by Rae Datt, KTB Spring 2023 Program Intern
What is composting?
Composting is a relatively undervalued sustainable practice that could be better implemented in both public and private sectors to divert waste. Composting takes food and other forms of biological waste and converts them into plant fertilizer to improve soil quality, resulting in more sustainable agriculture and food production. Additionally, compost can help to improve water retention and prevent soil erosion in small and large-scale gardens.
Food waste & composting
Approximately a third of all food produced goes to waste, and a lot of times it is due to reasons like contamination or spoilage. Although this food is no longer safe for human consumption, it can still be collected to compost instead of going to a landfill and contributing to methane and other greenhouse gas emissions. Composting is the key to waste management and mitigation, therefore more money and resources should be used to implement this sustainable practice in all areas of society.
In terms of the public sector, the restaurant industry is a major contributor to food waste, and more measures should be taken to lessen the amount of food that is thrown away. Whether a customer left their food behind, or the food went bad, restaurants should have the resources to compost what would otherwise go to landfills because not only is it good for the environment but a lot of businesses that compost also get certain financial benefits such as tax breaks. In terms of composting, a lot can be collected depending on what type of composting facility you have access to. Just to name a few examples, one can compost meat, bones, almost all fruits and vegetables, paper towels (that were not used to clean chemicals), egg shells, grass clippings, coffee grounds, and paper filters. Most restaurants generate at least one, if not multiple, of these compostable materials, which is why providing restaurants with means to collect compost would divert a large amount of waste from landfills.
The main barrier that stops people from composting the waste that they generate at home is that there are either no affordable composting services nearby, or they simply do not exist at all in a lot of areas.
Having to haul stinky compost to a proper facility is not a burden the average person is willing to take on, therefore composting should be made more accessible so that more people can divert their waste from landfills. Another major challenge is not knowing what is compostable. Because in the US, we have multiple waste management systems, the average American takes waste management for granted and cannot distinguish what is recyclable and compostable vs what goes to a landfill. Consequently, because of a lack of urgency in understanding proper waste disposal, solid waste continues to contribute to greenhouse emissions. Increased accessibility to composting and education on all forms of waste management is key to fixing one of the various sustainability issues experienced in America.