Did you know that a large part of what we throw in the garbage could be easily turned into a useful product: compost. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 23% of the US waste stream consists of compostable yard trimmings and food scraps. When we throw away an apple core or some peanut shells, these waste products take up space in landfills, where they emit methane and do not readily biodegrade. In addition to using reusable bags instead of disposable bags, reducing packaging waste and recycling when possible, beginning a compost can greatly reduce the amount that ends up in landfills, while at the same time creating a valuable resource. According to the US EPA, mature compost used on a large scale can promote higher crop yields, facilitate reforestation, remediate contaminated soil and decrease the need for chemical fertilizers. On a small scale, such as in your own yard, garden or indoor plants, mature compost serves as a free fertilizer and promotes disease resistance in plants.
If you don’t have a yard or don’t do any indoor or outdoor gardening, you can still find a use for your compost. Many local governments will collect it through their yard waste programs or you can advertise on local bulletin boards and find a local gardener or club that will happily accept it.
With the exception of meats, dairy, and oils, most food scraps can be composted in open heaps outside or covered bins inside. Even non-food items like hair, wood chips, coffee grounds, and pine needles can be added to the mix. Composting is as simple as tossing the materials in a bin and “managing” the pile by turning it over every week or so. You can identify a “mature” compost by it’s earthy-smelling, dark, and crumbly state. Original materials should not be recognizable. A mature compost can be used as fertilizer “as-is” without requiring changes to the material. Most compost takes a couple of months to mature, although some can take longer or could be faster, depending on the components of the compost. A quick search on the web for “how to compost” will point you in the direction of numerous resources with more than enough information to get started.
If you’re already making efforts to improve our environment by using reusable shopping bags and recycling the materials that you can, it may be time to consider taking another simple step at home and try composting. Mother Earth will remember to pay back your grand kids.
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