Composting is how you recycle organic waste. It reduces what we send to landfill and reclaims|
resources that are part of our daily lives. There is no longer any reason to let your organic wastes go to waste.
WHY COMPOST?Since you're reading this, you probably already know something - maybe even a lot - about composting. Though maybe you're new to composting. But whatever point you are starting from, we want you to know the good that composting can do.
There is confirmed scientific evidence that composting
Reclaims micro- and macro-nutrients from organic waste
Enriches soil naturally, lowers dependence on fertilizers
Improves water flow and water-holding capacity in heavy soils
Reduces water loss, runoff and erosion
May combat plant disease and lower dependence on pesticides
Can bind and degrade specific pollutants.
You may already compost in your backyard, or through your town or city services, or possibly as part of a community group. If not, now is a good time. Many websites have good information to help you get started. Every effort helps, but there is something else you should know about composting: bigger can sometimes be better.
A large commercial or municipal composting facility can maintain and monitor the conditions needed to properly compost the new generation of compostable plastics: 140°F for 10 consecutive days. That fact is key to making organics recycling and composting work both for those who generate large amounts of organic waste - cities, towns, schools, restaurants and other institutions - and those who want to recycle but are not backyard composters.
Good news: there are 3,000 composting facilities up and running across America.
TYPES OF ORGANICS RECYCLINGOrganics Recycling by the Numbers
Each year in the United States, food waste and yard trimmings account for about 26% of all municipal solid waste (MSW) - what we call trash or garbage. That's about 65 million tons, or 130,000,000,000 pounds. Add wood and paper to that and we're talking over 60% of MSW - and a pile more commas and zeroes.
Generally, wood, paper and paperboard (or 'cardboard') go to different recycling streams than composting: mulch or energy recovery for wood; re-pulping for paper and paperboard. So let's just look at yard trimmings and food scraps.
Food and Yard
Recycling of yard trimmings is already well established: 21 million tons recycled out of about 33 million generated. That's a recycling rate of 65% - second highest of any material tracked by the EPA.
The story for food scraps is just the opposite - dead last. Of about 32 million tons, less than 1 million is recycled, which makes food waste the best area of opportunity to improve our rates of organic recycling.
OBSTACLESFood waste is definitely the low fruit of organics recycling. All of us can make a big difference - both as individuals, and as a society. But, like anything worth doing, recycling food waste will take some doing. Although it is similar in some ways to recycling metals, paper, plastics and glass, recycling food waste requires more effort and care.
Mixed GarbageFirst step is to separate food waste from all other garbage.
High Water ContentCompared to most garbage, food waste has higher water content so it weighs more and can leak. It's more challenging to store and heavier to haul.
Plastic BagsOrdinary plastic garbage bags won't work for food waste - or yard waste for that matter - because they won't compost, either in your back yard or at a municipal composting facility. Fortunately, because some chemical companies that make plastics have invested in the "green science", there now are plastic materials and bags that will completely compost under the proper conditions at municipal composting facilities. It is important to know that, despite many claims, the technology does not exist to make a plastic garbage bag that will completely compost in backyard bins or piles.
Odor and DecayKitchen garbage lets you know when you've waited too long to take it out, or when it has sat too long outside. Recycling food waste requires more diligence, containers with tighter seals, and more regular cleaning.
Lack of Disposal and Carting ProgramsJust like you, your sanitation department, garbage collector or carting company has to do more work to recycle food waste. But there is a growing effort on the institutional side - restaurants, schools, and their carting companies - to make organics recycling work.
Organics recycling of food waste will require more effort in how we manage trash, but the potential for reducing landfill demands - and for reaping the benefits from reclaimed resources - sets a clear target for those efforts.
SUPPORTMaybe you've seen a commercial that shows a snack food package deteriorating in compost. It's real. The companies that make compostable packaging materials, and those that package the products we buy, are helping us reduce litter and landfill by making it possible and easier to recycle organics.
And there is a growing network of composters and recycling associations. Use the following links to retrieve information about your local composting programs
See and hear people from restaurants and institutions that are doing something about the organic waste they generate.