, and stifle soil-borne diseases
•Offers economic benefits
It serves as a marketable commodity and is a low-cost alternative to standard landfill cover and artificial soil amendments. Composting also extends landfill life
|After: New 3-bin compost!|
Overall, composting simultaneously reduces GHG emissions, improves sustainability, prevents soil and water contamination, conserves resources, provides renewable energy options, increases soil nutrients...and the list goes on and on! In 2005, the U.S. disposed of 25 million tons of food waste into landfills. If this food waste had been composted, the GHG emissions impact would have been equal to removing 7.8 million cars from the road! The majority of the population is not aware of all the wonderful benefits that composting has to offer because it is not yet a common practice. So share this information with the people around you, they will be surprised to find that it is easy to do. Depending on where you live, it can also save you money on trash disposal costs by cutting down the weight of your trash bins every week. I was amazed by how many garbage bags we saved at the Ecohouse by composting compared to what I was used to before having a backyard compost pile.
|Winner of the International Compost Awareness Week poster contest|
May 6th-12th was International Compost Awareness Week (yes, there is an entire week dedicated to composting) supported by the U.S. Composting Council. It is the largest education initiative of the composting industry every year. If you are interested in learning what communities and cities are doing with composting around the country, follow ICAW on facebook or visit their website at http://compostingcouncil.org/icaw/.