The Power of Food: Turn Food into Fertilizer with Composting

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Mackinzee Macho | March 5, 2021

Mackinzee Macho is an undergraduate student and Senior Program Manager in Human and Ecological Systems Transformations for the Foresight Lab. The Foresight Lab is a think-tank that shifts culture toward social, economic, and ecological well-being through consulting. This series, “The Power of Food,” will explore topics like carbon sequestration and regenerative farming.

Yard trimmings and food waste make up a quarter of America’s municipal solid waste. At the landfill, this organic matter breaks down anaerobically, releasing methane-a potent greenhouse gas. Seventeen percent of anthropogenic methane emissions come from landfills decomposing organic matter. If we redirect our organic waste into composting piles, we could greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change.

Composting involves collecting organic waste and allowing it to decompose into a nutrient-rich, organic fertilizer. Compost is extremely high in nutrients and can be used on houseplants, gardens, yards, and more. This fertilizer is organic and maintains soil health in such a way that its microorganisms thrive. Also, it nourishes plants in the best way possible.

This all works because organic matter is made up of carbon, including leaves, grass, sticks, vegetable and fruit scraps, cardboard, and even human or pet hair. It is important to maintain the correct balance of nitrogen, carbon, moisture, and oxygen in your compost. Typically, a 25-30:1 ratio is recommended for carbon to nitrogen-rich materials or browns to greens. Carbon-rich brown ingredients are straw, twigs, dried grass clippings, and cardboard. Nitrogen-rich green ingredients include food scraps and fresh lawn clippings. Moisture is needed for the decomposers to break down the organic matter, so keeping an eye on moisture levels is key. Lastly, turning the pile every so often incorporates oxygen. Mixing your compost pile prevents anaerobic decomposition and promotes a healthy process.

Residential composting can be done indoors, outdoors, or off-sight at a municipal composting facility. Vermicomposting is typically practiced indoors with worms while cool or hot composting is performed outside.

Whatever you choose to do, composting is an important action individuals can take to reduce anthropogenic climate change. Compost improves soil health and promotes microbial growth, nurturing healthier plant growth. By diverting compostable materials out of landfills, we are reducing the amount of methane released, aiding in the fight against the climate emergency. Our food originates from the ground, so why not put it back to work there? 

A few useful resources for the know-how on composting can get you started: “7 Secrets to Perfect Compost”, “Backyard Conservation Tip Sheet” and “A Place to Rot: The Modern Farmer Guide to Compost Bins”.

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