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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!

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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.

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  • tommy b. 24 days ago
    today
  • Cynthia S. 25 days ago
    I bought a bin for composting lad year. So far, the breakdown of materials seems slow. Being patient with the process is key. Hoping to use this in my garden this summer.
    • Laurel L. 24 days ago
      Make sure that you get in there with a shovel or rake at least once a day and rotate/turn everything in the bin. If you're not already doing this, you should notice it helps a bit.
    • Cynthia S. 24 days ago
      Thank you. I have only been rotating the bin a couple of times a week. I didn't know it was needed daily. That's probably why breakdown is taking so long.
    • Laurel L. 24 days ago
      That's what we had been doing...only a couple times a week. I figured 'well, it probably won't help, but I'll try daily', and it seemed to help. Hopefully it helps you too! :-)
  • June S. 1 month ago
    So glad our county purchased a composting machine and takes food waste from restaurants and grocery stores as well as the general public. They have a drop off spot just a couple of miles from our house and we take our compostables up there about once a month. It's amazing how much we accumulate over a month's time. We keep it in the fridge until we take it up there; we don't have much freezer space. The county then uses the compost in projects around the county, so it's a win-win situation!
  • VICKI R. 1 month ago
    I wished I knew how to even get started with composting with very little space. I am sure it's on the internet but I am not sure it would even be worth it.
    • BenD@Recyclebank 1 month ago

      We save our food scraps in a container in our freezer and take it to our local farmers market on the weekend. It's a nice ritual, and I think I does make a difference, but also realise it's not always that easy.

    • Lucy L. 26 days ago
      Vicki, it's not all that difficult. If you have any sort of garden, simply bury your vegetable scraps, coffee/tea grounds, any non-animal protein waste right in the dirt. Occasionally turn it over to aerate and give it a bit of water. Your veggie scraps break down really well if your garden is in full sun.
    • VICKI R. 26 days ago
      I have a beautiful garden (just flowers and bushes) but they are covered with rock because we live where they require desert landscaping. But maybe I can try in the middle of my lawn where I have a enclosed circle with a lantana, that has died. Thank you for the information
    • Linda L. 24 days ago
      It is a bit tedious, but if you get so you just don't think about it, just whatever you can compost, put it in a shoe box or an old paint can and make a special spot for it out of doors. It makes for less carrying stuff from your house to the trash can ...
    • Jessica J. 17 days ago
      Vicki, I bought a tumbling barrel composter for my backyard. I used to have a kitchen composter but I kept getting fruit flies. Now I just collect scraps in a bowl and take them out to the composter every day or two. You can't expect to get lots of mulch right away though! It took nearly a year for us to get enough mulch to use in the garden. Still, I like knowing that my food scraps are not going into the landfill.
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  • Carolyn C. 1 month ago
    It's very satisfying when you put your own compost on your plants feeding them.