The 15 Benefits of Composting
for the Environment, the Economy, and our Communities
The solution to so many of the problems we face today may just be under our nose…or feet, rather. When FDR said, “The nation that destroys its soil, destroys itself,” he realized just how pivotal a resource the land beneath our feet is in the environmental, economic, and social fabric of our country.
Compost acts as a food source, a probiotic, and a sponge for the soil underneath it; it makes soil more fertile and efficient, and supports the intricate ecosystem that healthy soil keeps.
When you compost, you are creating the perfect environment for beneficial microbes to thrive so that the decaying process actually becomes very life-giving. Soil LOVES compost! The most important thing you can do to care for the soil is to add this amazing resource that’s all too often mistaken for garbage and wasted in landfills.
And to get started doing just that, you’ve come to the right place!
Why Compost? Here’s How Compost Helps the World…
Take a moment to think about what you had for breakfast this morning. Every delicious morsel, from the strawberries to the extra crispy piece of bacon, sources itself back to the soil. The soil literally feeds us! Composting is simply returning the favor.
Compost is a soil-like mixture of decaying organic matter (in the sense of living, not farming practices) and a lively set of microbes that help the decomposition process. The organic materials that make up compost usually include yard trimmings, leaves, mulch, grass clippings, some paper products, and food scraps such as raw and cooked fruits, vegetables and grains, eggshells, coffee grounds, and in some cases, even meat and dairy products!
Given its ground-changing impact, you’d think the process of composting would be equally complex. Not the case!
Composting is actually an easy and manageable way to make a huge difference in the environmental, economic, and social issues that we face today. Adding this simple step as part of your environmentally friendly habits can go a long way in lowering greenhouse emissions, regenerating the soil, revitalizing water sources, and fostering food security into the future.
Haven’t grabbed your pitch fork yet? Let’s go over a few of the many amazing benefits of composting to learn more!
The Environmental Benefits of Composting
#1 Soil LOVES Compost
Any gardener knows that compost is the first soil-ution to almost any problem that pops up in the garden. From protecting against plant disease to treating nutrient- deficiencies, compost is the most used soil amendment for farmers and gardeners alike. That’s because compost actually improves the structure of the soil by adding important nutrients, balancing PH levels, and allowing for better moisture infiltration and retention.
All of the beneficial microbes found in compost help aerate and fertilize the soil. In fact, most plants would not be able to access the nutrients they need without these little fellows helping to break the nutrients down and increasing the surface area of plant roots.
#2 Compost Helps Revitalize and Filter Local Water Sources
Compost can hold 5-20x its own weight in water, so adding compost to the soil increases the amount of water that is able to penetrate into the soil. Not only is this great news for the plants, it also means that water can seep all the way down to the impervious rock layer where it swells up and replenishes local springs, ponds, and lakes.
By moving through compost, soil, and rock layers, the water is filtered by the time it makes its way to these water sources. An incredible 40% of rainfall should come from these local water sources, meaning compost can play a HUGE role in promoting rainfall usage in an area.
#3 Cleaner Oceans
Since all water eventually makes its way to oceans, compost’s ability to filter water as it penetrates the ground means that the water flowing into the ocean will be cleaner. One of the biggest pollutants of the oceans are the acidifying fertilizers and other harsh chemicals used in farming.
Using compost decreases the water run-off that brings these chemicals into the ocean and diminishes the need to add these artificial fertilizers and chemical pesticides in the first place.
#4 Compost Controls EROSION
Once again, compost’s water retention abilities for the win! We’ve lost one-third of the earth’s farmable land within the last 40 years due to erosion and pollution. Most erosion is caused by excess water.
Unable to penetrate the ground, water swells up on the surface and rushes down to lower elevations, taking the top soil with it and depleting the land in the process. Compost acts like a sponge and allows way more water to infiltrate the ground, keeping the topsoil exactly where it belongs…on top!
#5 Reduces GHG
Right now most food and yard waste is sent to landfills. There, without the proper environment to be composted, they rot, releasing methane and carbon dioxide in the process. Organic matter in landfills is the 3rd leading human-related cause of methane emissions in the U.S.. By diverting your compostable waste from the landfills and back into the soil, you actually decrease the methane and carbon outputs of your local community.
Methane gas is a greenhouse gas that is conservatively 28x more potent than CO2 in warming up the planet. Public interest nonprofit U.S. PIRG released a report on composting in the U.S. explaining, “If all of the food waste and yard trimmings that were landfilled in 2015 had been composted instead, it would have resulted in net negative emissions of 14.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent – equivalent to taking over 3 million cars off the road that year.”
#6 Takes Carbon from The Atmosphere and Puts It Back into the Ground!
That’s right! More than just decreasing the amount of GHG that we are producing, using compost on the soil actually SEQUESTERS (a fancy word for ‘hides away’) carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere! Compost is home to a variety of friendly beneficial microbes that plants need around to absorb nutrients.
To keep these friends around, plant roots will release carbohydrates from their roots to attract and feed the microbes under the soil. Where do the plants get this tasty party snack? They take CO2 from the air and water from their roots and through photosynthesis, turn it into carbohydrates, or sugars!
Together these sugars and the microbes who enjoy them create humus—not another party snack, but the part of the soil that retains soil-structure, nutrients and moisture. It’s also the component of the soil that is largely responsible for keeping the recently-stored carbon beneath the soil.
Thanks to the ecology that compost promotes, carbon once in the atmosphere can be stored underneath healthy soil where it will be kept with the proper regenerative farming techniques!
The Economic Benefits of Composting
#7 Composting Saves on Disposal Costs
Trash is expensive…or at least the transportation and storage of it is. From $205 billion a year in 2010 to a projected $375 billion by 2025, global costs of waste disposal are increasing.
Composting has been shown to decrease landfill costs on a local level. Middlebury College, The Mariners’ Safeco Field, and Joint Base Lewis-McChord are a few of the many institutions who have boasted savings between $100,000-$300,000 in yearly disposal costs just by implementing composting programs.
Just think about how much money we could save as a society if more businesses and local governments enacted composting programs!
#8 Food Waste Becomes a Valuable Resource
Here in the U.S., we waste between 30-40% of our total food supply. That’s a TON of food, 40 million tons to be exact, translating to about $161 billion worth of food wasted every year! Composting transforms what literally would have been thrown into the trash into an incredibly valuable resource, one that will generate more food and revenue. By completing the food cycle, garbage becomes black gold.
#9 Helps Lower Production Costs for Farmers
Because who doesn’t want to help farmers? By using compost, farmers and gardeners spend less money on expensive fertilizers and pesticides, water, and irrigation and can use that hard-earned cash for expanding their production capacities. More than that, fields that use compost have been shown to have higher yields than those that don’t. This means more crops to sell and more money to be made.
Take It a Step Further
Want to do more to support your local farmers? Shop locally! The best way to support local farmers is by doing your produce shopping at farmer’s markets, buying directly from farms, or by signing up for their CSA box, which includes all of their seasonal produce. This will keep you in tune to the needs of your local farms, and more than just helping farmers, your produce is guaranteed to be fresher and tastier!
Volunteering is another great way to get involved. Farming is hard work and it’s way easier (and more fun) to do with more people! Many farmers are so grateful for extra sets of hands and will probably send you home with some of the harvest. Plus, you’ll gain a whole new appreciation for the food on your plate!
#10 Save on Your Food Costs at Home
The average American household wastes $2,200 dollars worth of food every year. At home, composting can give you a much clearer idea about what you are throwing out and can begin to shape your grocery lists and consuming habits to help you save food and money! Through composting, you may just spend less money on your garbage service bills too!
#11 Composting Creates More Jobs!
That’s right! Composting plants have been shown to create more jobs than other disposal facilities, such as landfills or incineration sites! These new, green jobs are vital in creating a carbon-neutral future and in making the U.S. a competitive economic force as the world market shifts towards sustainability.
The Social Benefits of Composting
#12 Composting Reduces Landfills
Our landfills are filling up. Not to add to your list of concerns, but the U.S. is quickly facing a shortage of landfill capacity, with some projections that we’ll reach the brim within the next 20 years. The crazy thing is that almost half of all landfill waste is COMPOSTABLE! We could save a ton of space and time by composting our organic waste, instead of sending it to the landfills.
#13 Creates Healthier Food
Due to erosion and the widespread use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, soil across the country has lost much of its nutrient content. If the soil lacks essential nutrients, so does the food that grows there. Depleted soils have led to less nutrient-dense foods.
Compost makes nutrient-rich soil and the microbes in compost make those nutrients more bioavailable for plants roots to absorb, eventually sending all those good vibes into our hungry bellies.
#14 Builds Stronger Food Systems
Most municipal and private companies sell their compost locally, and locally-produced compost is usually of superior quality compared to national brands. Community composting is the largest movement in the composting world. In this movement, compost is returned to the people who generated it and to their local farms and urban gardens.
The use of local compost ensures that the food grown there is healthier and more efficiently grown. As compost protects against so many of the threats agriculture faces, it ensures a more resilient food system in the short term as well as far into the future.
#15 Regenerative Outlook
Composting is part of a whole regenerative system of thought that changes how we interact with our world and how we solve the problems in front of us. Nothing is wasted in nature—everything returns back into the soil to nurture new life.
We should listen well to Mufasa and respect and support this circle of life, knowing the importance of our role in it. Composting mimics nature and closes the loop, and is an active step in ushering in a regenerative way of living.
You’ve Got Your Pitchfork, Now It’s Time To Get Your Hands Dirty
There are many opportunities to start composting right away!
Composting at home
There are many compost receptacles that make it easier than ever to compost right at home! If you’re a little bit more adventurous at heart, you can try other composting methods suitable for backyard use such as vermicomposting or the 3 bin method, among many others. Don’t have a lot of space to work with? Try Bokashi composting or other indoor composting methods.
Whichever method you choose, having a healthy compost is really about maintaining the right environment for the beneficial microbes to thrive. Depending on what method you use, this could mean making sure there’s the right ratio of ‘browns’ (the carbon-containing dried materials such as mulch) and ‘greens’ (the sources of nitrogen such as food scraps or manure), or turning the mixture to give it the proper air and water distribution.
The good news is that composting is an art as well as a science, and any compost pile can be recovered, so treat it like a fun experiment.
The composting experiment is even better when the kids are involved! Kids love getting their hands dirty! Composting can be a great lesson in economics, biology, geology, and agriculture. You can calculate your household food waste and the financial costs of it, or learn about soil science and the intricate ecosystems that exist there. Composting is a great way to explore so many subjects, while engaging your kids outside!
Composting with your community
Rather not deal with the “mess”? Many cities are starting their own composting services and a lot of private companies are filling in the gaps. Do the research to see who is composting in your community and how you can get signed up.
Share your riches
Still no luck? Find a local farm or community garden and donate your collected compostable materials there. Many farmers and gardeners would be happy to take in this transformative stuff!
Welcome to the Community of Composters
No matter how it gets done, composting is a powerful way to decrease your community-produced greenhouse gas emissions, while protecting and enhancing local food systems at the same time. It safeguards our future against the many threats facing modern agriculture, from erosion to climate change.
The earth’s ecosystems are the original recycling systems. We have forgotten the beautiful efficiencies that exist in nature where death and decay are necessary processes for growth and new life. It’s time to reinstitute these systems, and composting is the perfect place to start!
Alma Rominger is an educator passionate about sharing the powers of regenerative agriculture, composting, gardening for mental health, and outdoor education. She believes the health of the earth and the health of its people are intrinsically connected, and advocates for both. She currently works for Compost Queens, a community composting company based in the San Antonio, TX area.
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