Landfill is reaching capacity limits due to an increasing population and thus increasing amounts of waste, especially with our single-use culture.
Food scraps are one of many waste products that get thrown into our bins and end up in landfill. To reduce your landfill footprint you can compost your food scraps to use on your garden bed. This is a viable means of organic waste management that you can implement at home.
What is Compost?
Compost is the decomposition of plant remains and other non-living materials which turns into a dark and earthy substance, which happens to be excellent for enhancing plant growth by enriching soil health.
What is the Science behind it?
Composting is a natural process, in which living organisms such as microbes, decompose organic matter into biologically stable, humic substances that make great soil amendments.
The organisms then feed on the organic matter and through respiration generate the energy that they use for movement, growth, reproduction or stored energy.
The organisms then excrete the organic material that enriches the soil. When the organisms die, their bodies add to the organic matter in the compost pile.
Why Do We Use It?
We use compost to enrich our soil to be able to grow things continually and effectively. We choose to use compost when our soil is depleted of nutrients and has poor soil structure which is necessary for air, water and root penetration to access nutrients.
Additionally, soil can be chemically imbalanced, such as being too acidic or too alkaline.
By adding compost, you are adding living organisms, better soil structure to put plants in, and more nutrients for your plants to use to grow!
Is Compost as good as we are told?
So here is the tricky bit! When we think of compost, we think it is the antidote to our gardening or agricultural problems.
But is it really that perfect?
What I found out to be astonishing is that no, that is not the case! There can actually be significant consequences to adding compost to your garden or farm but this comes down to what compost you buy. The commercial compost packages are the ones you need to look out for, especially the cheap ones. They can contain harmful toxins that can not only impact your soil health but be harmful to your health. On some of their bags, they even say to wear a mask when applying the compost… that’s not a good sign! These bags are usually the ones filled with just wood chips or something simple and are therefore not fully degraded into the luscious soil we imagine when we think of compost.
Additionally, micro-plastics can be found in commercial and cheap compost brands as well!
We are all becoming aware of our ongoing issue of plastic contamination in our world especially to our oceans, but they are coming up in our soils too! Unfortunately, there is little research done to analyse the long-term impacts of microplastics in our terrestrial environment but I can’t imagine it can be good!
How does Micro-plastics end up in my compost?
They can enter the environment either directly from products such as cosmetic products, or industrial abrasives for example. Otherwise, they can enter the soil through environmental degradation of larger plastic pieces. Additionally, when we wash our clothes in washing machines they contribute to the dispersal of microplastics from our clothes via water treatment plants, which can end up in agricultural fields.
This can harm the soil if they are ingested by micro and mesofauna species such as mites, nematodes, beetles and others, and then its contamination accumulates in the soil food web (Rillig 2012).
An estimated 125 and 850 tons MP/million inhabitant have added annually to European agricultural soils either through direct application of sewage sludge or as processed biosolids. This is at least equal to, and probably much higher than our estimate of 110 to 180 tons MP/million inhabitants emitted annually to surface waters (Nizzetto et al. 2016).
In large farmland estates, a likely culprit for the increase of micro-plastics in our soils is from the application of sewage sludge from municipal wastewater treatment plants to farmlands. This is based on new microplastic emission estimates in industrialized countries (Nizzetto et al. 2016). Unfortunately, scientists do not know the long-term consequences this has for sustainability and food security.
From this information, it is clear that cheap, commercial compost may not be the best choice of fertilizer to use in your garden. However, you can always make your own compost, as commonly said, ‘the best things in life are the ones you make yourself’.
If you are thinking of making your own, you need to make sure you put in the right things and avoid some rooky errors.
How to make your own Compost
What to add:
- Food scraps
- Tree/plant litter
- Coffee grounds
- Lawn Clippings
- Make sure you have a lid to warm up the soil, protect it from larger animals
- Water it a little – the ideal moisture content of the compost pile is between 45%-60% by weight, this should feel moist to the touch when you squeeze a handful of blended feedstocks. The material should keep its form but not give out any excess water.
- Air temperature affects microbial growth and activity in the compost pile and so affect the rate at which they are active. In summer, spring and autumn months composting are at its fastest whereas, in winter, it is likely to come to a complete standstill.
- Use a little bin in your kitchen for you to put only your food scraps in, and then when it is full, head outside to put into your large compost bin
Cooperband, L 2002
Thanks for caring about what you can do to reduce your waste and increase your environmental awareness, it is a knowledge that is very valuable in today’s age with climate change and an increasing population creating more concerns for our worlds health and our wellbeing.
The Earth Co.
Cooperband, L 2002 ‘The Art and Science of Composting – A resource for farmers and compost producers’, Centre for Integrated Agricultural Systems, http://files.webydo.com/223087/artofcompost.pdf
Rillig, M, C 2012, ‘Microplastic in Terrestrial Ecosystems and the Soil’, Environmental Science and Technology, https://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1021/es302011r
Nizzetto, L, Futter, M, Langaass, S, 2016 ‘Are Agricultural Soils Dumps for Microplastics of Urban Origin?’ Environmental Science and Technology, vol. 50, no. 20, pp. 10777-10779, <https://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/acs.est.6b04140>