Composting is simple: it is the process of breaking down organic materials, such as food scraps, into nutrient-rich soil. Composting is important because it helps reduce waste in landfills, improves soil health, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
The deposition of organic material in landfills produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas that significantly contributes to global warming. Shockingly, according to CalRecycle, a staggering 18%, equivalent to six million tons of the waste present in California's landfills is composed of organic matter. However, by embracing composting practices, we can effectively reduce methane emissions, thereby actively combating climate change.
Apart from composting decreasing the amount of organic matter in landfills and thus decreasing the amount of methane gas produced, composting has many benefits for soil health. Composting organic matter can improve soil structure, water-holding capacity, and nutrient availability. Decomposed organic material (aka. compost) includes healthy nutrients for plants such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
In addition to reducing organic matter and curbing methane gas production in landfills, composting offers many advantages for soil health. Composting organic matter can enhance soil structure, increase water-holding capacity, and improve nutrient availability. The resulting decomposed organic material, known as compost, provides a rich source of essential nutrients for plants, including nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Incorporating compost into the soil nourishes plants, promoting their growth and vitality.
Composting also helps reduce the need for pesticides. Instead of using chemicals to enhance plant growth, composted material attracts beneficial organisms to your garden bed. Pesticides are harmful and should always be used sparingly because they absorb into the ground and flow amidst runoff, contaminating water sources and harming aquatic life. Not only are pesticides harmful to fish and other animals that live in rivers and streams, but they can also hurt pollinating insects such as bees and butterflies.
Runoff and erosion can also be decreased due to composting. When soil is healthy and has a high organic content, it can absorb more water, reducing runoff during heavy rain. Even if pesticides aren't used, preventing runoff and erosion can protect nearby waterways from sedimentation and nutrient pollution.
There are different ways to compost, depending on the scale and resources available. Some standard methods include backyard composting, vermicomposting, and large-scale operations. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages, but all can effectively reduce waste and improve soil health.
Backyard composting offers an accessible and effective way for individuals and families to reduce waste while improving soil health. To create an enclosed composting environment, begin by selecting a suitable container, such as a bin or flower pot with a lid. Inside the container, layer green (nitrogen-rich) and brown (carbon-rich) organic materials. Green materials include food scraps and grass clippings, while brown materials encompass dry leaves and shredded paper.
To facilitate decomposition, ensure a proper carbon-to-nitrogen ratio of approximately 25-30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. Periodically mix or turn the compost to provide oxygen and encourage the activity of microorganisms responsible for breaking down the organic matter. Maintain the compost's moisture level, like a damp sponge, by watering as needed.
Through the natural decomposition process, the organic materials transform into nutrient-rich compost. This mature compost contains vital elements like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which are essential for plant growth. Its addition, soil enhances its structure, promotes water retention, and improves plant nutrient availability.
After 3-6 weeks, when the compost develops a stable, earthy aroma and a crumbly texture, it is ready for use. Incorporate the compost into the soil by top-dressing existing beds or mixing it with potting soil for container gardening. This integration boosts soil fertility, supports beneficial microbial activity, and nourishes plants with essential nutrients.
Vermicomposting is a form of composting that uses worms to break down organic material. There are over 9,000 species of worms in the world, but only a few are great for composting. The EPA recommends the "red wriggler." Worms, food scraps, and other organic materials are added to a bin. Ensure your bin has a lid! The worms eat the waste and produce nutrient-rich castings.
Large-scale composting operations are used to process large amounts of organic waste. Specialized equipment and techniques are used to accelerate the composting process. Large-scale composting operations can effectively reduce waste, create revenue for communities, and provide new jobs.
Composting empowers individuals and families to actively contribute to waste reduction and sustainable gardening practices. By harnessing the power of decomposition, we can transform organic waste into a valuable resource for healthy, thriving plants and ecosystems.
This copy was prepared by Allison Norberg, a volunteer at Student LunchBox, a non-profit organization dedicated to fighting food insecurity among college students.