Ways you can help Mother Nature
ORGANIC WASTE MANAGEMENT—COMPOST
Compost is organic material that can be used as a soil to grow plants. Mature compost is a stable material with content called humus that is dark brown or black and has a soil-like, earthy smell. It is created by combining organic wastes (e.g., yard trimmings, food wastes, manures) in proper ratios into piles, rows, or vessels, then adding bulking agents (e.g., wood chips) as necessary to accelerate the breakdown of organic materials, and allowing the finished material to fully stabilize and mature through a curing process.
Natural composting, or biological decomposition, began with the first plants on earth and has been going on ever since. As vegetation falls to the ground, it slowly decays, providing minerals and nutrients needed for plants, animals, and micro-organisms. Mature compost, however, includes the production of high temperatures to destroy pathogens and weed seeds that natural decomposition does not destroy.
Frequently asked questions
Composting makes sense. Instead of sending organic matter to a landfill, it can be transformed into a useful additive which can even be sold.
How Do I Compost?
Composting is easy. Common materials like chicken wire, bricks, and buckets are all it takes to begin composting, which can be done either indoors or outdoors. Maintenance is not difficult either: regular mixing or turning and a little water can ensure success.
Why Not Put Yard Wastes in Landfills?
Since these materials are relatively clean and biodegradable, disposal in landfills may be unnecessary and wastes space. In addition, as yard wastes decompose in landfills, they generate methane gas and acidic leachate. Methane is a colorless, explosive greenhouse gas that is released as bacteria decompose organic materials in landfills. If methane is not controlled at a landfill, it can seep underground and into nearby buildings, where it has the potential to explode. Yard wastes also contribute to acidity that can make other waste constituents more mobile and therefore more toxic.
Why Not Burn Leaves and Other Yard Wastes?
Burning leaves and other yard wastes pollutes the air and can lead to uncontrolled fires. Leaf smoke can make breathing difficult for people who suffer from asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, or allergies.
Did You Know That Compost Can...
- Suppress plant diseases and pests.
- Help eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers.
- Promote higher yields of agricultural crops.
- Facilitate reforestation, wetlands restoration, and habitat revitalization efforts by amending contaminated, compacted, and marginal soils.
- Cost-effectively remediate soils contaminated by hazardous waste.
- Remove solids, oil, grease, and heavy metals from storm-water runoff.
- Capture and destroy 99.6 percent of industrial volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) in contaminated air.
- Provide cost savings of at least 50 percent over conventional soil, water, and air pollution remediation technologies, where applicable.
Compost enriches soils:
Compost has the ability to help regenerate poor soils. The composting process encourages the production of beneficial micro-organisms (mainly bacteria and fungi) which in turn break down organic matter to create humus. Humus—a rich nutrient-filled material—increases the nutrient content in soils and helps soils retain moisture. Finished compost can be applied to lawns and gardens to help condition the soil and replenish nutrients.
Compost helps cleanup (remediate) contaminated soil:
The composting process has been shown to absorb odors and treat semi-volatile and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including heating fuels, polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and explosives. It has also been shown to bind heavy metals and prevent them from migrating to water resources or being absorbed by plants. The compost process degrades and, in some cases, completely eliminates wood preservatives, pesticides, and both chlorinated and non-chlorinated hydrocarbons in contaminated soils.
Compost helps prevent pollution:
Composting organic materials that have been diverted from landfills ultimately avoids the production of methane and leachate formulation in the landfills. Compost has the ability to prevent pollutants in storm-water runoff from reaching surface water resources. Compost has also been shown to prevent erosion and silting on embankments parallel to creeks, lakes, and rivers, and prevents erosion and turf loss on roadsides, hillsides, playing fields, and golf courses.
Using compost offers economic benefits:
Using compost can reduce the need for water, fertilizers, and pesticides. It serves as a marketable commodity and is a low-cost alternative to standard landfill cover and artificial soil amendments. Composting also extends municipal landfill life by diverting organic materials from landfills and provides a less costly alternative to conventional methods of remediating (cleaning) contaminated soil.
What to compost—The IN List:
- Animal manure
- Cardboard rolls
- Clean paper
- Coffee grounds and filters
- Cotton rags
- Dryer and vacuum cleaner lint
- Fireplace ashes
- Fruits and vegetables
- Grass clippings
- Hair and fur
- Hay and straw
- Nut shells
- Shredded newspaper
- Tea bags
- Wood chips
- Wool rags
- Yard trimmings
What not to compost—The OUT List:
Black walnut tree leaves or twigs—Releases substances that might be harmful to plants
Coal or charcoal ash—Might contain substances harmful to plants
Diseased or insect-ridden plants—Diseases or insects might survive and be transferred back to other plants
Yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides—Might kill beneficial composting organisms
If the following substances are used, they must be covered with a layer of dirt. Otherwise they may create odor problems that can attract pests like flies and rodents:
Dairy products (e.g., butter, egg yolks, milk, sour cream, yogurt)
Fats, grease, lard, or oils, Meat or fish bones and scraps