Why is composting good for the environment?
Listening to your grandma talk about composting for her vegetable garden can cause you to yawn. Turns out, there’s more to composting than just juicy tomatoes. Composting is also great for the environment. It’s an integral part of a closed-loop system, and it reduces greenhouse gas emissions. And the best part is that you can do it in your backyard.
Before we compare the different types of composting, let’s explore its environmental impact.
Why is composting good for the environment?
Composting is great for the environment for a few reasons. For one, it’s an environmentally responsible way to manage our organic waste. Organic waste doesn’t just break down on its own. It needs to be inoculated with carbon-rich material to invite beneficial microorganisms. If we don’t manage our organic waste properly, it rots and creates methane, a greenhouse gas.
The other reason composting is good for the environment is that it produces nutrient-rich soil. Modern agricultural practices degrade the soil of its nutrients, and this leads to nutrient-deficient food. Compost adds much needed nutrients back into the soil. Not only will your produce taste better, but it’ll also give you what your body needs.
While the climate crisis is multi-faceted, we face two major issues: rising greenhouse gas emissions, and nutrient deficient soil.
Burning fossil fuels is the biggest cause of greenhouse gas emissions. But we often forget about another huge source of emissions: rotting food. America wastes 108 billion pounds of food annually (yes, you read that right). On top of that, we don’t manage our inevitable food waste properly. Even in municipalities with organic waste systems, much of our organic waste ends up in the landfill. Food waste does break down in the landfill… eventually. But not before rotting and producing concerning amounts of methane gas. This potent greenhouse gas traps 25 times as much heat as CO2 does.
The other issue facing the planet is nutrient deficient soil. Industrial farming largely relies on chemical fertilizer to inject nutrients into the soil. Without nutrients, our crops will fail, and our food supply will be in serious trouble. Chemical fertilizer also has its own environmental ill effects, and the price has skyrocketed in recent years.
How does composting work?
To compost, we need to create an environment where microorganisms can live and break down organic matter. The end-product of compost is called humus, a nutrient-rich, usable soil. To invite these friendly microorganisms, we need the right combination of nitrogen and carbon. In compost lingo, you have your “greens” and your “browns.” Your “greens” are your nitrogen-rich organic material. This includes all plants, food scraps, grass clippings, etc. Your “browns” are your carbon-rich organic matter, like wood chips, dry dead leaves, natural cardboard, and sawdust.
Home composting vs. commercial composting
Composting is needed on all levels, from individuals to large corporations. Just as we need businesses to compost through commercial facilities, we need everyday folks doing it in their backyards. Let’s start by looking at how home composting is done.
Composting at home
Composting your food scraps at home is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. If you grow vegetables, flowers, or herbs, or have an indoor plant, your compost will work magic.
While home composting is relatively easy, there are a few house rules. Don’t put things in your compost that will attract pests into your backyard (hello raccoons, mice and rats). If you’re keeping a kitchen compost bin, you’ll want to avoid adding meat, dairy or oil products. Things that are great for compost bins include veggie scraps, carrot peels, apple cores, coffee grounds, and egg shells.
You also want to make sure you’re getting your carbon-to-nitrogen ratio right. A standard ratio for home composting is 2 parts browns to 1 part greens. So, if you add a bucket of greens, make sure to add 2 buckets of browns. If you’re using a compost tumbler, you can just toss them together and give it a good roll.
You’ll also want to gauge the moisture level. The mixture should be perfectly moist–not too dry or too wet. If you see that it’s dry, add a splash of water and roll it around. If it looks too wet, just add some more browns to the mix.
During the warmer seasons, it takes about 4-6 months for compost to turn into usable soil.
Commercial composting is a little different than home composting. Professional composting facilities receive organic matter like food scraps from food prep companies or manure from farmers. Once the organic material is composted, they sell their soil to farms, nurseries, and private clients. These professional facilities have the capacity to heat up the compost and kill any pathogens, eliminating the risk of contamination. As a result, they aren’t limited in what they can accept. However, higher quality commercial composters, like Dirt Rich out of Montana, are selective of their organic waste. They don’t accept organic waste that has come in contact with pesticides.
Not every municipality has composting infrastructure, but in general, these systems have lots of room for improvement. Many composting systems don’t have the technology to rip open bags of compost. As a result, much of our organic material just ends up in the landfill.
Some cities do it better than others. In Seattle, composting is mandatory, with strict laws about what can and can’t go in the organics bin. If you live in an apartment building or area without municipal composting options, you can try websites like Sharewaste to find people in your local area who can compost your organic waste. Another apartment dweller pro tip is to put your compost in the freezer until you can take it to a local compost drop off point, like a farmers market or community garden.
Are HAY! Straws® and HAY! Cutlery compostable?
Yes, HAY! Straws® and Cutlery are compostable. After use, just toss them into your home compost or your green bin, and they’ll break down into beautiful compost. The original Hay! Straw breaks down in a commercial compost facility in just 42 days.
Compostable vs. biodegradable… What's the difference?
It’s important to make the distinction between compostable and biodegradable. While some single-use items and packaging materials are marked biodegradable, they’re not necessarily compostable. Lots of bio plastics (plastics made with plant-based materials instead of crude oil) are biodegradable, but not compostable. It takes a lot of energy to break down bio plastics, and you can’t toss them in your backyard compost. The best single-use products are the ones that return to the earth as worm food.
HAY! Straws® bear the USDA Biopreferred and BPI certifications. These third-party organizations have verified that our straws are a biobased product. Common sense can also tell you that our straws are compostable. They are simply a piece of unprocessed plant stem, cleaned thoroughly and cut to size for your drinking pleasure. How much more natural can you get?
Worm food for thought
Before you desert the notion that composting is not for you, consider its impact. While you may not have a green thumb or plans for a vegetable garden, composting is incredibly impactful. If you’re feeling hopeless in the era of climate change, it’s one of the best ways to empower yourself. So embrace this age-old wisdom into your lifestyle, and start a backyard compost. You can thank your grandma later.
Looking for more eco inspiration? Check out our blog post about bamboo as a sustainable resource!
Written by Leslie Armstrong