Benefits of Composting
In 2014, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that the U.S. generated about 258 million tons of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW), of which 38.4 million tons was generated from food. In an attempt to reduce the impact on the environment, businesses have hired composting collection services and people have even made composting accessible at their homes. But what actually goes into composting and how does it actually benefit us?
Benefits To gain a better understanding of the term, composting is the process where organic waste biodegrades into nutrient-rich soil, which can be used to grow new, organic plants. Compost improves soil structure and contains microbes that produce antibiotics. It also promotes chemical activity in the soil that converts nutrients to plant-friendly forms, keeps them from leaching out of the soil, and nourishes fungi that carry nutrients from deep in the earth to plant roots. Composting provides environmental benefits by reducing the amount of waste needing disposal at landfills. When we compost, it helps us save on disposal costs and reduces the amount of garbage and leaf bags. Composting also reduces the pollution created by waste collection vehicles. Once compost has been created, the microorganisms, earthworms, insects and other soil organisms do the majority of the work.
How to make compost 1. Buy a compost bin appropriate for your situation and place in a shady area to prevent heat build-up.
2. Place the bin on bare ground for ease of drainage of any compost liquids. Allow enough room around the bin for adequate air circulation for decomposition to occur.
3. Place organic material in two to eight-inch layers, striving for three parts “brown” ingredients to one part “green” ingredients. Sprinkle soil or finished compost between the layers. Wet leaves and other material if they are not moist as you add them. Try to build layers so air can circulate inside; this reduces the need for turning. If composting vegetable scraps, bury them in the center of the pile.
4. Turn or mix the pile occasionally to introduce a fresh oxygen supply.
5. Compost should be ready in six months to a year and should appear dark brown and have a crumbly texture.
What you CAN compost Brown ingredients: fall leaves, straw, brown hay, paper, coffee filters, sawdust, wood chips and wood ash Green ingredients: grass clippings, weeds without seeds, fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, egg shells, bread and grains, and seaweed
What you CANNOT compost Meat, bones, fat, grease, peanut butter, oils, dairy products, cooked foods with butter or sauce, dog and cat manure, branches, diseased plants, weeds gone to seed and weeds that spread by roots and runners
Composting is one of the best things you can do for your garden as well as the environment. To learn more, go to the EPA’s website or check out the following organizations, which present composting demonstrations and workshops regionally across the state:
Greater Boston: City of Boston Recycling Hotline (617) 635-4959; Earthworks Projects (617) 623-2784 Cape Cod: Cape Cod Cooperative Extension (508) 362-2511 x585 Western Massachusetts: The Center for EcoTechnology (413) 586-7350; Franklin County Solid Waste Management District (413) 772-2438; Hilltown Resource Management Cooperative (413) 268-3845
Written by: Michelle Tran, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern