I am super enthusiastic about composting and I want to break it down for you all to show you why it’s so awesome! I think it’s because of my biology background and my passion for helping the environment that makes me geek out over this topic.
I enlisted the founder (Jonathan) of the compost company our family uses: Healthy Soil Compost, to help answer some questions surrounding composting.
First, let’s establish WHAT composting is.
COMPOST is defined as : a mixture of various decaying organic substances, as dead leaves or manure, used for fertilizing soil.
The EPA describes compost as: Compost is organic material that can be added to soil to help plants grow. Food scraps and yard waste together currently make up about 30 percent of what we throw away, and should be composted instead. Making compost keeps these materials out of landfills where they take up space and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
For those who have the space and ability to do home composting or back-yard composting, I’m jealous! That process is a little more involved than what I currently do, but either way you slice it- composting is important. I personally use a compost service. We collect scraps of food, paper, lint, plant matter, etc. and our friends at Healthy Soil Compost come and pick up our bucket and take the scraps to be processed into the finished product, Compost. Healthy Soil Compost works in conjunction with Nature’s Little Recyclers to “eat” the waste and leave behind valuable nutrients that make Compost the “black gold” of gardening, and the sustainable food world.
*For those wondering what happens to the finished compost product, it goes to community farms all around the city. Sometimes I get some black gold too!
1. Why is it bad for our environment when food decomposes in the landfill?
Landfills are required to produce an environment void of oxygen so that the materials inside are less likely to start a fire, however food waste and organic waste (once living material) actually need bacteria that require oxygen for basic life processes to decompose properly. As a result of this anaerobic environment (low oxygen) Food waste and other organic wastes are not able to decompose properly and instead add to producing Methane gas. Methane gas is a known greenhouse gas which adds to the effects of climate change. Landfills are the 3rd largest source of methane gas currently in the US. Most of the organisms on Earth require oxygen and only few can survive in anaerobic environments so adding food waste and other organic materials to a landfill really take up unnecessary space and add to the problem of carbon in the atmosphere.
2. Why do some cities in Europe offer composting with their trash/recycling pickup but we don't really have that here in the US?
Generally if a municipality is offering more advanced waste separation it is due to necessity and economics. There is no more space for landfills to be created and there is limited space in the current landfills. We need to find creative ways to divert and recycle materials that do not need to be in our landfills. After-all landfills are a human created technology that only provided a solution to current problems at the time, however are not very sustainable for a growing future. We have a greater land mass than Europe so we have more space for landfills - many states/cities are already showing that these landfills are closing and becoming more limited so those areas are offering more landfill diversion techniques. Ex. New York City, California, Seattle, Wa. As landfill space becomes more scarce we will most likely see more creative ways to divert material that can go elsewhere and/or other technologies to handle waste streams.
3. What about the garbage disposal? Is this better than food going into the trash?
Basically a garbage disposal chops up material and sends it through water pipes to the water reclamation department. The Chicago MWRD is pretty sophisticated with bio-filtration technologies so that food waste and other water waste is filtered through microorganisms that can "clean" it and recycle it back into drinking water or grey water for washing and flushing toilets. The solids that are filtered out are then composted aerobically (with oxygen) to create bio-solids. In Chicago these bio-solids are a wonderful (yet highly stigmatized) organic fertilizer for plants and also available for free from the city. Most people are uneducated about bio-solids and therefore think they are harmful to humans and food-production but they are highly regulated by the EPA and pose no threat to humans when fully composted. The main issue with garbage disposals is that they deceive people into thinking you can put anything down a disposal but they may be eventually clogging the water pipes with grease, fat, and other non-water soluble materials. If everyone was using disposals then we would most likely have city plumbing issues. Also you should not be placing bones and other hard to chop materials in a disposal. All organic waste can be composted yet all organic waste cannot be placed in a garbage disposal.
4. What percentage of food in landfill contributes to climate change?
The EPA says that about 20% of landfill space is food-waste.
About 60% of what most people throw in the trash can is organic material (paper, cardboard, food-waste).
Here are some other great Chicago area composting companies besides Healthy Soil:
Check out the Illinois Food Scrap Coalition for more info too
For my STL, MO fam check out:
check out STL compost. They have a site where you can take material (including Christmas trees!) for composting
*ALSO, check out Compost Now for their map of compost pickups services throughout the US
Below is a list of Chicago restaurants that are collecting their organic waste and composting with Healthy Soil Compost! (There are others who use different composting services too!)
Red and White Wines
City Mouse and Ace Hotel
Girl and the Goat
Duck Duck Goat
Longman and Eagle
Hannahs Bretzel (all locations)
Chicago Yacht Club
Hoosier Mama Pie
Same Day Cafe
I hope this sheds more light on why composting and preventing food waste is so important!
Please send me any questions or let me know if you have any local composting services (or restaurants) that I am missing and can share.