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Think about the last time you went on a hike to some picturesque lake or mountain. No matter where it was, you probably saw at least one piece of trash lying around. The trash certainly didn’t add to your experience; it was probably gross and out of place. The problem is that it’s hard to keep places clean when there is so much waste generated everyday.
A lot of this waste are products that were created by humans such as plastic. When plastic was first created, it was hailed as a wonder material that could be used for anything. It was only after hundreds of plastic products were created that people realized they didn’t know how to get rid of it. Luckily, with a new commitment to recycling people are starting to re-use many materials that are very hard to naturally degrade.
Often people forget that there is another type of waste we generate. Organic waste. This type of waste includes things like food, paper, and even some bio-plastics. Since they are organic, they all have the capability to decompose on their own. However, since they are often not disposed of correctly, they are currently taking up a lot of extra space on our earth.
The issue is more pressing than you might imagine. Our nation’s landfills are sorely overburdened and many are in desperate need of retrofitting. However, as a country we continue to produce more waste per capita (by far) than anyone else.
What you need to know
Turns out that there is a very easy way to reduce organic waste – composting! Disposing of your organic waste in a compost bin in your backyard is a great way to reduce how much trash you are throwing out each week. Microbes break down everything for you, and suddenly your waste becomes excellent fertilizer for your garden.
Here are a few considerations to keep in mind when establishing a compost bin:
First you must choose a location. Look for an area with good drainage and a good balance of sun and shade, so that the pile stays moist and doesn’t dry out. Choose a convenient spot so that you’ll be more likely to actually put in waste. If your neighbors don’t like it, plant some flowers or bushes around it.
Next, you have to get something to keep the compost in. Rotating compost bins are easy to find at stores such as Home Depot, or can be ordered online. If you don’t want to spend much money, make your own!
Finally, start filling your compost. Large organic waste should be broken up so that more surface area is exposed to the microbes. This waste should be layered with soil and fertilizer like a giant garden lasagna (with maybe some worms as a garnish).
If you have a rotating bin, it is easy to aerate the pile. If not, a pitchfork or other garden tool can be used to mix things up occasionally.
Composting is pretty incredible if you think about it. A pile of waste becomes valuable fertilizer for plants in your garden or around your house. Bins are easy to establish, and can turn into a fun project for the whole family.
When trees die, their biomass is considered ‘waste.’ Microbes degrade this waste into nutrients that can be used by plants for growth. It’s all part of a natural cycle where everything is re-used. When we don’t dispose of organic waste we are altering this cycle and causing problems for the environment.
With just a little bit of investment, we can do a better job of fitting ourselves into this cycle. However much we feel removed from nature, whether we like to admit it or not we are part of the world’s ecosystem. Limiting some of our negative impact on it will only result in positive feedback.
Think about it
34 million tons of food waste is generated in the US each year. That’s an astounding amount of uneaten broccoli. There is absolutely no reason this waste should sit in a landfill, when you could have it in your backyard turning into fertilizer.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to eat the brussels sprouts, but at least throw them in the compost after dinner.
by Tamara Perreault and Keith Heyde
Tamara and Keith are of Bowdoin College and Columbia University respectively. The two started a biotech and environmental consulting start up Abstract Algae over the summer of 2011. For more information, please contact Keith or Tamara at firstname.lastname@example.org.