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#UNLITTER Your Organic Waste

By Tessa Whitby @UNLITTER team

Sometimes the road to climate change is paved with good intentions. There is no doubt that plastic pollution is a mountainous problem with consequences that we will be dealing with for a long-time, but plastic is not the only thing we can #UNLITTER. Have you ever thought about how your organic waste could be adding to greenhouse gas emissions and environmental damage? Just because it decomposes doesn’t mean it belongs in a landfill. Your kitchen scraps, yard waste, and even Christmas Trees could be creating a bigger carbon footprint than you realize. The good news is, it’s not that hard to #UNLITTER your organic waste!

Cities like San Francisco have truly set the bar for curbside compost pick-up and organic waste management mastery since the 1980s. They have collected over one million tons of organic waste since beginning their composting journey, and in recent years have made it mandatory for all residents. People must have compost bins for their organic waste to be picked up and then brought to composting centers that properly turn waste into healthy nutrient-rich soil and mulch. This single American city collects over 600 tons a day of organic waste.

Although San Francisco may have been the first US city to take necessary measures, it will not be the last! The great state of Vermont and several other US cities are also taking the initiative, such as Boulder, Denver, Seattle, Portland (OR). Even New York has Zero Waste goals they are enforcing and starting to make more effort toward community composting and turning waste into reusable resources. The speed of progress can be a bit sluggish in most places as far as government action, and not all cities offer curbside pick up yet, but many independent groups are taking action themselves.

One independent compost service that really deserves a round of applause is Compost Pedallers from Austin, TX. This bike-powered compost collection service has recently closed its business but offers a perfect model of how independent start-up compost programs can put pressure on the government to take action!

The Compost Pedallers were directly responsible for reshaping community compost action in Austin using mainly bicycles and pull wagons to collect and process organic waste separately. Their extraordinary efforts transformed community mindsets and actually pushed the city hard enough to create a government-organized program called Austin Resource Recovery to take over. The program has extended compost services to around 90,000 homes and continues to work towards its Zero Waste goals for 2040 and transform waste into resources.

(Image: @compedallers Instagram account- compost accomplishment data)

Here is an excellent list of start-up companies and organizations around the country that are eco-solutionaries when it comes to organic waste. If you aren’t sure if your city offers municipal composting options, search for independent compost services in your city and let us know what you find. We would love to expand this resource list and empower more action with organic waste management!

  • Brooklyn, New York: BK Rots - A youth-led bike-powered compost collection program started in Bushwick.

  • Los Angeles, CA: LA Compost - This composting service started out as a small, volunteer, bike-powered collection program. It has grown a great deal and now has community compost hubs at multiple sites throughout LA county.

  • Sacramento, CA: Green Restaurants Alliance (GRAS)- A non-profit that composts waste from restaurants at local farms.

  • Portland, ME: Garbage to Garden- A residential composting service that makes composting easy.

  • Boston, MA: Bootstrap Compost- A compost collection service for a variety of schools, companies, and residences.

  • Washington, DC: Veteran Compost- Keeping food waste out of landfills and employing veterans.

  • Chicago, IL: Healthy Soil Compost LLC - Monthly subscription composting company that works with a commercial earthworm farm to process organic waste into nutrient-rich soil.

  • Philadelphia, PA: Bennett Compost- Another monthly subscription compost collection service that makes weekly pick-ups from residential homes.

  • North Carolina: CompostNow - This service extends to multiple cities and North Carolina regions for both communities and local businesses.

  • Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Compost Crusader - A composting company that expands through multiple Southwest Wisconsin regions, working with residential homes, events, restaurants, commercial businesses, and schools.

So, why do we really need to further separate our food waste from solid waste?

When organic waste ends up in a landfill, the lack of oxygen does not allow it to enter a proper state of anaerobic decomposition. As it degrades, it instead produces the detrimental greenhouse gas methane. Methane can be well over 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide and is a very hazardous greenhouse gas when not adequately managed. When we compost organic materials instead of sending them to a landfill, we reduce methane emissions immensely and even help regenerate the environment.

It’s no question that the industrial energy sector (mainly oil companies and natural gas systems) remains a larger source of methane emissions than landfills. Still, landfills are the third-largest source of methane emissions. According to the EPA, somewhere around 20 percent of methane emissions come from landfills. Nearly 20-30% of that waste in landfills across America is actually organic waste improperly decomposing, releasing methane into the atmosphere.

Despite methane being one of the more potent greenhouse gases, it can be easier to reduce than carbon dioxide emissions, which can damage the atmosphere and affect the climate for thousands of years. In comparison, reducing methane emissions might be a more realistic direction to immediately combat climate change. This can all start right from your own home. It might just seem like a drop in the bucket, but, if we normalized composting organic waste, the regenerative benefits provided for the environment would be unquestionable.

Benefits of Composting:

  • By composting organic waste and food, we can greatly reduce methane emissions created by organic waste in landfills.

  • The need for dangerous, synthetic chemical fertilizers in agriculture is reduced and even eliminated with the use of compost.

  • Compost promotes nutrient-rich produce and higher yields in agriculture.

  • Reforestation, wetlands restoration, and habitat revitalization efforts are all made possible by composting and improving the soil health of contaminated, compacted, and marginal soils.

  • A cost-effective alternative to conventional remediation technologies. (Why buy soil amendments for your garden when you can make it for yourself?)

  • It can regenerate health in contaminated soils and help to replenish topsoil, which is a nutrient-dense layer of soil that is essential to our agriculture systems and currently at great risk.

  • Enhances water retention in soils.

  • Carbon sequestration.

Image made using Venngage. #UNLITTER Organic Waste.

So next time you go to toss that banana peel in your trash can... don’t. Search for composting options in your area, or give it a shot yourself! Turn your food waste into something organic and good for the earth, #UNLITTER your organic waste instead.

Simple, sustainable steps can go a long way. By separating organic waste from solid waste and learning new ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle, we can pave a new road to reverse climate change and see our good intentions actually take hold.

#UNLITTER your life.

Additional Resources:

(Other articles)

Environmental Protection Agency information

Earth System Science Data- Copernicus Publications

Journal of Cleaner Production Volume 166, 10 November 2017, Pages 335-342 Evaluation of landfill gas emissions from municipal solid waste landfills for the life cycle analysis of waste-to-energy pathways: Uisung Lee, Jeongwoo Hong, Michael Wang

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