The Power of Food: Turn Food into Fertilizer with Composting

Via Flickr

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”.

Iowa Public Radio discusses environmental issues affecting Iowans

Nick Fetty | July 8, 2014

Recycling recepticles in the Iowa City predestrian mall.  Photo by Scott Schumacher; flickr
Recycling recepticles in the Iowa City predestrian mall.
Photo by Scott Schumacher; flickr

On Mondays this July, Iowa Public Radio’s Ripple Effects series will examine environmental issues across the state.

This week’s edition featured stories about trash including a River to River segment about landfills in Iowa and waste-to-energy technology such as Ames’s Resource Recovery System. Mike Smith of the Iowa DNR discussed the possibility of groundwater contamination due to landfills while representatives from two waste-to-energy facilities discussed these alternative energy methods in Iowa.

Talk of Iowa discussed recycling in Iowa and offered advice for proper recycling practices. The report states that 50 to 80 percent of recyclable materials ends up in landfills and also examines the ecological benefits of composting. “Most of what we throw away everyday are the carbon and nitrogen – green and brown components – food and paper waste that building organic matter for soil. This is not rocket science but it is soil science,” said Scott Koepke, Chief Gardener for Soilmates Organic Garden Education Service in Iowa City.

IPR invites listeners to provide their feedback on environmental issues in Iowa by filling out this survey.

On the Radio: Iowa City businesses use composting to reduce waste

Compost pile. Photo by bunchofpants, Flickr.
Compost pile. Photo by bunchofpants, Flickr.

Listen to this week’s radio segment here or read the transcript below. This week’s segment discusses the efforts of Iowa City businesses to reduce waste through composting.

Businesses in and around Iowa City are using composting to reduce their impact on the environment.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Continue reading

UI implements more composting efforts

Compost pile. Photo by bunchofpants, Flickr.

The University of Iowa has implemented composting techniques at many locations around the campus.

Both the UI Hillcrest Marketplace and the UI Hospitals and Clinics have food pulpers, which grind food waste into a pulp that’s easily converted into compost.

UI’s Burge Marketplace and Iowa Memorial Union also participate in composting.

In addition to creating something productive out of waste, composting also saves the UI money. For instance, using a food pulper instead of a garbage disposal at the Hillcrest Marketplace will save $25,000 a year because of the lowered water use.

Read more about other composting efforts around Iowa City in the Daily Iowan’s article here.

On the Radio: Decorah highlights sustainable living

Photo by marina, Flickr.

Check out this week’s radio segment here or read the transcript below.  It features our latest sustainble city – Decorah.

Did you know you can make compost out of worm waste? Many residents in Decorah know it after the third annual Decorah Iowa Green Initiative. Continue reading