When was the last time you threw something out that went bad in your fridge? If you’re like most people, you’ve probably done that at least once in your life. But before you throw those spoiled leftovers and food scraps in the trash, consider giving them a new life by composting them!
Composting has introduced a new way for people to reuse what most think belongs in the garbage, especially in areas with high food waste. Households in the United States alone produce 19.4 million tonnes of food waste every year, and 931 million tonnes of food ends up in landfills worldwide. Luckily, composting offers communities an alternative to the trash bin and a sustainable way to manage their food waste.
What Is Composting?
To put it simply, composting is the process of mixing food scraps or other “organic” items and letting them decompose naturally. All you need to do is take your food scraps and let them spoil at an ideal temperature. Bacteria and other microorganisms will then break down the contents of the pile, allowing you to reuse it as organic fertilizer, mulch, and much more.
With food being the single largest source of waste in the US alone, you can see how composting can be a beneficial way to reduce your carbon footprint. The composting process is not only practical, but if you scale it up, you’ll have less waste going to landfills, which creates greenhouse gases that damage the planet.
What Can We Use Compost For?
If you’re involved in gardening or farming, composting gives you a sustainable alternative to conventional fertilizers that may end up damaging your crops or plants later on. Using compost enhances your plants by giving them more natural defences to resist disease or pests. Recycling your leftover food scraps can also take your soil quality to the next level! Mixing your compost with dry or malnourished soil can provide heaps of essential nutrients like phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium. Of course, the healthier your soil, the better your harvest. Composting not only makes your plants happier, but also reduces food waste and the use of unsustainable pesticides.
Electricity and Heating
Do you know that your compost can even be used to power your house or car? Experts in the EU and the United States are researching ways to use their compost as an alternative to conventional energy sources. By utilizing the organic chemicals produced during composting, energy plants can create biogas. Using a special heat and power gas engine, it can be used to make electricity and heat. If upgraded, you can even use it as a source of car fuel. By using biogas on a large scale, it can become an environmentally friendly source of energy that covers a country’s electricity needs and reduces waste.
In the world, landfills are the largest source of methane production, creating tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year. While the main goal is to reduce landfill waste to as little as possible, unfortunately, some may end up there. Luckily, research shows that if you cover your local landfill with compost, the bacteria will oxidize methane. By capturing it, the bacteria completely reverse landfill methane production. This process started with Austrian scientists Marion Humer and Peter Lechner in 1998, and spread to other countries, including the United States. Including compost in landfill covers can play a huge role in reversing the damages and environmental hazards caused by them.
Eco-Friendly Countries That Are Embracing It
This East Asian powerhouse has seen some of the most dramatic advances in human development in modern history, including embracing sustainable food management. South Korea has taken a proactive stance to manage food waste by banning it from landfills since the mid-2000s. Local governments can issue large fines to anyone who fails to follow these regulations. Seoul, the city’s vibrant capital, went one step further by implementing a food sustainability program that turned waste food into biogas, fertilizer, and biofuel. After recycling only 2% of its food in 1995, South Korea is now one of the world’s leading composters, reducing more than 400 metric tons of food waste daily and recycling 95% of its food scraps.
The land of rich wine and fromage is so dedicated to reducing food waste that it even became the first country in the world to ban supermarkets from throwing away unsold food. Instead of sending it to the trash, supermarkets partner with NGOs and food banks to help hungry families around the country. It’s no wonder that France leads the way in being one of the highest-ranking countries regarding food sustainability and composting measures. France’s capital, Paris, has long been a sustainability hub. As of 2017, its municipal government started a biowaste project that allowed residents to recycle their food waste.
This small European country has been successful in reducing its carbon footprint by half since 1990. A big part of that success is their hands-on approach to food waste management. The country was one of the first to implement a food recycling program as far back as 1991. Instead of throwing out its food scraps, the Austrian government prioritized repurposing it and reducing its overall waste. This mindset around composting is probably why the country is one of the top countries in the EU regarding recycling and composting, with roughly 63% of Austrian households doing it.
The Bright Future of Composting
With the global population growing and landfills filling up, the world needs an alternative to methane emissions and environmental damage before it is too late. Yet, there’s still hope that governments and communities will take the initiative to keep food waste out of landfills and into compost heaps, like in South Korea. Others take a compassionate and preventative approach and ensure that food doesn’t end up in landfills by enacting equitable policies that help those in need. Composting on a large scale, creative policymaking, and smart business initiatives are all necessary to create a future that is more sustainable and waste-free.
While governments are making initiatives, you don’t have to wait until that happens to take composting and reducing your organic waste into your own hands. In fact, there are thousands of small-scale composting programs around the country that can get the entire community involved! Not only will you be doing your part to reduce waste, but these local composting programs can encourage those around you to build awareness around repurposing their waste.
Want to learn more?
The Enormous Scale Of Global Food Waste [Infographic] – Forbes
The Science Behind Composting – Live Science
To End Food Waste, Change Needs To Begin At Home – NPR
Fertilizer Numbers: A Simple Way to Understand – Eartheasy
Biogas | CHP | Cogeneration – Clarke Energy
Fact Sheet | Biogas: Converting Waste to Energy – Environmental and Energy Study Institute
Cover Up with Compost Fact Sheet Cover Up with Compost – Environmental Protection Agency
South Korea once recycled 2% of its food waste. Now it recycles 95% – World Economic Forum
South Korea Has Almost Zero Food Waste, Here’s How – Intelligent Living
How France is leading the way on food waste | Analysis & Features – The Grocer
https://impact.economist.com/projects/foodsustainability/interactive-world-map/ – The Economist
Now Parisians can recycle food waste – Connexion France
Composting of Biowaste in Austria – Research Gate
Biowaste Management in Vienna – City of Vienna
Highest recycling rates in Austria and Germany – but UK and Ireland show fastest increase – European Environment Agency
Composting as a key to a sustainable future – Planet Forward
What is Community Composting? – Institute for Local Self-Reliance