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Because You Asked

Why Should I Compost?

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Composting food scraps is the ultimate upcycle. Here’s why.


Dear Recyclebank: Why is composting my food scraps better than putting them in the trash, if they’ll just decompose in the landfill anyway? –­Hanna M.


Dear Hanna: Unlike plastic or glass, food waste decomposes quickly, so it’s natural to wonder what harm it does in the landfill. The problem lies in the way the food waste and other organic matter decomposes: Because much of it is buried under other trash in the landfill, it’s doesn’t get the oxygen needed to decompose naturally. Instead, it decomposes without oxygen, which means methane gas is generated — one of the most potent greenhouse gases.


One study estimates that around 8 percent of the total greenhouse gases around the world are caused by food waste.


So here’s where composting comes in: Aerobic composting (in other words, decomposition in conditions where air is circulating) “does not emit methane, which makes it a better alternative than sending organic materials to landfills,” says Kat Nigro, head of marketing and engagement for CompostNow, a composting service that collects organic waste from homes, restaurants, and businesses. Instead, the process off-gasses carbon dioxide, which, although a greenhouse gas, is significantly less potent than methane.


You can compost at home, use one of the many collection services popping up across the country, or perhaps you’re lucky enough to live in a city with a municipal curbside compost pickup.


One advantage of using a commercial service, such as CompostNow, is that they can compost things that home composting systems can’t handle, such as meat and bones, dairy products, and even greasy pizza boxes. “Commercial facilities are able to compost meat and dairy because their piles reach a temperature of 160˚F, which is the necessary temperature to kill off any pathogens that might be present,” explains Nigro. “Backyard systems can rarely get to this temperature, so composting meat and dairy in backyard systems isn’t recommended.” It takes around 60 to 90 days for food scraps to turn into compost in a commercial facility. In a home system it can take a little longer.


Of course, there’s another major benefit to composting: “Landfilling organic matter is a waste of the nutrients present in those materials,” says Nigro. “Composting eliminates methane emissions from organics rotting in a landfill, and more than that, it adds the necessary nutrients back into our soils to improve soil health and strengthen local food systems.” CompostNow estimates its members have collectively diverted more than 9 million pounds of waste from the landfills since 2011, producing around 3 million pounds of nutrient-rich compost. And that’s just one company in one small region of the US. Imagine how much waste we could divert if everyone composted!


So, if you think about it, compost is the ultimate form of upcycling: Turning food scraps (which would otherwise take up space in a landfill and create methane) into a versatile material with applications in gardening, farming, carbon sequestration, erosion control, and more!


Have you had success with home composting? Share your experience in the comments below.

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About the Author
Jessica Harlan
Jessica Harlan
I love finding new ways to green my family's life as painlessly as possible, and sharing those ideas with folks who want to do the same. more
  • tommy b. 10 days ago
  • Sue C. 13 days ago
    I really think this is an important topic. I learned that composting is quite beneficial and really helps cut down the waste being sent to the curb. It was interesting to learn about the methane gas on food scraps being hauled off mixed in with other trash could actually be releasing methane. I have been composting for several years since it is really easy to do and it really produces some really good planting soil. Thank you for sharing all the great reasons for doing so.
  • Kerry O. 19 days ago
    Why don't cities and towns create a compost area in very park that has greenland/dirt (or the bin things if not) so that people who can't afford a bin or don't need the compost can give there? I know some areas have a Green Bin along with the Trash and Recycle bins, but those tend to be in more suburban and/or affluent areas, but many of them don't even bother to tell their customers that those green bins can take more than yard waste and grass clippings! With the amount of methane produced by rotting food, you'd think that an easy no-brainer like this would be happening all over.
    Also, question: if you can't compost, is using a garbage disposal for food waste better or worse environmentally? On the one hand it keeps it out of the landfills, but what if any detriment to the water?
  • John D. 21 days ago
    Article has a new date but the usual ancient comments below.
  • Graciela G. 21 days ago
    What happens to your compost bin if you use produce that has pesticides like the dirty dozen?
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