Plants aided by composting

Spring is around the corner, and for many people, gardening beckons. Whether you grow flowers, vegetables, houseplants or herbs, you know the importance of using great soil. And that means using compost. Composting, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “is a process that speeds up natural decomposition of organic materials.”

Composting creates chances

Food scraps ready for composting
Given all its benefits, you’d think everyone would be composting. Photo: KaliAntye / Shutterstock

Composting has a wealth of benefits. Environmental benefits include reducing the methane emitted by decomposing food in landfills and improving soil structure. You save money by creating your own nutrient-rich soil amendment, so you can skip buying fertilizer at a store. And it can even reduce the fees that your city or town (and ultimately you) must pay to dump trash at landfills.

Given all this, you’d think everyone would be composting. Not so. According to a survey by the National Waste and Recycling Association, some 72 percent of Americans don’t compost. But 67 percent say they would be open to doing so as long as it’s easy and doesn’t cost anything extra.

So in this season of “new beginnings,” here are five facts about composting that may encourage you and your family to give it a try:

This is not your father’s composting

  1. Composting for small spaces is here. If you associate composting with a big pile of yard waste in your backyard when you were a kid, things have changed. Companies offer a variety of countertop compost bins that are pretty, tiny and effective. Check out Amazon for indoor compost bins, or make one yourself if you’d prefer.
  2. Vermicomposting is growing. If you’re not squeamish about worms, vermicomposting is a cool way to go. Red wiggler worms “are capable of consuming their own weight each day in raw organic matter,” according to the State of Maryland’s Department of the Environment. They are clean, silent and unbelievably efficient at turning food scraps into nutrient-rich humus. Got kids? Vermicomposting can be a science lesson and “get-your-hands-dirty” fun at the same time.
  3. Curbside compost pickup expands. As landfills close and the costs to dispose of trash rise, many cities and towns are investigating options for offering curbside compost pickup. Each city and town is different, and effectively creating and managing compost is quite the collaborative undertaking among garbage haulers, city governments and citizens. According to an MIT study, as of 2011 there were 183 municipalities offering compost pickup. As these municipalities — from Portland, Ore., to Cambridge, Mass. — share lessons learned, the race is on to provide this service more broadly.
  4. Composting is a part of the “circular economy.” With last year’s landmark COP21 climate agreement, attention to and investment in the circular economy is growing. Composting is a perfect example of returning a natural resource — whether it’s food scraps or lawn trimmings — back to the land. There is no garbage or residue to truck away or pour down a drain. Sharp-eyed investors and entrepreneurs — like those proposing projects for the Climate CoLab at MIT — are focused on compost not because they are “do-gooders,” but because they hope to turn “green to gold.”
  5. You’re not alone. Composting is being done on a commercial scale at organizations ranging from restaurants to college campuses. In 2015, the National Restaurant Association wrote in its “Food Trends to Watch” report that “food waste reduction and management is at the forefront of restaurant operations. Composting, recycling and donating are all tactics of food waste strategies tying into both sustainability and social responsibility.” Similarly, Cornell University — which has an entire Waste Management Institute — is one of dozens of colleges that have adopted composting in a big way. Indeed, Cornell’s Sustainable Campus initiative reported that “about 515 tons of food scraps and organic waste were composted from Cornell Dining facilities in 2012-2013.” As large institutions expand their composting efforts and create demand for things like food waste processing facilities, residential composting products and services may improve as well.

 What you can do

  • Start small. There are many books and websites — including Earth911, of course! — that outline the basic steps of composting. You may choose to start with a simple, kitchen-counter bin before you jump into building a huge pile out back.
  • Avoid common mistakes. Composting has been around forever, so learn from those who’ve composted before you! There are simple techniques to avoid any bad smells, flies or other insects. Most countertop bins come with liners that effectively stop odors and lids that close tightly, so your composting should be problem-free.
  • Find out your curbside compost situation. While there is no national directory of curbside compost haulers, call your city’s or town’s Waste Management department and ask. If they do, they will generally provide appropriate containers and information about what is compostable. If they don’t, it’s OK. There are still ways to compost without it.

Even if you have a brown thumb, you may be surprised at how simple it is to compost and what a powerful difference it can make. This spring, give composting a try!

Feature image courtesy of locrifa / Shutterstock

By Alison Lueders

Alison Lueders is the Founder and Principal of Great Green Content - a green business certified by both Green America and the Green Business Bureau. She offers copywriting and content marketing services to businesses that are “going green.” Convinced that business can play a powerful and positive role in building a greener, more sustainable economy, she launched Great Green Content in 2011.