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Climate Change

Backyard Composting is a Large Climate Solution

by Jim Armstrong

Your garbage could be one of the largest climate change solutions. You just need to keep it out of the trash.  

The roots of composting go back to the Stone Age, 12,000 years ago, in Scotland.  Instead of spreading compost over furrowed fields, the ancient Scots created compost heaps to help their crops grow. Even the Romans composted. In Marcus Porcius Cato’s (234-149 BC) book, Concerning the Culture of the Fields, he discusses composting wastes materials like manure, straw, chaff and beans to help provide more suitable soil to cultivate the growth of crops the ancient world. 

Here in North America, Native Americans have historically practiced three forms of composting: sheet composting where compostable materials are layered with soil; composting while planting where uneaten animal parts are wrapped with seeds; and seed balls where seeds were balled in clay and compostable materials. 

Compost bins should be in every neighborhood; Patricia Valerio on Unsplash

Compost bins should be in every neighborhood;  

Patricia Valerio on Unsplash

Perhaps their composting approach inspired the founding father of the United States to become regarded as the country’s first composter. George Washington believed ‘For the United States to succeed, we need to become better farmers’. He instructed his farm workers to 'Rake, and scrape up all the trash, of every sort and kind about the houses…and throw it…into the Stercorary.' A stercorary is basically a storehouse for compost. Washington was always experimenting to find the ideal ratio of carbon and nitrogen in the soil (today thirty parts carbon to one-part nitrogen is believed to be best). As you can see, much like soil infused with compost the history of composting is rich. 

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So, why is composting an effective action in addressing of climate change?

Consumption of fossil fuels isn’t the only culprit creating greenhouse gas emissions. Food and solid waste are also guilty parties. It's projected that 50% of all the solid waste produced on earth could be composted, but only 5.5% is. That means most waste finds itself in a landfill where it can’t decompose naturally because of low oxygen levels. This creates the heat-trapping gas, methane. Right now, 25% of all human-made global warming is traced to methane. Composting helps disrupt the landfill/methane cycle.

The U.S. composts 38% of its urban food waste. The European Union composts 57%. If every country composted in this range by 2050, 2.3 gigatons of carbon dioxide pollution wouldn’t see the light of day – comparable to removing 500 million cars from the road for an entire year! Rather than exploiting soil, compost empowers it to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and sequester it safely underground. This leads to better growth for crops and plants and an increase in organic farming.

Farms that compost and avoid synthetic fertilizers facilitate the soil to absorb and store water more effectively, vital for dealing with both droughts and floods – weather events that will occur more often due to climate change. Composting is happening in backyards, too. Composting food scraps and yard waste at home is as simple as creating a ‘dedicated pile.’ Or, organic matter can be collected and donated for composting to community gardens and parks. Waste management services are now including compost in their pickups.  

When it comes to addressing climate change, composting is not a waste of time.

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