The Chicago Botanic Garden says “compost is the ultimate soil conditioner, since it improves both texture and structure, giving soil that much-desired tilth that’s perfect for growing vegetables and flowers. There is also evidence that plants mulched with compost have a degree of disease resistance that they might not normally have. Mulching with compost moderates the soil temperature, retains moisture and provides nutrients for plants. The plants become stronger, healthier and better prepared to fend off attacks from diseases and pests
Non-gardeners might not be as interested in producing organic fertilizer, or know what to do with it when they get it. Using it for potted plants, giving it to neighbors, or spreading it around trees in your yard are all possibilities. But simply separating dry from wet waste, and composting the latter, automatically makes your garbage easier to handle. It’s an unexpected benefit for anyone who’s ever dealt with a fetid, leaking garbage bag. A small collection container will isolate the organic stuff, and your non-recyclable garbage can wait to be taken outside indefinitely.
If you consider yourself an environmentalist, you probably reuse, reduce, and recycle the traditional materials, like paper and beverage containers. But many people disregard a significant portion of their personal waste stream, the organic disposables, which include landscape and food wastes. These discards constitute 20 and 10 percent, respectively, of the volume of an average household’s garbage. Compare organic waste’s 30 percent to glass, which comprises only 5.5 percent of an average household’s trash. Given these numbers, composting should be an integral part of personal and institutional waste management strategies.
When organic materials are composted instead of being put in the garbage, this not only returns the nutrients to the soil, but also reduces the amount of waste going to landfills. The Illinois EPA estimates that there are only five years of landfill capacity left in northeastern Illinois. Chicago area waste will need to be containerized and hauled further and further to reach available landfill space, causing increased energy use and truck pollution.
By reducing the amount of raw garbage entering landfills, composting also helps to reduce the amount of methane and other gases produced there. According to the USEPA, landfills are the largest single human source of methane emissions in the U.S., accounting for 33 percent of all methane sources. Methane gas contributes to global climate change, and is of particular concern because it is 21 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.
But composting is more than an environmentally responsible practice. It’s a rare opportunity to personally perform something akin to alchemy, changing garbage into a useable commodity!