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How Does Composting Reduce Trash Problems?

recycling and composting trashSeparating recyclables from the trash helps the environment, but you could help even more by composting. Kitchen scraps, yard waste and even scrap paper can be composted right in your home or yard. Reducing household trash can have a big impact on the environment. You can compost in a pile or bin, and you can add Red Worms to speed up the process. When the process is complete, you can harvest fertilizer for your garden and house plants. When organic matter is separated and composted, you have less trash in the landfill, less incineration, and fewer pests rummaging through the household garbage bins.

Less Trash Hauled Off to the Landfill

Waste that is sent to the landfill harms the planet. Many landfills use the “dry tomb” method, sealing mixed waste in geotextiles and clay. Organic matter breaks down (gradually) with very little air or moisture to help the process along. This anaerobic composting generates greenhouse gasses such as methane, which is explosive. The gas is typically burned off, which releases another greenhouse gas in significant quantity, carbon dioxide. Anaerobic composting in a landfill has been shown to contribute to global climate change.(1)

Did you know:

  • landfills are the single largest source of methane. Methane is 23x better at trapping heat than carbon dioxide.(1)
  • Around 34% of all human-caused methane released in the United States comes from landfills(2)
  • 72% of municipal waste going into landfills is organic(1) and could, in theory, be composted.

On the other hand, a compost bin or compost pile utilizes aerobic decomposition. The waste is exposed to oxygen because it’s either turned, or because worms dig in there (vermicomposting). This type of composting produces some carbon dioxide, and little or no methane. This has a much smaller impact on the environment. A well-maintained composter produces much less greenhouse gasses than a landfill.(3)

Moving organic matter from your house to the waste disposal facility burns fossil fuels and wastes energy. You can take care of the problem in situ by composting.

Many municipalities have taken action to stop filling up the landfills with yard waste. Special bags are offered in the fall that homeowners fill with leaves, branches, grass clippings, etc. They can be dropped off or picked up on a specific day, and their contents are composted.

You can make a difference by:

  • Participating in municipal yard waste pickup or drop off programs
  • Composting your kitchen scraps (12% of the municipal waste bound for landfills is food scraps, and only 20% of food is composted(1))
  • Shredding white office paper and newspaper to add to your composter or use as worm bedding. Your household will probably produce more than a worm composting bin can handle. 34% of municipal waste in a 2007 study was paper(1).
  • Subscribing to online newspapers and magazines instead of paper.
  • Thinking hard before printing from your computer. Tickets and coupons can usually be accessed from a smartphone.

Less Trash Incinerated

Burning waste at a high temperature sounds like a great idea. The heat can be harnessed to generate electricity. However, this is mixed trash, and the resulting ash contains hazardous materials. It must be carefully handled and put in a special landfill. It weighs 20%-35% as much as the trash! Dioxin, toxic metals, and acidic gasses are released into the air and the environment.(3) Reducing your household trash volume by composting means less overall volume, and less need for disposal mechanisms like incinerators.

Less Odor and Fewer Pests

No one likes a stinky trash can or trash bag. That smell is organic matter breaking down. When you compost with worms, you can add fruit, vegetable and grain scraps to the composter. You should not add oily scraps like meat, bones, oils, dairy products; large amounts of acidic vegetation should also be excluded. These items could be kept frozen until trash day – you might be surprised at how little actually accumulates in the freezer. Some can go down the sink disposal. Or just discard the oily items in the trash. Trash odor is generally better with less organic matter mixed in. A well-managed composting program, on the other hand, smells earthy, and burying the scraps in the bedding helps reduce odor, too.

Got problems with dogs, cats, raccoons, bears, cockroaches, rats or mice? Pets, pests and vermin will quickly lose interest in your trash if there is nothing to eat!

When it comes to trash, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem! Composting is a simple, natural way to harness nature’s powers. Composting also gives you plenty of free fertilizer for your garden. Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm offers Red Composting Worms, composters and composting knowledge to get you started.

Sources:

1. USCC Position Statement: Keeping Organics Out of Landfills

2. USEPA, 2007, Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2005, USEPA #430-R-07-002, US Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC

3. “Negative Impacts of Incineration-based Waste-to-Energy Technology” Alternative Energy News.

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