Whether it is the kitchen in your household kitchen or at the fanciest restaurant, the generation of food scraps is a common phenomenon. The peel of cucumber, the green leaves of cauliflower, or the outer covering of a banana, each of these food items generally don’t find any use and is often thrown in a dustbin.
Invariably the garbage from all the kitchen dustbins ends up in the landfills, polluting our natural ecosystem, generating harmful methane, and being a dark spectacle in the landscape.
Unfortunately, we don’t realize that these natural food waste items can become a valuable resource, not only for ourselves but also for society and, more importantly, for the ecology and fighting climate change.
Yes, food waste can be made into wealth through composting.
What is Composting
Composting is a natural process of decomposition that transforms organic waste materials into nutrient-rich materials. It involves the controlled breakdown of organic matter, such as food scraps, by microorganisms like insects, bacteria, and fungi. The outcome of the process is a dark, crumbly substance called compost, often called “black gold.”
Composting relies on the collaboration of different organisms and environmental conditions. These include the right mix of organic materials, moisture, oxygen, and temperature. When these factors are balanced, decomposition occurs, and the organic matter is gradually broken down into simpler compounds.
The process begins with collecting organic waste, such as kitchen scraps. These materials are layered in a compost bin, along with dry materials like leaves or straw. This mixture of “green” (nitrogen-rich) and “brown” (carbon-rich) materials provide the necessary carbon-to-nitrogen ratio for effective composting.
Over time, microorganisms and invertebrates, such as earthworms, ants, beetles, bacteria, and fungi, break down the organic matter. They consume and digest the materials, releasing carbon dioxide, heat, and moisture as byproducts. As the composting process progresses, the temperature inside the pile increases, facilitating faster decomposition. Regular turning or mixing of the pile helps aerate it, ensuring sufficient oxygen for the microorganisms to thrive.
During decomposition, the organic matter is transformed into humus, a stable and nutrient-rich substance that resembles soil. Humus benefits plant growth, improving soil structure, water retention, and nutrient availability. Once the composting process is complete, the resulting compost mixture can be used as a soil amendment in gardens, potted plants, landscaping, and agricultural applications.
Benefits of Composting
Composting is an environmentally friendly practice that offers numerous benefits and is an essential practice for several reasons:
1. Soil enrichment
Soil, the uppermost layer of the Earth’s crust, is a complex mixture of minerals, organic matter, water, air, and living organisms. Soil is symbiotic with the plant kingdom for exchanging water, nutrients, and stability.
With time, soil loses its nutrient-holding capacity due to erosion, acidification, crop removal, leaching, etc. To mitigate nutrient loss and maintain soil fertility, it is essential to incorporate compost, manure, or plant residues into the soil.
Compost contains three primary nutrients like, nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium which helps the growth of plants and trees. And putting compost into the soil reintroduces nutrients, microbes, and other beneficial composting organisms into the ground, which improves soil structure, fertility, and moisture-holding capacity.
2. Boost Plant Growth
Adding compost to the soil improves its quality and fertility and boosts plant growth. The enriched soil helps plants grow healthier and more robust, increasing yields in gardens, agriculture farms, and natural landscapes. The quality of plant products like fruits and vegetables grown in compost also tends to be higher.
3. Overall Waste Reduction
Massive landfills in cities and urban areas destroy natural ecosystems and habitats, displace native wildlife, and are an eyesore for any passerby.
Diverting fruit and vegetable scraps and other biodegradable household items into composting can significantly reduce the amount of trash you dispose of daily and what goes into landfills.
In a drone survey done in 2022, a landfill site in the Delhi region measures more than 70 acres, equivalent to more than 55 football fields. The garbage site, which is close to a densely populated Delhi suburb, is not only an unpleasant attraction but also poses serious health issues for the nearby residents.
4. Reduces Methane emissions
Suppose the waste is thrown in a landfill, where the garbage piles up layer by layer, the organic material in the lower layers does not break down due to insufficient oxygen. Due to anaerobic decomposition, the material releases harmful greenhouse gases, like methane, a potent greenhouse gas contributing to climate change. Therefore, Diverting the waste from landfills to a composting site helps reduce methane emissions.
Composting at home can cut out the carbon emissions made due to logistics and transportation by garbage truck to the landfill.
5. Carbon sequestration
Compost helps mitigate climate change by sequestering atmospheric carbon dioxide. Organic matter in compost is derived from plants that absorb carbon dioxide during their growth. When compost is added to the soil, it locks in carbon, reducing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
6. Sustainable agriculture
Natural compost can negate the need for artificial fertilizer and offers a natural and sustainable alternative to synthetic fertilizers. It reduces reliance on chemical inputs, minimizes the risk of water pollution from nutrient runoff, and fosters long-term soil fertility. Composting is essential to organic farming practices, helping maintain ecological balance and reduce environmental impacts.
7. Promotes Biodiversity
Healthy soil supports diverse plant and animal life, contributing to overall ecosystem resilience.
A diverse range of insects, like earthworms, beetles, ants, and larvae, rely on good soil conditions for their habitat, food sources, and ecological functions. Even other animals and birds thrive on healthy plants and trees.
8. Water conservation
Using compost improves the soil’s ability to retain water more effectively, which helps reduce water runoff, erosion, and the need for excessive irrigation. Compost in gardens and agriculture can minimize water usage, contributing to more sustainable water management.
9. Children’s Education
Encouraging and promoting composting systems at school educates children on the importance of reducing waste and living more sustainably. Children are becoming better aware of the soil system, nutrient recycling, and plant growth.
10. Reduces the need for artificial fertilizers
Chemical fertilizers are manufactured, shipped, and applied, which take time and money and produce carbon emissions since many fertilizers are made from nonrenewable petroleum products. Chemical fertilizers have also been found to harm the waterways when they are washed away after they are used on crops.
11. Builds Community
The composting also encourages community building, as collected compost from households can be added to city parks or community vegetable patches. Some communities also facilitate group composting, where members bring their kitchen waste to a shared location where it is done more efficiently.
Composting is vital in promoting sustainable waste management, improving soil health, promoting biodiversity, and mitigating the impact of climate change. It is a simple yet effective way for individuals, communities, and organizations to contribute to a healthier and more sustainable environment and promote a circular approach to managing resources. Doing composting can be a slow process, but it is an effort that is worth it.
Watch this video for some visual insights on the benefits of composting.