Compost happens – and other garbage myths
OK, compost happens; it’s not a myth. Nature does it. Worms do it. Even the leaves from the trees do it.
But, one of the biggest garbage myths of all time is that waste is a hindrance, and not a resource – especially organic waste.
Decomposable matter, such as paper, food scraps and yard waste, is called organics.
When we’re talking about waste, the term “organic” doesn’t mean that the waste has to be produced without pesticides and certified by a third party, it just means that it decomposes.
Organic waste is one of the most valuable waste streams we have.
Tree trimmings, food waste, old paper and even horse manure can be turned into a valuable compost or soil amendment that helps to conserve water and provide nutrients to soil.
In drought-ridden environments with poor soils, like ours here in Summit County, compost can be especially valuable.
Organic waste is also one of the largest components of our waste stream, typically making up about 60-65 percent of what we throw away everyday.
Communities all over the world that have “zero waste” goals have focused on the organic stream for this very reason.
Some places, such as San Francisco, even provide curbside collection of organic waste and are diverting more than 50 percent of their waste stream from disposal.
Last year, with careful planning and the collection of organic material as well as recyclables, the town of Frisco diverted more than 80 percent of its waste at the Cleanup Day picnic.
This year, all four towns in Summit County will be striving for zero waste (or darn close) at their Town Cleanup Day picnics Saturday, May 15.
Summit Recycling Project (SRP) staff will be collecting organic waste in addition to recyclables at these events and will be on hand to answer your questions.
In addition to being a valuable and voluminous part of our waste stream, organic waste also causes serious problems for our landfills and communities.
The organic waste we bury today will make landfills biologically active for centuries to come, creating two separate and significant problems.
The first problem created by burying organic matter in our landfills is that its eventual decay creates methane, a greenhouse gas, which also carries volatile organic compounds into our atmosphere.
For example, this decay process transforms elemental mercury found in discarded switches and batteries into di-methyly mercury, a potent and deadly gas.
The second problem created by burying organic waste in our landfills is that the decomposing moist matter mixes with toxic components of our waste stream (like bleach and electronics) and leaches carcinogenic compounds into our groundwater when landfill liners deteriorate.
Landfill liners will not last forever. We are just delaying, not preventing, environmental problems when we landfill our waste.
Keeping organic material out of the waste stream, reducing the use of toxic materials, recycling and reducing waste as much as possible today are some of the most important ways we can start to prevent future environmental problems associated with waste.
We don’t have a large-scale composting program in Summit County – yet. But many of us with back yards can start composting our own organic waste. Those without back yards can consider vermicomposting, or worm-composting.
This week is International Compost Awareness Week.
Take some time to learn about composting this week (see http://www.compostingcouncil.org).
Mark your calendars for Saturday, June 5, for SRP’s free Back Yard Composting Workshop to learn how compost happens in high-altitude climates.
Call Summit Recycling Project at (970) 668-5703 for more information.
Author Carly Wier is the executive director for Summit Recycling Project, a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization dedicated to minimizing waste in Summit County and surrounding areas.
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