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What is Composting? Discovering the Art of Turning Waste to Worth

Updated: Dec 4, 2023


What is composting and why is everyone talking about it? Discover why it’s key to circular living, sustainable waste disposal, and a flourishing future for our planet.

If you’ve ever found yourself asking the question, “What is composting?” you are not alone. Despite being one of the planet’s powerful resources for climate sustenance and stability, compost has often been misunderstood as nothing more than a pile of dirt, vegetable waste, and worms.


But in reality, it is so much more than that. In fact, the art of composting reveals one of the most easily accessible avenues into circular living and a greener future.


By diverting our food waste, yard waste, and even some packaging from landfills, we can blend art and science in a way that not only reduces waste but also enriches soil, promotes sustainable gardening, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.


In this blog, we’ll delve into the art and science of composting, exploring how you can transform waste into something worth its weight in earthy gold.


What Is Composting?


Compost is an organic recycling process that involves using decaying food scraps, plants, leaves, and other natural waste to produce a natural fertilizer that improves the earth’s biological, physical, and chemical properties.


Compost is created by combining decomposing food and plant waste, old twigs and leaves, and manure from livestock such as cows, horses, goats, chickens, and sheep.


Different types of composting use different waste profiles, but the principle is always the same. The resulting impact of this organic combination is a nutrient-rich natural fertilizer that improves soil structure and attracts a diverse range of bugs and insects that the planet needs in order to grow healthy, sustainable plant life. Compost is crucial for maintaining the vitality and biodiversity of the earth.


Compost vs Landfill: What Is The Difference?


When comparing compost vs landfill, the differences are immense.


Landfill

A landfill is a designated dumping site used for the disposal of waste materials. As consumerism runs rampant and the amount of discarded trash grows, landfills have become hazardous spaces that directly contribute to both human and environmental issues, such as pollution, habitat loss, greenhouse gas emissions, and the spread of diseases.


The concept of landfills as designated sites for waste disposal became more organized and formalized during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One of the earliest known landfill systems in the United States, for example, was established in Fresno, California, in 1885.


Landfills store mixed waste, including organic and inorganic materials, often in anaerobic conditions with limited oxygen. This anaerobic decomposition process generates methane gas, a potent greenhouse gas, through a process called methanogenesis. Methanogenesis is a crucial biological process that occurs in landfills, and it involves the production of methane gas as a metabolic byproduct of certain microorganisms called methanogens.


While landfills have been effective waste management tools in the past, they are becoming increasingly impacted by compostable items that are now contributing to methane emissions instead of creating useful soil amendments through composting.


Compost


Compost, on the other hand, is the completely natural process of recycling organic matter. Leaves, food scraps, and other bits of organic waste can be transformed into a rich soil fertilizer that promotes biodiversity and resilient crops and provides an alternative method for composting food waste.


Compost and landfill are polar opposites: landfill is a finite, unsustainable method of processing general waste, while compost is a circular, sustainable method of processing organic waste in a continuous cycle.


What Are The Benefits Of Composting?


Knowing why to compost is just as important as knowing what it is.


In order to understand more about different types of composting and why composting is good for the environment, let’s take a closer look at the benefits of composting and what makes this unique form of organic recycling so important for the health of our planet.


So, what is food composting meant to achieve?


1.Improves soil structure

The layers of organic matter that are created through composting contribute to a stronger soil structure that balances density and allows for more breathability within the earth. This makes it easier for plants to grow healthy roots.


2. Helps soil retain essential moisture and nutrients

The improved structure provided by composting also allows for better moisture retention within the soil. It prevents sandy soil crusting and facilitates better moisture penetration for plants, enhancing nutrient availability for them.


3. Enhances biodiversity

Compost is a rich source of essential microbes and nutrients that attract healthy bug life in and outside of the soil. Earthworms, for instance, are critical for a healthy ecosystem, and compost attracts them with its high nutrient density, improving the environment for all nearby creatures and critters.


4. Conserves water

By promoting better moisture retention in the earth, compost can help the planet conserve its water resources and disperse them more equally across large sections of land. This results in a more sustainable water consumption and management system.


5. Reduces the need for chemical fertilizers

Compost does everything and more that chemical fertilizers have been created to achieve. Except, unlike synthetic fertilizers, compost does not harm animals and insects, nor does it have a negative impact on natural ecosystems.


6. Reduces the impact of food waste

The more food scraps that get composted, the less organic waste gets dumped in landfills. Food waste is a growing problem around the world, but through the sustainable use of discarded organic products, like composting, we can use this form of trash to repair damaged ecosystems and bring back healthy, fertile soil.


How is compost created?


In all types of composting, microorganisms break down materials like food waste, yard waste, and other compostable products (such as Cruz Foam’s compostable packaging) in the presence of oxygen, generating heat and eventually producing humus (the dark soil you think of when picturing finished compost), which improves soil fertility and structure.


The Science Of Composting


Composting is a natural process. But with a little human intervention, we can optimize the benefits of composting. The key ingredients of successful composting are aptly described with the COMPOST acronym:


C: Carbon to Nitrogen ratio. The right mix of carbon (browns) and nitrogen (greens) is essential for a healthy compost. Browns are materials like dead leaves and newspaper. Greens are materials like food waste, coffee grounds, and tea bags. The optimal ratio for a healthy, productive compost is a 3:1 ratio of Carbon to Nitrogen.


O: Oxygen. Aeration is what allows the microbes to convert organic matter into compost.


M: Moisture. Adequate moisture is essential to keep the compost pile active. It should be as damp as a wrung-out sponge. Too dry, and the process slows down; too wet, and it becomes anaerobic, producing unpleasant odors.


P: Particle size. Varied particle sizes allow smaller pieces to degrade quickly, while larger pieces continue to provide structure and adequate airflow to the pile.


O: Odor. Finished humus should smell earthy but not putrid. Other odors can be a signal of an imbalance in a compost pile.


S: Site. A compost pile in the sun will produce finished compost faster as the solar rays will increase the temperature of the pile.


T: Temperature. Microbes generate heat as they break down materials. A well-maintained compost pile can reach temperatures of 130-160°F (54-71°C). This heat kills weed seeds and pathogens, leaving you with a safe and weed-free compost.


The Art of Composting

The way composting food waste contributes to a circular system is truly an artistry of ecological harmony. In the intricate dance of decomposition and regeneration, organic matter undergoes a meticulous transformation orchestrated by a consortium of microorganisms.


As plant and kitchen scraps break down into rich humus, the carbon and nitrogen cycles are seamlessly woven together, embodying the essence of circularity.


This process not only mitigates waste by diverting organic materials from landfills but also generates nutrient-rich compost that can be reintegrated into the soil, breathing new life into agricultural ecosystems.


Compost is the embodiment of nature’s cyclical wisdom, a sustainable masterpiece that exemplifies the reciprocity of all living organisms and the responsibility of stewardship we all share for our planet.


Conclusion


Composting food waste is just a way to manage waste; it’s a sustainable practice that combines the art of balancing materials and the science of microbial activity. By turning organic waste into a nutrient-rich soil conditioner, composting benefits both the environment and your garden.


It's an accessible and impactful step towards a greener and more sustainable future where waste is transformed into worth. So, roll up your sleeves, start a compost pile, and watch as your kitchen and yard waste turn into black gold for your garden. And, if you want to extend your environmental efforts to your business, talk to Cruz Foam about how our circular products can help you to make a difference.


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