Let's Get Dirty - Our Future Is Compost
By Richard Duffy
Have you ever wondered what happens to your trash after you put it in the garbage can? Most people do not, after all, sanitation workers remove the garbage and it is never seen again. Martin V. Melosi called this "out-of-site, out-of-mind mentality… as long as someone removed wastes from the immediate range of the senses, the problem was solved."1 As a result, garbage disposal is a service that many take for granted. Yet, waste does not just disappear. It must be stored, buried, or burned somewhere. This disposal process has gone on for hundreds of years since populations produced huge amounts of waste. The continued use of landfills and dumps has caused the perception that there is a garbage crisis.
Consequently, new techniques to deal with garbage have been attempted.. Recycling is but one example of a solution. Through recycling, old products like aluminum cans and glass bottles would be made into new products. While recycling has enjoyed success in the United States, many question its efficiency. Other suggestions range from shipping garbage to other areas to incineration. All these proposals to the garbage problem go under such scrutiny and examination in an effort to achieve some perfect solution to the disposal problem
One practice enjoying success
today is the process of composting. Originally utilized by farmers and in backyards,
composting is the natural breaking down of organic materials into soil. The
popularity of composting seems reflect people's attitudes and desires to be
closer to nature. Compost can occur from levels as small as backyard piles to
the heights of corporate composting facilities. When done properly, composting
can provide cost benefits and greatly reduce amounts of garbage. Either way,
composting is a growing practice that's efficiency grows over time and may become
as widespread as garbage collection today.
The Garbage Crisis
The first question you may be asking yourself is, is there really a garbage crisis? Many would argue there is, and it is easy to see why. The population of the world is always growing; this growth results in increasing consumption. Whether it is food, energy, natural resources, material goods, or property, everyone is involved. Mass consumption leads to an increase in garbage and pollution. The production of cheaper goods that are available to most economic groups has also increased this trend. These factors lead many to believe "that we produce too much garbage."
Additionally, as population increases and spreads out, it becomes increasingly difficult to find places to get rid of garbage. This fact is prevalent in the United States where cities often pay other places to take their waste. There was a time in the United States where people owned hundreds of acres and could dump waste in their own backyards. If people lived in cities or towns, they could simply dispose of their trash in surrounding areas. However, today the United States is densely populated throughout. Cities spread and suburban areas transform into cities, rural areas become suburban, and unsettled areas become settled. The few untouched, "natural" areas left in the United States are often protected. Moreover, no one wishes to have garbage dumped near his or her home. At one time the rich could pay to have their wastes dumped in or near poorer neighborhoods. As the "Not In My Backyard" movement grows, it becomes increasingly difficult for the wealthy to take advantage of the mobilized middle and lowers classes.
Not only are landfills quickly filling up, but new locations are becoming hard to find as well. New York City is a perfect example. The New York Times reported that on a daily basis, New York City produces "11, 000 tons of garbage from residents alone."3 The article cynically reports, "New York City's ubiquitous trash… has traveled to Pennsylvania and Virginia, and there's even talk of sending it to a Caribbean island. It is seeing more of the world than some New Yorkers do."3 Martin Melsoi presents a good example, "On March 22, 1987, the fully loaded garbage barge (the Mobro), left Islip, New York, looking for some landfill that would take its unwanted cargo," when no one else would take the waste it returned home.4
Even The Simpsons poked fun at the subject. In the shows 200th episode, Homer becomes the sanitation commissioner of Springfield, his hometown. Homer spent the town's budget and he must find more funding. His solution is to allow other cities to dump their garbage in Springfield's caves. However, this quickly becomes a problem, as the caves are quickly filled and garbage starts showing up around town. Homer's plan is exposed and the town is left with one obvious solution, move the entire town! Yet, this solution will not work in reality.
However, such disposal problems are not unique to the United States. Even Canada has experienced waste disposal problems. The Montreal Gazette reported that Montreal "sends a little less than 300,000 tons of garbage to landfill sites yearly."2 This is better than Toronto, which "produces about 2 million tons of garbage a year."2 Cities across the world produce huge amounts of garbage. Whether one considers it a crisis or not, it is impossible to deny that current waste production and disposal process should be addressed. If it is not a crisis today, it will be in the future. Dealing with the issue now is the only way to prevent future disaster.
The people of Toronto had
a rude awakening the summer of 2003 when municipalities went on strike. Stephanie
Whittaker reported, "As stinking garbage accumulated on Toronto sidewalks…
it may have occurred to some of the good burghers… that maybe we produce
too much waste."2 It often takes an extreme situation to make people aware
of developing concerns. Indeed, Whittaker stated that this predicament opened
the eyes of the public. The garbage became impossible to ignore when it was
seen and smelt during everyday life. It soon became an important issue to Toronto
A Search For Solutions
Although the garbage crisis is recognized more now than ever before, some have been weary of it for quite some time. In his book, Garbage As You Like It, Jerome Goldstein addressed the garbage crisis in the late 1960's. He not only examines the production of too much garbage, but criticizes the landfill system as well. "A very large percentage of your tax dollar goes for disposing of the wastes we generate… For our money, we really should not have to breathe it in the air, or drink it in our water, or smell it. Yet that is what is happening all over the United States."5 It is true that landfills can be irritating to those nearby. The possibility of soil, water and air contamination also exists. Yet new technology and landfill methods make contamination less likely. While it would be impossible to eradicate the use of landfills all together, it is plausible to reduce the amount of waste that goes into them. Methods to do so would help alleviate strain on landfills and help solve the garbage crisis.
One solution to reduce the amount of waste being put into landfills is incineration. Martin Melosi cites 1885 as the year the first incinerator in the United States was created.6 The practice became reasonably popular, as cities burned great amounts of garbage and buried the remaining ashes and debris. Incineration greatly reduced the volume of garbage being buried in landfills. However, the great amounts of ashes and smoke that entered the air would soon became a problem. At first people believed the smoke would safely diffuse into the air. Instead smoke created smog and ruined air quality. Surround areas where garbage was burned also felt the effects of incineration since air currents and clouds could carry pollutants to other areas. Later it was discovered that this smoke also contributed to acid rain. Although incineration proved to greatly reduce the actual capacity of landfill waste, its detrimental effects outweighed its benefits. Until more efficient burning methods can be developed, incineration proves to be a promising but poor solution.
Popular today, recycling is another proposed solution. Through this process materials like glass, plastics, paper, and aluminum are collected and sorted. Later, they are taken to recycling plants where the waste can be made into new materials through melting down, processing, etc. While it may seem like a perfect solution, even recycling has its problems. The Toronto Sun reports that recycling "can be frighteningly expensive."7 Others believe that their efforts to recycle simply go to waste. Such feelings are not without reason. "Yet, much recycling turned out to be canard - instead of throwing things away," the Chicago Sun-Times writes, "you put them into blue bags and the city later throws them away, wasting your time."8 Still another argument states that the energy it takes to recycle prevents the process from being efficient or worthwhile. Additionally, recycling only affects specific waste products and ignores most organic materials. Whether recycling is efficient or not, it can only be part of the solution.
Other proposals range from feeding garbage to animals or sending garbage into space. At one time it was common to feed trash to hogs.9 However, this practice led to diseased meat and large amounts of manure. As a result, this method is no longer practiced. Goldstein also addresses the dumping of garbage into the ocean. Similar to smoke diffusing in the air, it was believed the ocean was large enough to disperse toxic chemicals and trash. However, bays began to fill, natural habitats were ruined, and garbage began to appear on beaches. Jones Beach, New York had a scare in the early 1990's when hospital waste began to appear on its beaches. For these reasons, ocean dumping proved to be an unacceptable practice. Some people support sending garbage into space. But rocket fuel is too expensive for such a practice. Additionally, sending garbage into space would mean losing some of earth's precious resources. All garbage is made of elements and materials that could some day be used again.
One proposed solution to
the garbage problem gaining popularity today is composting. While composting
is not a new concept - Jerome Goldstein discussed it in the 1960's - it is slowly
gaining popularity. Just a decade ago organic waste pick up was unheard of.
However, today many cities are creating public composting programs, institutionalizing
their own pickup and shipment of organic materials to composting plants. Yet,
local governments are not the only body promoting the growth of compost. From
small efforts in people's backyards to expensive ventures in corporate composting
facilities, compost's popularity and practice has dramatically increased over
the years. Since composting can be practiced at many different levels, is relatively
cheap, produces great results which can be profitable, and has very few drawbacks
there is no reason why composting should not become as popular and widespread
as recycling today.
What Is Compost, How Does It Work?
Although many people have
heard of compost few know many details. Simply put, compost is the process in
which organic materials are allowed to decompose into soil. However, there is
much more to composting than this simple definition suggests. Jerome Goldstein
writes, "Composting means the controlled treatment of garbage and other
common wastes so that a hygienically-safe end product is the result."9
This definition sheds some light on the complexities of the composting process. It refers to the "controlled treatment" that is important to successful composting. It also alludes to the variety of wastes that can be composted and the value of the results.
On a scientific level, composting is a very sound process. When left alone, organic waste will decompose. However, when small efforts are made, this process can be sped up and yield better results. Simply making piles of the materials causes many interesting things to occur. The concentration of organic waste is the key component to the composting process.
First of all, concentrating the material creates the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. The great amount of material helps hold moisture. The Composting Council of Canada states, "Most microorganisms are very sensitive to this factor in their environment."10 It also states that when moisture levels are too high or too little, they should be between 40% and 50%, bacterial activity may stop. However, if compost piles are protected from rain, they should naturally hold the proper amount of moisture.
Similarly, bacteria need oxygen to decompose efficiently and produce the best outcome. Simple turning of piles can provide enough air for successful breakdown.11 This can be done with a shovel, or even specially made tumblers. Concentrating organic waste into piles provides an excellent way for the material to retain enough moisture and oxygen for the process to take place.
It is important for materials being composted to maintain a high temperature. This helps speed up decomposition while killing off harmful bacteria. Luckily, this increase occurs naturally. "The rise of temperature in a composting mass is the result of heat given off by the micro-organisms as they break down the material," the Composting Council of Canada explains.12 Concentrating waste helps maintain a high temperature therefore maximizing bacterial activity.
This proves that composting is a natural process that can be sped up or maintained with little effort. However, one might be left wondering what types of materials can be composted. The Composting Council of Canada states, " Composting has the potential to manage all of the organic material in the waste stream which cannot otherwise be recycled. This includes materials ranging from kitchen scraps to sewage sludge to soiled paper goods. The Liverpool Echo reports, "The National Wildflower Centre, near Bowing Park… Uses worn-out bank notes to create compost…" One of the organizers explained, "We're demonstrating that you can get compost out of anything."13
The results of the composting
practice are very useful. Bacteria and microorganisms break down the waste to
its basic components. A sanitary, carbon and nitrogen rich soil is the product.
Amanda Greene explained compost turns organic waste "into a dark crumbly,
sweet-smelling soil. Good Compost is rich in nitrogen and carbon, two essential
ingredients in plant growth."14 Runoff from compost or "compost tea,"
is also a useful byproduct of compost. Sandu Gerjevic writes, the result is
a "potent organic soil enhancer that makes plants perk up and gardeners
take notice."15 Additionally, the disease free soil can be safely used
Levels Of Compost
One of the beauties of composting is that it can occur at many different levels. It is simple enough to be successfully practiced on a small scale in backyards. Yard and kitchen waste can be put into a bin and left to decompose. It is that easy. When vast amounts of organics, or waste like sludge or manure are being composted it is done at larger, corporate levels. The facilities used to treat such waste are made to reduce smell, run off and prevent pest problems. Between these levels one can find government participation. Usually government programs incorporate backyard or corporate composting to fit their needs. Usually this eases the cost on all parties involved.
Home gardeners have embraced composting for decades. Why purchase soil and fertilizers from stores when you can create better for free from your garbage? The Capital (Annapolis, MD) described numerous ways one could do this. "Too often, people think composting is a bothersome task… There are some very cool commercial items that have come out to make life simple."16 It discusses several marketed items that make composting easier or more accessible. Some of these include, small odorless bins that can be kept under the sink, biodegradable bags, and compost bins and mulchers. All of these products encourage composting and advertise it as an east task.
Yet composting is even easier than these products make it out to be. One of the most beautiful parts of backyard composting is that one does not have to purchase anything to do it. The Capital continues, "You can compost with trenches; simply bury vegetable and fruit peelings, then cover them up with soil."16 One can simply pile yard waste into a corner of his or her yard, or build a makeshift compost container with chicken wire. There are composting techniques to fit anyone's needs. For this reason, many embrace backyard composting.
Many suburbanites hate the fall. In many cases this has nothing to do with the falling temperatures, but with the result, trees losing their leaves. Leaf litter fills covers many yards and need to be raked and put into bags or put by the curb. While many areas offer pickup for the leaves, which would then be composted, some people choose to compost the leaves on their own. Phil Mulkins reports, "You'll be surprised to see how small a leaf pile can become if it's kept contained and watered. That's all you have to do… They reduce to one-tenth their original size in just 10 days. You can rake a little and keep adding them to the pile and by spring they'll be dirt."17 This simple effort takes about the same effort as bagging or curbing leaves, but results in rich-compost that the homeowner can use.
While composting spreads at individual levels, government funded programs ensure that composting will be an important part of the future. As the benefits of compost become apparent, reluctant local governments have become more open to trying their own programs. If these experimental attempts succeed, composting programs are often taken on at a larger scale. Additionally, there are many different levels that can be tried. These range from support of backyard composting to curbside pickup of organic wastes. As government funded composting grows, it many one day reach the level of recycling or even standard garbage pick up in some areas. In many instances, the programs have proven successful, or if they have not, governments try to work out the problems.
Some governments are slowly initiating goals for their composting programs. The Framers Guardian reports, "Farm-based compost sites are being sought in Dorset to meet the government's target to process 25 per cent of all green waste by 2005… Households are already taking their green waste to the county's ten reclamation centers, which now process 25,000 tonnes of waste a year."18 The success of the program has prompted the government to expand its expectations. In many areas, compost plans start off small to be tested. After they prove their worth, they are usually expanded.
Similarly, some governments support backyard composting. Programs do not need to be large scale to be effective. Allowing people to separate and compost their own waste takes some pressure off locally run programs and their expenses. Newcastle, Australia delivered compost bins to its residents to promote composting by individuals. The Newcastle Herald reported "The chairman of the councils health and environment committee… recently said he was pleased the household composting program had been well supported by the community. 'It is a great success' 19 The paper continued, with 2400 homes participating, the program has saved around $78,000 per year. Even with these achievements the chairman also stated that there was room for improvement.
A similar program has taken root in Gloucestershire, England. Under this program "a revolutionary community-sized compost bin" was created, Helen Morgan wrote. She continued, Gloucestershire funded "a small team of designers… to spend one year developing the prototype tumbler which each week digests organic waste collected from 70 households and four businesses."20 Plans that allow people to take a large part in the composting process allow governing bodies to save money. A community compost bin is low maintenance, and provides quick results. Helen Morgan concludes, "It (the compost) will be used to fertilize produce grown locally, or bagged and sold to the people who donated the waste in the first place."20 Allowing those that take part in the program to benefit from the results is a good way to encourage participation.
In Ottawa organic waste has received similar treatment as other garbage. Instead of being composted in backyards or having the people drop off their organics, they simply leave them by the curb. Sanitation workers then come and haul the organic waste to composting centers. The Ottawa Citizen informs, "Ottawa's curbside compost pilot project seems to be going well: The neighborhoods involved are meeting the city's goal of diverting 50 per cent of their waste into recycling and composting."21 The program has succeeded while proving to be cheaper than creating a new landfill site in Ottawa. As long as cooperation with the people continues, the program will continue.
Even national parks are giving composting a chance. "Officials at Yellowstone National Park, in a bid to save both money and landfill space, hope to turn heaps of trash left each year by tourists into a marketable commodity," Becky Bohrer explained.22 The compost could then be sold or used in the park. Either way, everyone wins; the park gets rid of its garbage and local landfills are relieved of some stress. Yellowstone officials said this plan would bring the park one step closer to self-sufficiency.
Other government institutions are also giving composting a shot. National parks have a direct connection to nature in most people's minds. As a result, it would make sense that national parks were undergoing compost programs. On the other hand, many would be surprised that NASA also has an extensive compost program. BioCycle writer Diane Shelander explained, "From composting landscape trimmings to using the end product for bioremediation of fuel-contaminated soils, things have changed a lot at one of NASA's field centers in California - enough to earn it major environmental awards."23 Wastes from the NASA grounds are collected, mulched and composted on grounds. The compost is then used to fertilize the grounds, or help reclaim fuel-contaminated soils. The program was so successful that it earned the NASA site a few environmental awards.
The next level of composting occurs at corporate levels. But, private business involves both government and individual composting, since it provides services and goods to both. On an individual level, businesses produce the composting items sold in stores, like bins or biodegradable bags. At the government level, businesses provide the composting centers that handle mass amounts of organic waste. However, like all businesses, the goal of composting at this level is profit. Still other businesses that have nothing to do with compost, like restaurants and supermarkets, desire to start programs in an attempt to save money.
It is difficult to think of businesses that could use a composting program more than grocery stores. After all, foodstuff like produce often gets damaged or goes bad. Instead of simply disposing of this waste with the regular garbage, some businesses are choosing to compost them. Jim Johnson writes, "With more than 300 stores in California and southern Nevada, the Vons grocery store chain produces plenty of organic waste… some 100 tons per day."24 At Vons, trucks that deliver produce are also responsible for hauling the organic waste away. Even McDonalds restaurants in Australia are beginning to compost their organic wastes, Bruce McDougall reports.31
Most compost centers are made to handle large amounts of waste. Consequently, some do not accept waste from small, public sources. This is another situation where government and corporations make successful composting possible. If the government collects waste from individuals, it can then be delivered to large-scale composters. One example of such a site is The Metro Compost Center in Des Moines, Iowa. When one first opens there website there is a bold note, "The Metro Compost Center is not open to the public and only accepts yard waste from MWA's contracted haulers."25
Conversely, there are some compost businesses that accept small amounts of organic waste. The Thurston County Compost Center website states that it "will accept yard waste... Every time you bring yard waste to the center, you may take two cubic feet of compost for personal use - FREE."26 This allows people to drop off yard waste and receive compost without having to wait for the decomposition process to completely occur. In this sense they instantly reap the benefits, just by taking a trip to the center.
Still other businesses simply create or sell composting equipment. Gardening and large hardware stores often carry compost equipment. Rubbermaid makes a durable, lightweight plastic compost bin available at most Home Depot Stores. Wal-Mart also carries a pre-constructed compost bin. The Ace Hardware website not only carries compost equipment, but has a list of items one may need if they are pursuing compost for the first time. However, this list is a bit too detailed, including things from nails to safety goggles to a screwdriver.27 This makes composting seem overcomplicated, and it is obvious the company wants to make as much money as possible. Yet this shows the potential of composting on the market.
Conglomerate America is
not the only side of business taking notice of composting's growing popularity.
Various websites specialize or at least concentrate in composting goods. These
businesses give more choices and provide better information than larger corporations
like Ace Hardware or Wal-Mart. Wheatgrasskits.com carries lawn care equipment.
While they only have one composter available on their website, they give very
detailed information on the process and product. Gardeners.com carries a large
variety of equipment in varying price ranges. From a leaf shredder, to tumbler
bins, to a "worm factory," it carries anything rookie to veteran composters
could need. It also has information on how to determine which composter is right
for you, and gives detailed information on many aspects of the process. From
corporate department stores to specialized companies, composting is gaining
business's attention at all levels.
What's That Smell: Problems With Compost
While compost has the opportunity to become a widespread solution to the garbage crisis, there are a few problems preventing it from attaining even greater popularity. Odors, pests, pollution, and costs prevent many people from accepting compost programs with open arms. However, with new technologies and when proper precautions are taken, these problems can be avoided.
The biggest fear people have of composting is the smell it can cause. Nicolas Alonzo commented on a proposed compost site near San Antonio, "No matter how they say it's not going to create an odor, it's going to create an odor."28 These fears are not unsubstantiated. After a composting plant in Riverside, CA was shut down, residents stated they would gladly pay more money to have wasted carried further away. Ellen Braunstein reported, "Barbara Crossey said she will gladly pay more money to keep the smell of decaying greens out of her La Loma Hills neigborhood."29 When composting organic wastes, especially animal waste or sludge, smell will obviously be an issue.
Another problem people associate with composting is the attraction of pests. In Forrest Illinois, a compost facility was proposed which would "compost leaves and sawdust with waste parts from cattle and hogs processed" at a local meat-processing business, Chris Anderson explained.30Among the apprehensions of local residents is the fear that the plant will attract coyotes. Dick Reavis reported on similar problems in San Antonio. Local residents fought the opening of a new compost plant citing many problems including "real bad flys" 28 While it is true rotting organic waste can attract pests, if done properly, this problem could be avoided.
Still, other people fear pollution that compost centers can create. Dick Reavis reported that in San Antonio, "Area activists contested Whole Earth's (the composting company) application to process grease-trap waste because, they say, the plant will become a malodorous health hazard."28 Instead of people simply disliking the smell, they fear that it will actually contaminate the air and become a health hazard. In San Antonio, many feared the contamination of the air could lead to asthma. Similarly, others fear that runoff will contaminate water supplies.
Additionally, many people do not want to take part in composting programs. Those fed up with recycling are very reluctant to separate their garbage to an even greater extent. Keep in mind separating organics is easier than separating recyclables, especially when it comes to yard waste. Even though it takes the same effort to put grass clippings into a bin or garbage can as it does a bag, they do not want to be bothered. They would rather have all their trash sent to a landfill, than expend any extra effort.
There can be many problems
with composting programs. Yet, the fact of the matter is, if done properly,
these setbacks can be avoided. New technologies and techniques are constantly
developed to lessen or prevent complaints. For instance, many centers do their
composting indoors and treat the air to prevent odors. Others use bags to prevent
odors from spreading. When it comes to runoff, many centers carefully collect
the contaminated water and later use it to moisten the compost. When done indoors,
runoff is not an issue. Most compost sites are careful to keep their property
clean. They keep pests off of their grounds and prevent them from spreading.
Keeping pest attracting wastes in mixtures with greater amounts of other wastes
also prevents pest problems. Again, when proper precautions are taken, unwanted
guests should not be a problem.
Not Just Dirt: The Benefits of Compost
While many people are apprehensive when it comes to composting, it has many benefits. Even if the problems associated with composting occur to some extent, the benefits outweigh the difficulties. Many cities' pilot programs are expanded after the benefits are realized. Similarly, the popularity with individuals spreads when they realize how cheap and easy composting can be.
First of all, composting greatly reduces the amount of garbage that goes into landfills. Ellen Braunstein reports, "Riverside… collects 200 tons of green waste daily, four days a week." The city hopes "to divert 50% of its waste from landfills."29 According to Bruce McDougall, Port Stevens "has cut its landfill by 80 percent" through composting programs.31 Other cities report similar percentages. Hannaford Bros. Supermarkets described a reduction of "waste weight by 80 percent and volume up to 90 percent."32 The Ottawa Citizen claimed that through its pilot composting program, "721 tonnes of organic waste were diverted in the first 7 months… When combined with the 25 percent (of garbage) recycled… 50 percent of waste in the nine test neighborhoods is being diverted from the landfill."33 This is an enormous amount of waste being reused as compost instead of simply filling landfills.
In most cases, composting waste saves a great deal of money. When done onsite, the savings are phenomenal. The NASA sites composting program saved it $55,000 in compost alone. Additionally, "The center saved about $590,000 in transportation and disposal costs by bioremediating the soil onsite," BioCycle reported.23 However, money can be saved with all compost programs. The Newcastle Herald wrote, "this (the community compost program) saves… the community approximately $78,000 per year… with room for improvement."19 The biggest cost of large-scale composting is the transportation. However one must remember it also costs money to transport garbage to the landfill.
The profitability of compost is another advantage. While governments may want to enact composting plans for communities, they are very reluctant to build their own composting plants. Luckily, they usually do not have to. Since composting can be a profitable venture many centers are started as private businesses. BioCycle reported on Nancy Summers, a woman that started her own compost business. She explained, "Local wineries pay Poncia (her partner) to haul their pomace away, and they also pay him to spread finished compost in their new vineyards."35 She not only gets paid to take the waste, but is then paid to return it back to the vineyard as compost. Since compost is a very useful product, it can be profitable. This is another benefit of compost.
Compost does not effect the environment in a negative way. The Ottawa Citizen states, "There's a cost to the environment in land use and toxins such as methane gas, which compost does not create but landfills do."21 Garbage being stored in landfills permanently takes up space. While compost centers take up space, they are constantly composting waste and sending it elsewhere. Instead of simply existing as trash, organic waste is then made useful again. This saves land and prevents toxic pollution.
Additionally, composting can save once toxic, unusable wastes. For example, it was once normal for farmers to mix dead animal parts into animal feed. This way, animal waste could be used again and the farmer could save some money. Recently, however, this practice came under attack. "An outbreak (of mad cow disease) among cattle and sheep in Europe," Chris Anderson writes, " was traced to animal feed containing offal."30 If composted, offal can be used again as fertilizer. Similarly, the NASA site uses compost to save soils contaminated with fuel.23 The natural heat and bacterial break down that occurs during composting would eliminate any harmful pathogens.
A similar problem has occurred with sludge. Dennis Hoey reports, "Sludge is a byproduct produced by wastewater plants after human waste and other materials have been treated. Farmers like it because it can be spread on fields as fertilizer. However, sludge can produce an odor that some people find offensive."34 Yet, when the sludge is composted this odor disappears. Jerome Goldstein explains, "By definition, the compost process destroys the disease germs in raw wastes and yields a stabilized residue that doesn't smell, smolder, or in any way offend the eye, ear, nose or throat."36 Farmers still get a great fertilizer, while other people do not have to suffer.
Compost is also a good alternative to fertilizer. Instead of purchasing potentially dangerous chemicals or artificial fertilizers, many farmers are reverting to compost as a safe substitute. Compost is environmentally sound. Runoff from composted solid will not destroy lakes or streams like nitrogen fertilizers. Naturally, compost holds its nutrients and absorbs rainwater. Since it holds no artificial chemicals, compost does not harm wildlife or humans. Jerome Goldstein comments, "the composting process is a way of returning wastes to the soil with minimum insult to nature."37
Another benefit of compost
is it is relatively easy to do. Compost is the natural breakdown of organic
waste. Unlike recycling, composting does not take outside energy sources. A
pile of organic waste will simply compost on its own. This process could be
sped up with little effort. This includes turning the compost occasionally,
or making sure it is moist enough. On a large scale, some measures must be taken
to prevent pests, runoff, or odors from becoming a problem, but this is not
a difficult task.
Beautiful Dirt: Why Individuals Love Compost
On a small scale, composting has been practiced in backyards for decades now. As governments promote programs and the knowledge of composting's benefits spread, so does its practice. After all compost can save people money. Decomposed yard waste and kitchen scraps can be used for home gardening and landscaping. However, saving money is not the only reason backyard composting is popular. As a matter of fact, composting has developed sort of a cult following among home gardeners.
Practicing compost gives many people a feeling of self-satisfaction. BioCycle's Linda Peterson reports, "In a former life, Nancy Summers designed furniture systems for high tech companies but eventually decided she wanted to do something that would give her more personal satisfaction and benefit the environment." 35 The answer was starting a composting business. This is an extreme example because it involves someone quitting their job in order to start a compost company. Neither of these risky actions needs to be taken to gain satisfaction.
Most people gain enough
satisfaction by keeping a small pile of compost in their backyard. The Canberra
Backyard gardeners love compost. Rich in organic matter and beautifully friable, it is a tonic to both soils and plants. It may even be a tonic to the person who made it, through the satisfaction of a job well done and the knowledge that waste vegetable matter has been recycled. One has only to watch presenters of TV gardening shows to see the enthusiasm it can engender. It is hard to imagine what they would be like without it.
Yet one may wonder why composting results in a feeling of self-satisfaction. It seems that many people feel this way because composting brings them closer to nature. In a way, feelings generated by composting are similar to those of walking through the woods. People feel satisfied by what they consider being closer to nature. In this sense, composting must be very satisfying since it allows first hand participation in natural processes. Additionally, the process causes no harm to the environment. Furthermore, unlike recycling, composting in backyards permits people to oversee or monitor the whole process. One knows the process is successful because they witness it directly. Finally, when people use the soil created by the process, they can feel satisfied with the results.
Another source of satisfaction lies in composts separation from corporate America. After working in an office or business all day, many people feel stressed out. Composting helps relieve this stress. First of all, the process has very little to no costs. When done at a backyard level, composting gives a feeling of separation from the working or corporate community. Although products are made, one can compost completely through their own efforts. Simple bins can be built and not bought. The process is all natural, and allows people to independently help the environment and help themselves.
Moreover, this feeling of
independence creates feelings of satisfaction that are not generated through
recycling. While recycling allows one to help the environment, it cannot be
done by oneself. The materials must be taken to a plant. The individual never
sees the results of their personal efforts. Plus the artificial materials that
are recycled, like metals and plastics, are unnatural and represent a separation
from nature. Composted materials, like yard trimmings and food wastes are all
natural, as is the process of decomposition.
Furthermore, organic gardeners and farmers are very pleased with the results of compost. The process provides an environmentally sound form of fertilizer. Artificial fertilizers and pesticides can be harmful too the environment and its organisms. Compost is a hygienically safe and environmentally sound alternative. It has great results and poses no threat to humans or the environment. Compost Propaganda and The Future of Compost
While the practice of composting has grown at all levels over the last decade, it has not reached its full potential. Many governments and people are still skeptical about the process. Most are unaware of the success present compost programs are experiencing. Others think of compost and rotting material, pests, and horrible odors come to mind. Yet some of those that have discovered the benefits of composting attempt to share them with the world. Only through informing others of the benefits will compost ever become a mainstream practice.
Although articles and local governments report on the successes of composting programs, most people do not have the time or means to read them. After all, these are usually not mainstream reports. Most of the benefits are discussed in little known magazines, like BioCycle which specializes on the subject. While recycling was not always a mainstream practice, it is very popular and widely practiced today. Only through a barrage of propaganda and government actions will compost become as widely known and practiced as composting.
In some sense, this trend has already begun. For example, a television program in Pennsylvania called Greenworks will air an episode that will explain the process and benefits of compost.39 School are also jumping on the bandwagon. Business Wire reported that the Vons Company "donated nearly five tons of compost to Centennial High School to help support a newly formed class in landscaping and horticulture, which focuses on the construction and maintenance of a school garden."40
Even videogames are getting in on the act. A game called Harvest Moon 3 allows the player to "buy a garbage disposal, which makes compost for you."41 Teaching children and young adults about composting is a great way to ensure future confidence and understanding in the process. If taught about it at a young age, future adults will be more willing to accept and participate in composting programs.
The Composting Council of Canada has a great composting propaganda program. This fall, the council held a pumpkin growing contest. "The Great Pumpkin Growing contest was developed… to build awareness of the importance of using compost to improve and nourish the soil and thereby deliver great gardening results."42 The plan worked, the contest winning pumpkin weighed 600 pounds! David McCallum, the grower explained, "The secret is good compost and good water… We tended it with lots of TLC --- with the C being compost."42 The council also creates many attractive posters advertising compost or compost related activities. April 27 to May 3 2003 has been dubbed compost awareness week. The event will have "giveaways, contests and special events."43
While there might not be a garbage crisis yet, if we continue to send large amounts of waste to landfills there will be one. Many solutions have been proposed to solve this problem, the most successful one being recycling. Yet, recycling only works on specific materials like aluminum and certain plastics. Composting, on the other hand, can work on all organic wastes. The process takes very little energy, results in a nutrient rich soil, and can be practiced at many levels. For these reasons, composting is a very efficient and plausible solution to the garbage problem.
However, many are still
reluctant to start composting. They see the obstacles instead of the benefits:
too much effort, pollution, odors, and pests. Luckily, some individuals and
local governments were willing to give composting a try. The evidence from these
experimental programs proves the effectiveness of composting as a less risky
solution to the garbage disposal problem. Based on their success other areas
are more willing to give compost programs a try. Finally, composting has also
demonstrated to be a money saving process which benefits the environment and
therefore society as a whole.
Still many people remain apprehensive about the process. Information and compost propaganda are needed to inform the public about the benefits and possibilities of large and small scale composting. Once the public is better informed, composting will have the opportunity to become as popular as recycling. After all, it is a more efficient and more beneficial than recycling. If coupled together, recycling and composting have the ability to greatly reduce the amount of garbage going into landfills and prevent a garbage crisis from ever occurring.
1. Martin V. Melosi, Effluent
America (Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh Press, 2001), p 35.
2. Stephanie Whittaker, "Don't Wait For Garbage Strike Before Reducing Waste," Montreal Gazette, 7 September 2002: LexisNexis.
3. "Trouble With Trash," The New York Times, 13 July 2002: LexisNexis.
4. Martin V. Melosi, Effluent America (Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh Press, 2001), p 68.
5. Jerome Goldstein, Garbage As You Like It: A Plan To Stop Pollution By Using Our Nation's Wastes (Emmaus: Rodale Books, 1969), p1.
6. Martin V. Melosi, Effluent America (Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh Press, 2001), p 78.
7. "A Crisis Waiting To Happen," The Toronto Sun, 26 August 2002: LexisNexis.
8. "Recycling Myth Exposed At Last," Chicago-Sun Times, 13 August 2002: LexisNexis.
9. Jerome Goldstein, Garbage As You Like It: A Plan To Stop Pollution By Using Our Nation's Wastes (Emmaus: Rodale Books, 1969), p 24.
10. "The Composting Process: Fundamental Principles," http://www.compost.org/sheet_1.PDF (December 8), p 2.
11. "The Composting Process: Fundamental Principles," http://www.compost.org/sheet_1.PDF (December 8), p 4.
12. "The Composting Process: Fundamental Principles," http://www.compost.org/sheet_1.PDF (December 8), p 5.
13. Alan Jewell, "How To Make Money Grow; Just Turn It into Compost," Liverpool Echo, 18 July 2002: p 22 or LexisNexis.
14. Amanda Greene, "Composting: A Layer-By-Layer Look At What's Beneath It All," Morning Star (Wilmington, NC), 2 August 2002: p 1d, 6d or LexisNexis.
15. Sandy Gerjevic, "Earthly Brews: Organics Gardeners Preach Benefits of Compost Tea," Anchorage Daily News, 12 July 2002.
16. "Scraps Make Great Compost," The Capital (Annapolis, MD), 15 June 2002: p D14 or LexisNexis.
17. Phil Mulkins, "Composting Leaves Easier Than Bagging Them," Tulsa World, 14 November 2002: p A2 or LexisNexis.
18. "Compost Sites Sought," Farmers Guardian, 4 October 2002: p 82 or on LexisNexis.
19. "Compost Program Success," Newcastle Herald, 24 August 2002: p 4 or on LexisNexis.
20. Helen Morgan, "Community's Big Rotter Rolls Into Action," PA News, 16 July 2002: LexisNexis.
21. "Compost Plan Poses Problems," The Ottawa Citizen, 14 August 2002: p B2 or on LexisNexis.
22. Becky Bohrer, "Park Tourists' Trash To Get New Life - As Compost," Associated Press, 18 October 2002: LexisNexis.
23. Diane Shelander, "Composting Creates Positive Changes At NASA Research Center," BioCycle: Journal of Composting and Organics Recycling, October 2002: Vol 43 No 10 p 40-41.
24. Jim Johnson, "Compost Partnership Blossoms in West; Vons Grocery Chain Works With Recycler To Produce Tons Of Compost Each Week," Waste News, 28 October 2002: p 19 or on LexisNexis.
25. Metro Compost Center, Des Moines, Iowa. http://www.metro-waste.com/Facilities/compost_center1.htm (December 11, 2002).
26. Thurston County Compost Center, Olympia, WA. http://www.co.thurston.wa.us/wwm/solidwaste%20pages/compostcenter.htm (December 11, 2002).
27. Ace Hardware, http://www.acehardware.com/PRC/ProjectKD/environ/composting/compost.asp (December 11, 2002).
28. Dick J. Reavis, "Compost Plant Proposal Is Raising Stink In South Bexar," San Antonio Express-News, 27 September 2002: p 1D or LexisNexis.
29. Ellen Braunstein, Closure May Boost Waste Costs," The Press-Enterprise (Riverside, CA), 14 May 2002: p B01 or LexisNexis.
30. Chris Anderon, "Compost Approval Sought," The Pantagraph (Bloomington, IL), 25 July 2002: p C1 or LexisNexis.
31. Bruce McDougall, "Garbage To Soil That's Balck Gold," The Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 25 September 2002: p 20 or LexisNexis.
32. Eileen Kennedy, "Nashua, NH, Company Builds Enclosed Composting System for Supermarket," The Telegraph (Nashua, NH), 1 August 2002: LexisNexis.
33. Elaine O'Connor, "Pilot Project Leads The Way Toward City-Wide Compost Program," The Ottawa Citizen, 23 July 2002: p B3 or LexisNexis.
34. Dennis Hoey, "Bath Ends Spreading Of Sludge On Fields," Portland Press Herald, 6 May 2002: p 1A or LexisNexis.
35. Linda Peterson, "Growing A Company In The Organics Recycling Business," BioCycle: Journal of Composting and Organics Recycling, October 2002: Vol 43 No 10 p 22-23.
36. Jerome Goldstein, Garbage As You Like It: A Plan To Stop Pollution By Using Our Nation's Wastes (Emmaus: Rodale Books, 1969), p 10.
37. Jerome Goldstein, Garbage As You Like It: A Plan To Stop Pollution By Using Our Nation's Wastes (Emmaus: Rodale Books, 1969), p 25.
38. "Compost Fine In Backyards, Too Rich For Farms," The Canberra Times, 4 July 2002: sec A p 16 or LexisNexis.
39. "New GreenWorks TV Episode Shows How Families Can Reduce Their Impact on the Environment," PR Newswire, 18 June 2002: LexisNexis.
40. "Vons Compost Program Benefits Local School; Compton Students Get Help From Vons for Horticulture & Landscaping Program," Business Wire, 11 July 2002: LexisNexis.
41. Permanent Marker, GameFAQs.com, http://www.gamefaqs.com/portable/gbcolor/review/R35191.html (December 15, 2002).
42. The Composting Council of Canada, "COMPOST GIANTS: The Great Pumpkin Growing Contest," http://www.compost.org/ccc_pumpkin_intro.html (December 15, 2002).
43. The Composting Council of Canada, "Compost Awareness Week," http://www.compost.org/Compost%20Ad.pdf (December 15, 2002).
Last Updated: 8/24/10