In the fast paced world of today, we seem to be seeing rapid progress in nearly all aspects of life - devices that connects us to anyone we want anywhere in the world in an instant, healthcare innovations that can cure diseases that killed thousands a mere few decades ago, and some promising technology that has the potential to help us mitigate and possibly reverse the impacts of climate change. Yet all of the best and greatest things we’re doing in all these sectors of society have an inherent costs to them that until recently, have largely been neglected by these innovations, and it’s time that we rethink our approach. There’s one aspect where this forward momentum seems to be lacking despite its fundamental role in everyone’s life, and that’s in our waste.
When we look at any ecological system in nature, we can easily see that it’s cyclical. When one living thing reaches the end of it’s life, it is broken down by others who utilize those nutrients and then return them to that ecosystem so that everything there can thrive. One organisms inputs are generated from the decomposition of something else, and this cycle continues infinitely, with nothing really ever going to waste. Trash doesn’t actually exist in nature!
Yet us humans sure have developed a funny relationship to all that we deem as ‘waste’, haven’t we? For starters, a large portion of our trash is made from materials that aren’t even capable of being reintegrated into our ecological systems within a few dozen of our lifetimes (read another post of mine all about it here). However, the largest majority of all of our waste consists of food scraps and organics that could easily be broken down within the cycles of life on this planet…we just don’t do it, for some reason. While we’ve gotten really good at disposing of all sorts of different things, we’re still surprisingly terrible at composting. This ‘green waste’ takes up the largest portion of our landfills, outweighing all other types of trash, with food waste alone estimated to be over 40 tons annually in the United States.
Now, you may hear those stats and think, “oh wow, that’s a lot, but at least its going to break down eventually unlike plastic, right…?” and you’re not wrong here, but this high quantity of food waste creates it’s own problems. First off, landfills are expensive to operate and create not only from an economic perspective, but from an ecological one as they take up a significant portion of space that basically becomes a time capsule of man-made things that will never break down. If over half of that landfill space is made up of things that can easily be biodegraded, then thats just a horrible misuse of that time & energy, and we would be better off consolidating that space into one filled with purely non-biodegradable objects. Secondly, while this green waste will biodegrade eventually, the way that it happens in a landfill is not ecologically optimal. Fresh air and oxygen are key for some of the most efficient bacteria and fungi that compost these organic wastes, yet landfills often pile up on themselves and are sometimes sealed with soil, cutting off air supply to these organic wastes as they decompose. Anaerobic decomposition (or without oxygen) is performed by a different type of bacteria who release greenhouse gases such as Methane as a byproduct, which is 80 times more powerful of a contributor to climate change than Carbon Dioxide. So basically, letting our organic waste just decompose with all of our other trash not only is a poor use of space, but it can have unintended consequences that actually contributes more to climate change - something we should probably avoid doing these days.
So let’s take a cue from nature here and start composting more to turn all that waste into soil that we can use to grow more food, or just a greener world overall! By taking that extra time to compost our food, organic and green wastes, we have a huge opportunity to improve our waste systems and create a better future for us all. The best, most efficient method of composting is the 100% natural one - a slow, oxygen rich form of composting often performed over several months that preserves the best nutrients and biodiversity within these soils. While it is the most optimal from an ecological perspective, it takes up the most space, time and labor, and that’s a luxury that many of us simply don’t have these days. The next best alternative is for these green wastes to be collected by municipal governments and turned into composting soil to be used in city planning or restoration projects in the local area, as all that waste goes towards literally building up and growing the health of the community around you! Yet that too isn’t always an option for everyone, especially those in small rural towns, and that’s where new innovations can really come in handy. At-home countertop composting systems like Lomi allow the average person to compost their food and green waste in an efficient, ecologically minded manner to create soil for use in their garden, house plants, or to be sent to the landfill in a condensed form to reduce space and methane emissions. While there is no truly perfect or ideal situation for each one of us, the solution to these global issues ultimately depends on each and every one of us doing what we can now to help work towards that collective good of our future.
No matter where in the world you reside, or what sort of access to these systems you have, the bottomline is that we have the technology and the opportunity to improve our methods - so what’s holding us back? Well, that would be change. The hardest part now, is breaking habits of just throwing things away mindlessly and changing our routine so that we can actually achieve that healthy future and world we all are so deserving of. Change can be difficult, awkward and a cumbersome process, especially when it radically differs from how we’re used to doing things, and naturally, there is a lot of resistance to change. Sure, change isn’t easy, but change is also the only constant in life. Taking an active role participating in that change is always much easier than standing still and trying to fight it, so what are you waiting for? Let’s not be afraid to get our hands dirty (literally), to try something new and dive into the unknown together. Let’s all be a part of that change for a better tomorrow, today.
Written by: Ross Reid @NerdyAboutNature