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Dig into Decomposition: Unearthing Benefits of Composting

Organic waste is all too often an afterthought, carelessly tossed into landfills where it decomposes anaerobically, releasing methane - a potent greenhouse gas. But what if we could flip this narrative on its head, transforming waste into a valuable resource? 

In the final instalment of our Waste Series, we will be digging deeper into composting - the age-old practice of turning organic matter into nutrient-dense soil. Composting is a simple process where microorganisms, fungi, and invertebrates break down organic materials like food scraps and yard trimmings. On a broader scale, home composting diverts organic waste from landfills, where it would otherwise release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

The Fundamentals of Composting

The benefits of compost are manifold. At the individual level, all that's needed to turn organic waste into nutrient-rich soil is a small bin or tumbler to maintain the right balance of carbon-rich "browns" (e.g. dry leaves, shredded paper) and nitrogen-rich "greens" (e.g. fruit/veggie scraps, grass clippings). If done correctly, the resulting compost becomes a free, renewable resource to nourish house gardens and lawns.

Composting at the Community Level

Composting initiatives are also taking root at the community level. Programs like that of Mekar Jaya farmer's group in Indonesia have leveraged composting to improve local soil health and agricultural productivity. Studies have shown that every 1 percent increase in soil organic matter helps soil hold 20,000 gallons more water per acre. 

By collecting organic waste, maintaining optimal conditions, and distributing the finished compost, these programs not only divert materials from landfills, but also build soil resilience and reduce reliance on water-intensive, chemical-based farming practices as well as enriching community gardens, parks, and agricultural lands.

Corporate Composting Efforts

Businesses also have an important role to play in promoting and leveraging composting to reduce their environmental impact. Many companies are now implementing composting programs to divert food waste from their operations, while also providing compost to enrich local soils. For example, some restaurants partner with community composting initiatives to collect and process their food scraps. 

Retailers are also introducing compostable packaging options, like the Foopak Bio Natura line, which are entirely plastic-free, biodegradable, and compostable, demonstrating how innovations in materials can complement composting efforts.

The Environmental Impact of Composting

But the advantages of composting extend beyond the garden and the farms. As organic waste decomposes in landfills, it releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas. According to recent estimates, food loss and waste account for a significant portion of global greenhouse gas emissions, contributing around 8-10% of the total. At the same time, the growing demand for land and water resources to support these wasted foods is placing increasing pressure on the world's biodiversity.

By diverting this waste from landfills and turning it into compost, we can significantly reduce our carbon footprint and contribute to a more sustainable waste management system. 

Getting Started with Composting

So, how can you get started with composting? The first step is to choose a suitable composting method. Determining the best composting approach for you depends on availability of space, volume and type of compostable organic waste, as well as your comfortable level of commitment.

●    Space Availability: Do you have a yard, small patio, or only indoor space to work with? This will influence the type and size of the composting setup you can accommodate.

●    Waste Volume and Type: Consider how much organic waste (kitchen scraps, yard trimmings, etc.) you generate and what materials you'll be composting.

●    Time Commitment: Passive, cold composting requires minimal maintenance, while active, hot composting involves more hands-on tending. The former approach lets nature break down materials over 1-2 years with little management while the latter takes 4 weeks to 1 year to achieve usable compost.

Determining Compostable Organic Waste

Regardless of the approach, it is crucial to learn how to identify which materials are suitable for composting.

Suitable organic waste includes food scraps (fruits, vegetables, eggshells, coffee grounds, tea bags), yard trimmings (leaves, grass clippings, twigs, shredded paper), pet bedding (shredded paper, sawdust, hay) and cotton and wool fabrics. 

Materials to avoid when composting are meat, fish, oils, and dairy products which can attract pests and emit unwanted odours. Other items in the “to avoid” list are diseased plants, weeds with seeds, and products that do not compost like treated wood, plastics, metals, and glass.
As we wrap up our Waste Series, it's clear that composting is an essential part of the puzzle in transitioning to a truly circular economy. Whether you have a small backyard bin or an industrial-scale composting operation, getting your hands dirty and "digging into decomposition" can yield immense benefits - from nourishing your garden to nurturing the health of our planet. 

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