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Zero Waste: Composting and Climate Change

In Zero Waste

 

It’s spring in Boulder County and now that we’re past Mother’s Day and the last frost, it’s time to get back out in the garden.

It’s also a good time for composting.

Whether you already compost or are scratching your head and wondering what all the fuss is about, we’re here to help.

Composting is the natural process by which worms and microorganisms in soils eat organic matter, like the peel of the banana you had for lunch yesterday. In the process, these bugs digest and poop out the banana peel as tiny bits of nutrients and minerals that you can’t see with a naked eye.

What you can see after several months is the nutritional masterpiece these microorganisms created: the rich, dark soil amendment called compost.

In fact, nearly half of the stuff we throw in the trash could be composted—that’s all your food scraps, your yard waste, including grass clippings, leaves, and small branches, plus used paper products like paper towels and napkins.

Curbside compost collective service is available in Colorado but only in about a dozen municipalities statewide. In other words, we could be composting a heckuva lot more than we are today with big benefits, not only in waste reduction but also in climate protection.

In fact, when it comes to tackling climate change, composting is enormously important.

Here’s why:

First, by keeping organic materials–the food scraps and yard waste–out of landfills, composting PREVENTS creation of methane, a heat-trapping gas with 84 times more global warming power than carbon dioxide in the short term.

Many people are under the mistaken impression that it’s okay to put biodegradable materials in the landfill. Actually, the opposite is true.

When organic, biodegradable materials go in the landfill, they actually CREATE climate pollution in the form of methane and landfills are a big source of climate pollution. Let me repeat, when organic materials go to the landfill they create climate pollution, in this case, methane.

Instead of creating an even larger climate problem, we could be composting to actually help solve our climate crisis. When we use compost in our gardens, our parks and on our farms, we can actually lower the amount of carbon dioxide already in our atmosphere—we can sequester carbon.

How does that work? Well, research scientists (hooray for scientists!) have discovered that applying compost to soils actually helps pull more carbon out of the atmosphere, and a LOT of it. In fact, soils can store three times more carbon than plants.

The research started in Marin County, California, where they found that when one quarter of one inch of compost was applied to degraded rangelands, soils stored the carbon equivalent of taking 6 million cars off the road each year.

Now there’s exciting research happening here at home too. Colorado State University, the City of Boulder, Boulder County, Eco-Cycle, and local farmers have started a 5-year study to determine how much carbon Front Range soils can store using composting along with other beneficial practices. We’re building better soil to grow healthier food and fighting climate change.

And what else? Oh yeah, Boulder County has a goal of Zero Waste or darn near by 2025, and there’s no way that we’re going to meet that very worthwhile goal without composting.

So let’s get out and make some good dirt people, time’s a wasting.

For more information about how to start and maintain a healthy backyard compost, check our website at ecocycle.org/backyard-composting.

KGNU will bring you recycling tips and covering zero waste issues throughout the year in partnership with Eco-Cycle, thanks to a grant from Boulder County.