What is composting?
Composting is a controlled process of turning waste, like food scraps, into a nutrient rich soil by supporting the natural process of decomposition. This process is an alternative to throwing out our waste, which will inevitably decompose in a landfill or incinerated. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), we throw away 28% of our food and yard waste that could be composted instead.
Composting has been praised, especially in recent years, for being a more sustainable option in comparison to landfilling our waste; and can be done at home. The process of composting at home allows more oxygen to enter the decomposing material, and overall decreases the levels of methane given off.
Methane is a strong greenhouse gas responsible for accelerated climate change. Landfills have elevated levels of methane emissions, as the decomposing material is tightly compacted, often trapped in plastic bags, and allows much less oxygen to reach the decomposing material.
How do cities and towns become involved?
There are currently more than 90 municipalities in America that offer free or discounted composting programs. Typically, residents will pay a small fee for their compost systems, but they may be offered at no cost. One large motivation for cities to offer composting units for residents is the ever-decreasing landfill space, and a desire to reach sustainability goals set in their comprehensive plans.
Orlando, Florida, for example, provides free backyard composting units to single-family residents. There, the units are considered property of the city, and must remain at the housing location, even if the residents move. Requesting the composting unit can be done online through a simple application process. Plus, they offer a composting guide that educates users on what is acceptable material to place in the backyard composter.
Massachusetts is a state where various cities and towns provide backyard composting units. In 2008, the state was presented with grant funding to start a composting program. Now, they sell them to residents at discounted rates. The units they offer range between capacities of 10 to 24 cubic feet of material. To promote them to residents, they ensure their units are rodent resistant and are easy to maintain and piece together.
In the City of Mountain View, California, residents are able to join gardening clubs, attend composting workshops, and those who conduct backyard composting can become certified to each other's how to start. Their message is centered around community and sustainability.
In Austin, Texas, residents are required to attend one composting workshop. After, they qualify for a $75 coupon to put towards a composting system for their personal use. Upon finishing the workshop, they are able to apply online for the coupon and purchase of their composting unit.
This shows that with the help of technology, transitioning communities into more sustainable practices can be easy and efficient.
Why should cities choose composting programs?
This relationship between humans and composting systems can create a more sustainable agricultural system as a whole. More people may become more interested in growing their own food, or starting community garden projects. Cities and towns should encourage this not only for the sustainable aspects, but for the overall health of citizens.
Composted soil is nutrient rich, meaning synthetic and often harmful fertilizers are not required for crop cultivation. This may be an even greater incentive for communities with large agricultural outputs that rely on the success of their harvests. Thus, with greater composted soil use, human exposure to harmful fertilizers and chemicals would be reduced.
The economical benefits for cities to supply residents with at-home composting systems must be noted. Typically, the city or town can expect reduced labor and start-up costs from not needing to develop a curbside pick-up model. The entire process from waste disposal to creation of soil can be completed at residential homes. Reductions in waste and materials places curbside by residents means more money saved by municipalities. Moreover, it creates a decentralized recycling model over a centralized model, and in the long run, is more suited for sustainability and economic goals.
When individuals and city populations alike engage in the process of composting, we see economic and sustainable benefits. Composting helps to divert food waste from decomposing in landfills, and saves what space is left inside of their perimeters. In addition, cities create an opportunity for residents to become more involved and interested in the waste stream, how it works, what their impact is, and how they can become more sustainable as community members.
Furthermore, composting provides a valuable product: soil. Soil is essential for the growth of our food and overall health of our ecosystems. The soil produced can be used in many ways to enhance agricultural systems and the quality of life for humans and the planet. If everyone engaged in the process of composting, it could save 1\3 of all waste from being sent to landfills.