Composting Organics: Tons of Benefits
As long as humans have been around, we’ve been trying to figure out how to deal with food leftovers. Hunter-gatherers couldn’t afford to let anything go to waste. They knew how to use every part of an animal to make tools, containers, clothing, and even weapons. And they used plant material for medicine or wove it into baskets, mats, and shelters. As humans developed agricultural societies, farmers fed food scraps to their livestock and discovered composting techniques. Unfortunately, when we began to get more ‘civilized,’ city dwellers had less options for what to do with their waste and often threw it out into the streets, creating some pretty unsanitary living conditions.
But just as cave dwellers figured out how to make a spoon or a spear from animal bone, their more advanced relatives developed intelligent ways to deal with organic waste. The practice of adding reclaimed organic material to farmed fields dates to at least the Stone Age, and none other than George Washington himself was an enthusiastic composter and compost promoter. According to the National Geographic, George Washington encouraged the practice of composting, telling friends that, “with a little practice and persistence, you could be a knowing farmer, who, Midas like, can convert everything he touches into manure as the first transmutation towards gold.”
Today, more and more communities are recognizing the benefits of turning organic waste into compost that rejuvenates the soil. The science around climate change has added new urgency to the practice because organic waste that ends up in landfills generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas. In fact, more than 3% of harmful greenhouse gases can be attributed to the waste management industry.
Managing waste organics provides opportunities to help the planet by addressing climate change and replenishing the earth beneath our feet. According the EPA, 63% of yard trimmings were composted in 2018. 2.6 million tons of food was composted, which is 4.1% of wasted food. Composting represents a significant opportunity to manage excess food, along with other pathways like animal feed, codigestion/anaerobic digestion, bio-based materials/biochemical processing, donation, land application, and sewer/wastewater treatment.
The Earth Thanks You
Organics composting, long known to produce a rich soil amendment, also has a number of other benefits. These include reduced need for chemical fertilizers, higher crop yields, forest and wetlands restoration, habitat revitalization, and better water retention in soils. Compost is also being used to remediate soils contaminated by hazardous waste as well as for carbon sequestration.
Add this list of benefits to the amount of greenhouse gas reduced with every load of organics diverted from landfills, and there are literally tons of good reasons to have a well-managed organics program in your community. But if you need one more reason, some states are beginning to enact laws that ban certain organics from landfills, and some are making separate collection of organics mandatory.
Get Help With Your Organics Program
The EPA reports that in 2017, the most recent year for which information is available, food composting curbside collection programs served 6.1 million households in the U.S. Whether you already have an organics program or are setting one up, ReCollect has resources and tools to help:
- Where to start: If you’re building an organics program, we have case studies and guides to help you with planning, including advice on processing options, bin types, pricing, piloting your program, and implementing a successful launch.
- Complying with the law: Our experience working with municipalities throughout the U.S. as given us insights that can help you stay on the right side of the law.
- Scheduling: ReCollect’s Collection Calendar eliminates the need to print and mail paper calendars and helps people remember their collection day with personalized voice and text reminders in 15 languages. You can also use it to implement campaigns for new programs or to communicate about frequently mis-sorted items.
- Educating and promoting: Residents who are new to organics recycling want to make sure they’re doing it right. With ReCollect Waste Wizard on your website and available as an app, people can search before they throw something into a bin. And ReCollect’s Waste Sorting Game teaches them about organics recycling in a fun and engaging way.
- Monitoring: Both the Waste Wizard and the Waste Sorting Game provide analytics that help you pinpoint areas where residents may be confused about what material to recycle or compost. Another way to monitor how well people are catching on to your program is with ReCollect’s Curbside Audit Tool that allows staff to walk a route and collect information that can help illuminate contamination and participation issues.
More and more communities across the country are catching on to organics composting. It may be an ancient practice, but it has thoroughly modern benefits. With the right program design, education, and promotion, everyone in the community can pitch in for a happier planet.
Fun fact: SPAM (the canned meat) is an example of making something out of food waste since it’s made from pork shoulder that used to be discarded.