The Benefits of Composting
It’s not a secret that composting is a great way to reduce waste and live a more sustainable lifestyle. In recent years composting and organic recycling has become a more mainstream practice in the United States, but there are many people that still don’t understand why composting is important and all of the environmental and social benefits it supports.
Let’s start with the problem
For the last several decades in the United States, we have had a linear model for organic waste, meaning that food typically goes from farm-to-table-to-landfill.
When we grow food, we take nutrients from the ground. When we send our food scraps to the landfill, we miss an opportunity to put those nutrients back into the soil. Composting converts organic waste into a nutrient-rich amendment that feeds the soil, which creates a circular or closed loop system that allows us to have nutritious food for future generations.
The benefits of composting
Composting has a wide range of environmental and social benefits beyond waste reduction. In addition to the environmental impact like increasing water retention, and suppressing plant diseases, industrial scale compost operations can generate twice as many jobs as landfilling and seventeen times as many as incineration.
Below is a list of benefits to composting:
Divert Landfill Waste
Composting organic waste reduces our dependence on landfills. As materials decompose in landfills, they release harmful greenhouse gasses such as methane and carbon dioxide and can leach chemicals into surrounding soil and groundwater. Landfills are the third-largest source of anthropogenic methane emissions which are 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. By choosing to compost organic materials instead of disposing of them in landfills we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Rebuild Soil Health
Compost supports higher crop yields and nutritional value in our food. Our food pulls its nutrients from the soil, so if the soil is depleted of nutrients it means the food we eat will not have high nutritional value. When we think about a healthy food future, soil plays a critical role in the nutrient level of our food and carrying capacity of the land.
Reduce Dependence on Industrial Fertilizers
Compost eliminates the need for harsh chemical fertilizers. For the last several decades, we have been pulling nutrients from the soil without putting those nutrients back. This has resulted in weaker crops which has increased dependency on industrial fertilizer to produce our food. Focusing on rebuilding our top soil layers restores nutrients in the soil and means we don’t need to depend on fertilizers for food. In addition, when composting is done right it kills off harmful pathogens and bacteria, and suppresses plant disease and weed growth – further reducing our dependence on chemicals.
Reduce Emissions through Carbon Sequestration
Applying compost rebuilds our topsoil layers, which increases the carbon sequestration abilities of the ground. When most people think about the impact composting has on greenhouse gas emissions they usually focuses on waste diversion from landfills. Many people don’t realize that healthy topsoil is also a significant carbon sink, meaning healthy soil pulls a tremendous amount of carbon from the atmosphere.
Support Land Recovery and Diversity
Compost enhances water retention in soils and aids reforestation, wetlands restoration, and habitat revitalization efforts by improving contaminated, compacted, and marginal soils. Compost improves the structure and strength of the ground, so it is better at retaining water supporting plant root systems.
Support Resilient Local Food Systems
Without healthy soil there is no healthy food. Compost is a natural process that rebuilds soil health and ensures access to nutrient-rich, locally-grown food for future generations. On an industrial scale, composting infrastructure can be built to support regional demand, meaning it’s a local approach that can benefit the food product supply chain near our cities.
Build Equitable Local Economies
Getting healthy soil into the hands of our local farmers and growers diversifies our food and nutrient supply chain and supports the community members doing the hard work to ensure we have options when we eat. Community compost programs that support local infrastructure can help to reduce the cost of this premium soil amendment which is critical to grower operations.
Compost supports a wide range of environmental and social challenges. Closing the loop on food waste and getting high quality compost into the hands of local growers can have tremendous impact on the biodiversity and health of our land, greenhouse emission reduction, and food future.