The world’s population began growing dramatically during the 1900s; in conjunction with this growth, industries have shifted increasingly toward throwaway manufacturing. These two factors are now combining to push the globe headlong into a waste-disposal crisis: The United Nations estimates the world will generate 4 billion tons of annual waste by 2050.
Averting the crisis calls for aggressive action. As individuals and businesses seek solutions for reducing curbside garbage and trash, recycling usually gets the spotlight – yet, composting, often overlooked, provides significant benefits to maintaining a healthy planet by reducing both landfill sizes and methane gas emissions. What is composting, and how can it make a difference?
Composting is the process in which people take proactive measures to turn waste, such as food and plants, into nutrient-rich soil conditioner and fertilizer. Microorganisms such as bacteria work alongside beetles, mites, slugs, worms, and a range of similar macro-organisms to decompose supplied food scraps, shredded paper, yard clippings, and other organic materials. The waste is mixed with soil containing these organisms, along with water (in which they multiply); as the organisms eat the waste, it is broken down into humus. Because the microorganisms require oxygen to work their magic, providing avenues for air to enter the process is essential for a relatively speedy result.
Backyard farmers can take different approaches to composting and follow different timelines in the process. Generally, they can add ingredients to either closed, task-specific containers, or they can create piles in open bins. It is possible to do little – to just let the matter seep – if time is not critical. Were you to prefer making the sludge usable within months rather than years, you would have to rotate the container or turn over the piles daily so that oxygen remains in play throughout.
Real benefits accrue when municipalities join the cause. Among solid waste solutions that would have the greatest impact are those processes that reduce the landfill disposal of paper, food, and yard trimmings, which account for the largest three categories of municipal waste, according to the EPA. When cities encourage or require participation, they create easily-accessible pathways for homeowners, tourists, and businesses. In these cases, individuals need only to separate organic materials into appropriate containers for collection, much as with recycling. The utilities take care of the end-process, much as they do in traditional leaf pick-ups.
Increased homeowner, business, and municipality participation in composting, along with other alternative solid waste solutions, will reduce the need to continually find new landfill space. Additionally, these steps will reduce pollution. When that happens, everyone can breathe a bit easier.