Ever wonder about how much waste we really throw away each year? Well, studies estimate that 30 to 40 percent of the food produced in the United States goes to waste 30 to 40 percent of the food produced in the United States goes to waste, often ending up in landfills. In 2014, an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study found that the U.S. tosses over 3.8 million tons of food every single year.
That’s tragic because so many people in the world are going hungry. Food waste also contributes to global warming and disposing of it costs a lot of money. Using our food more efficiently would be a more permanent solution to the problem, but there are some things we can do to improve our disposal process as well. With composting, disposal doesn’t have to mean the end of food’s useful life and may even have some positive environmental attributes.
How Composting Works
Composting allows us to recycle organic materials, including many food items, yard waste, animal products and paper products. It uses a natural process that’s integral to life here on earth, the decomposition process that breaks down these materials into rich soil from which plants can grow.
Composting takes that natural phenomenon and accelerates it using one of several different methods. Individuals and families can compost their food and yard waste in their own backyards. Large companies sometimes compost their own leftover materials. Some local governments also organize composting operations, and local businesses might offer composting services to nearby residents. These services can be a perfect, easy-to-use solution to our organic waste disposal problem.
Beyond simple backyard composting, there are a number of methods that large-scale composting operations employ.
- Aerated Static Pile Composting
One of the simplest methods for composting large amounts of waste is aerated static pile composting. It involves placing well-mixed organic waste into a large pile, along with bulking agents such as woodchips or shredded paper. This method can produce compost within three to six months.
- Aerated Windrow Composting
Aerated, or turned, windrow composting involves placing waste in rows that are about four to eight feet tall and 14 to 16 feet wide. These rows, called windrows, must be turned occasionally so that the inner part of the pile ends up in the outside and vice versa. This method is ideal for particularly large amounts of waste.
- In-Vessel Composting
In-vessel compost allows for more control of the composting process and produces results quickly. In this method, compost is placed into contained spaces such as large drums, enclosed tunnels or other containers where machinery regularly turns it. This produces usable composts in a few weeks to a few months.
How to Get Involved
Other popular methods of disposing of household organic waste, such as garbage disposals, can be useful but don’t have all the same capabilities as composting. Garbage disposals, for instance, can’t handle solid items like peach pits. Regular trash collection has environmental consequences.
Composting can take care of many different kinds of waste, is environmentally friendly compared to other methods and produces a useful end result – compost that can be used to grow crops and other plants.
Many people don’t have room, time or ability to compost their own waste. For these people, commercial composting methods are the solution. Contact your local government and search for nearby businesses to see if organic waste collection and composting services exist in your area — and whether you can get some freshly made compost for your garden.
Emily is a sustainability writer and the editor of Conservation Folks.
This post was written by the contributor.
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