Updated: Feb 12, 2021
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 292.4 million tons of trash was generated by Americans in 2018. Of that, 69 million tons were recycled and 25 million tons were composted. Using these figures, the average American produces 4.9 pounds of trash every day. While recycling is doing wonders for combatting the trash that inevitably is sent to landfills—or worse, stranded in the environment—composts are the perfect solution for organic matter, which makes up approximately 40% of trash in landfills.
You might ask, “Why should I compost this if it’ll just break down in a landfill?” This is a normal question to have when you might be surrounded by packaging advertising the words, “Biodegradable!” or “Plant-based materials!” The reality is not so simple, though. Data from several sources show that garbage in landfills does not break down. In nature, this organic matter would be exposed to fungi, bacteria, water, and oxygen—all crucial components in the equation of decomposition. In landfills, where organic matter may be trapped under plastic bags and styrofoam cups, there is very little exposure to nature’s biodegraders. Some scientists say that the matter just “mummifies” since it can’t break down properly. Scary, right?
This is where composts come into play. Leaves, food scraps, branches, dust, hair, and even some specially-developed plant plastics can all be broken down effectively with composts. If usage of composts was widely spread, then much of the waste sent to landfills would be eliminated and fresh compost would supply communities with the materials to build gardens and greenhouses.
When considering how to compost, you have a few different options. Composting at home has become popular, but there are also alternatives offered for indoor composting and composting drop-offs. These choices are different from place to place (for example, a big city may have a compost pick-up in lieu of drop-offs). See here for where you can drop off your food waste and here for composting sites in the Greater Lafayette area.
Compost is not something new—people have been using the rich “black gold” that was even used by George Washington! Composting is said to even go back to the Stone Age. The reasons why we use composts haven’t changed much, but the circumstances have.
Nowadays, composting is a necessary component in climate resiliency. Communities that have access to compost can use it for vertical gardens, lessening the need to ship food from place to place when you already have fresh produce at your fingertips. The carbon footprint of food waste and shipping would be dramatically reduced. Increased usage of organic compost is also better than using man-made, lab-generated fertilizers.
Composting strengthens zero-waste values, too. In a perfect society, nothing would go to waste because that’s how nature intends it to be. Landfills expel methane into the atmosphere which could be prevented. By using composts, we’re bringing back a circular economy and lifestyle that focuses on the long-term needs of the environment before the whims of ourselves.
For outdoor composting, simply gathering a heap is the simplest way to go. Because the content consistently biodegrades, the heap stays about the same size, no matter how much stuff you pile on top of it.
Rake fall leaves, mowed grass trimmings, and branches into a corner of your yard.
Use a compost pail to collect kitchen scraps.
Empty the compost pail every so often onto the composting heap
Still an easy solution for composting, a wire bin is perfect for starting out on your composting journey.
16-gauge galvanized wire fencing about four to five feet tall
Outdoor compost container (optional)