Trying to live more sustainably often involves sacrifice. In order to lessen our impact on the planet, we give things up. We use our vehicles less, we decide to forgo some produce that was shipped from far away, or we sacrifice an extra bit of money in order to buy products that are more earth-friendly.
What’s great about composting is, not only does it allow us to live more sustainably, but it also gives us the opportunity to create something. The composting process does not involve giving something up – rather, it’s a way to get the most out of what you have and create something valuable for yourself and your community.
What Are The Benefits Of Composting?
The environmental benefits of compositing are myriad. Those benefits can roughly be grouped into two categories: what composting adds, and what composting removes.
What Composting Adds
Composting adds tremendous value to soil. Food scraps are rich in nitrogen and micronutrients (such as iron and manganese), while yard waste, paper products, and coffee grounds are rich in carbon. Composting also enhances soil’s microbial diversity, which makes nutrients more readily available.
Plus, compost doesn’t simply enrich soil; it also helps it retain more water and makes it more resistant to erosion.
What Composting Takes Away
Because compost provides many of the key nutrients that plants need to grow, it can negate the need for artificial fertilizer.
Creating artificial fertilizer is an energy-intensive process that generates considerable amounts of greenhouse gases. Artificial fertilizer is more likely to be overused, which leads to nutrient runoff that can lead to a whole slew of environmental problems.
When plants are well-fed on organic material, they not only grow faster and larger, but they also have the resources to better defend themselves from pests and diseases.
Flowers and vegetables growing in compost-supplemented soil won’t need as much (or any) help from harmful chemical insecticides or herbicides.
Composting food scraps and yard waste also means that those materials are staying on your property, rather than being shipped somewhere else.
Consider the journey of a typical grocery-store apple. Over the course of several months, an apple tree slowly funnels some of its water and nutrients into a fruiting body. When that body - an apple - is finally ripe, it’s picked, then sorted, then packed, then shipped, then stored, then reshipped, then stocked. You then, finally, purchase the apple and drive it home.
Next, unless you’re one of those brave souls who eats the whole core, seeds and all, a good chunk of that apple just gets thrown in the trash. After traveling tens, hundreds, or maybe even thousands of miles (lots of apples in the US come from New Zealand), the nutrient-rich core is simply discarded. It’s then up to another greenhouse gas-emitting vehicle, a garbage truck, to carry that core to a landfill.
By composting, you’re removing this last leg of the journey, and you’re doing something to get the full value out of your food.
You’re not just lightening trucks’ loads when you prevent food scraps and yard waste from being sent to the trash, either. When organic materials do end up in landfills, they’re often buried in anaerobic (low/no oxygen) environments. As they very slowly decompose, they release methane, a greenhouse gas that’s about 25 times more effective at heat-trapping than C02.
Ensuring that organic materials end up in your own well-aerated soil, rather than a landfill, means you’ll be contributing to your garden’s health instead of to global climate change.
Composting For Yourself
Composting is a fun hobby, and, unlike other sustainable actions, its results are tangible rather than abstract.
Knowing that you’ve prevented a faraway tree from being cut down or prevented some greenhouse gases from being emitted is great. If we want to live more sustainably, we need to take actions like these as often as we can.
But it’s also nice to be able to see and even touch the results of our efforts. Creating rich compost, and then watching it work wonders on the plants in your personal or community garden, is a truly rewarding experience.
Tips For Making Your Compost Better
Get more out of your compost
If you’re going to take the time to compost, you might as well do it right! Here are just a few tips to help you get the maximum benefit from your composting efforts.
Provide The Right Amount Of Water
Insects, worms and microbes - the organisms that’ll be decomposing organic material and freeing up nutrients in your compost pile – do best in moderately moist environments. If you have a lot of dry materials (dead leaves, dried grass clippings, paper, etc.) in your compost pile, mix in a bit of water. Conversely, if you have a lot of wet food scraps, consider adding some dry material to soak up excess moisture.
Create an Optimal “Green-Brown” Balance
Green leaves, green grass, and plant-based food scraps tend to be nitrogen-rich, while dead leaves, straw, and paper products are carbon-rich. Try to aim for a 50-50 green-brown balance to ensure an optimal mix of available nutrients in your compost.
Keep Artificial Substances Out
Keep artificial chemicals out of your compost by avoiding adding treated paper products, herbicide-treated yard waste, and pesticide-treated produce. Apart from (partially) defeating the purpose of organic composting, adding these substances can adversely affect the critters in your compost pile.
Aerating your compost – by running a pitchfork or rake through it every week or so – will help keep it from getting too compact. A looser, more aerated structure means more oxygen is available to the microbes and insects hard at work inside your compost pile.
Avoid Adding Fats and Proteins
While plenty of kitchen waste makes great compost, some scraps are better tossed in the trash. Meats, bones, and oils should be kept out of your compost. Fat and protein-heavy substances can introduce diseases and attract animals to your compost pile.