Composting, especially in this day and age, just makes good sense. The practice represents a responsible way to handle waste and reduce our burden on landfills and the environment. Of course, it has a host of benefits for the garden as well. In the Lab, we focus our discussion on several of the core benefits of compost.
The Value of Compost
Value in the Garden
Compost is invaluable in the garden. The organic material in active compost provides a host of micro and macro-nutrients to help plants grow, creating healthier plants and soil that can fight off pests. Good compost also helps create good soil structure and tilth which can provide a good base for strong root growth and help retain moisture. Good, healthy compost is full of beneficial microorganisms that improve the health of the soil and establish a proper environment to supply the most nutrition for our growing plants.
In the United States, we generate over 250 million tons of solid waste per year or about 4.5 lbs per person per day that ends up in landfills. Af that, two-thirds or more is organic waste that could be composted. That’s a staggering amount of waste that does not need to be in our landfills. Organic matter that is broken down through natural decomposition processes, or aerobically composted, creates CO2 as part of the natural biogenic short-term carbon exchange cycle. This short-term carbon exchange has little impact on the environment. But in a landfill, the anaerobic breakdown of that same organic material creates and releases methane which is 23 times more efficient at trapping heat in the atmosphere than CO2. In 2005, a study showed that 34% of all man-made methane released into the atmosphere originated in landfills.
Clearly, reducing the amount of organic waste in landfills and composting it aerobically at a household level, community level, and civic level, would have a huge positive impact on the environment.
Not many people consider what happens at the landfill. Even fewer consider its impact on the community…unless, of course, you happen to live next to it. It doesn’t take much to imagine the financial costs that a community must bear to manage, maintain and expand their growing landfill needs. It takes equipment, employees, storage facilities, oversight, and a number of other expensive operating costs that fall on the community. Reducing the amount of waste that makes its way to the landfill could save your community resources that could be diverted to more useful projects.
Landfills also create litter and that sharp, sour smell we’ve all experienced as we drive by the local landfill. Communities have to avoid developing towards these areas and can damage property values. Properly managed compost, on the other hand, doesn’t smell and does not create litter.
Civic composting programs can use it’s finished compost in public spaces as fertilizer and soil amendments, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers in its green spaces. Thereby reducing the public’s exposure to potentially harmful chemicals.
Compost programs offer a unique and powerful opportunity to teach about the life cycle of organic material and the decomposition process. It’s one of the reasons the Edible Learning Lab has a curriculum station solely devoted to compost. Composting allows us to show our kids how to manage waste efficiently, choose the right organic wastes to compost, and, in turn, use the finished compost to do something productive like feed our garden. Letting the kids be part of that full-circle life cycle gives them a glimpse into how the natural environment takes care of its waste material. That understanding goes a long way to fostering a sense of ecological stewardship and connection to the natural environment.