Here is some good-to-know information that reminds us why it is important to help protect the planet and that also highlights simple, effective steps we can all take to participate in environmental solutions.
Every day the world is becoming a smaller place. Pollution and other environmental concerns can negatively impact local environments and local economic engines, including tourism.
Now the good news. Anything we can do to reduce waste and reuse materials is very effective in protecting the planet. The fact is, all trash goes somewhere. If we take trash out of the equation by limiting waste and reusing materials, we help reduce the flow of materials sent to landfills and incinerators.
One of the most effective things we can do to reduce waste is to impact the marketplace with our consumer dollars. For example, we can avoid purchasing products that come in excessive packaging or packaging that is very difficult to recycle, such as Styrofoam.
Another good principle in the quest to reduce waste is to avoid over buying. It is a good environmental and economic goal is to purchase only what you need and get full use out of what you have. Many businesses, for example, reuse pallets from large deliveries. Many restaurants strategically purchase more durable glassware to reduce breakage. Thicker glasses cost more initially but help save money in the long run and reduce waste.
What about recycling? The moment of truth occurs when toss our discards in a specific bin.
Recycling saves trees and other resources, keeps items out of landfills and incinerators, helps protect our air and water, provides materials for manufacturing, and creates jobs. In fact, a study by a coalition of environmental, labor, and business organizations states that recycling creates 10 times more jobs than landfilling or incineration.
In the last 20 years people have learned that the environmental benefits achieved through urban compost collection programs can be even greater. Like recycling, composting keeps materials out of landfills and generates more jobs than landfilling or incineration. Compost collection programs for food scraps and plant cuttings also return nutrients to local farms, giving farmers a natural way to replenish their soils.
Compost is a soil amendment. Adding a layer of compost to farmland feeds the microbes in the soil and stimulates microbial activity. That supports soil health. Healthier soils help grow stronger, healthier plants.
Here is where the benefits multiply. Healthy plants are resistant to invasive insects and disease. Compost softens the soil and allows plant roots to travel farther through the soil and reach more nutrients.
The Rodale Institute, the oldest agricultural institute in the United States, has conducted side-by-side field trials and proven that we can grow 30 percent more food in times of drought by farming naturally with compost.
When cities establish an urban compost collection program and send food scraps back to farms in the form of finished compost, farmers can grow and sell more fruits and vegetables. In this way, city dwellers who participate in compost collection programs help produce healthy fruits and vegetables for family tables and neighborhood restaurants.
Robust plants also conduct more photosynthesis, the process by which plants take energy from the sun and grow. Through this process plants also transfer carbon from the atmosphere to the soil, where it belongs. Additionally, some farms and vineyards use compost made from food scraps collected in San Francisco to grow cover crops that sequester carbon in the soil. This process turns farms into carbon sinks.
That is tremendously important because we continue to engage in carbon-generating activities such as air transportation, which burns large amounts of jet fuel at high altitudes. Therefore, we need to take actions to offset our carbon-producing activities.
Quality compost also helps farms save water. That is because compost by weight is 50 percent humus. As you may know, humus is a natural sponge that both attracts and retains water. This is particularly important for regions around the world that suffer the double-whammy of higher temperatures and drought. That combination can kill the microbial colonies in topsoil. When that happens, deserts expand.
It is great news that many cities and universities are starting to replicate San Francisco’s compost collection program for food scraps and plant cuttings. It started as a test program in 1996 and became a formal program in 2001. City leaders took the next step in 2009 and made participation in San Francisco’s curbside recycling and compost collection programs mandatory for all properties.
Source reduction, reuse, recycling, and compost collection programs are part of a movement called Zero Waste. That means sending as little as possible, and eventually nothing, to landfills and incinerators. Many cities throughout the world are setting zero waste goals. As local zero waste groups increase they share environmental solutions (reduce, reuse, recycle, and compost) through social media, email, and face-to-face meetings at conferences. They advocate for establishing more compost facilities. There are 3,000 active landfills in the United States and fewer than 300 facilities that are permitted to compost food scraps. A typical landfill takes in far more tons per day than a typical compost facility.
So, we have an infrastructure problem. We need more compost facilities so more cities can institute curbside compost collection programs. Doing that will create opportunities for more people to send their food scraps to nearby farms in the form of finished compost. Doing so may be our best chance to slow climate change.
Had more people known all this 50 years ago, one would like to think we would have viewed trash very differently and would have more ardently strived to reduce waste and to compost. We cannot change the past, but we can alter our behavior now and going forward. Let’s plan, permit, and build more compost facilities.
Let’s create more opportunities for people to recycle and compost. Increasingly in San Francisco, businesses are replacing single trash cans with three-bin recycling stations that give employees and guests the opportunity to put their discards in the appropriate bin.
And let’s be sure to compost all coffee grounds. They are rich in carbon, nitrogen, and potassium. Coffee grounds are also small, which makes them immediately available to the microorganisms in compost. For these reasons and more coffee grounds are one of the very best materials to compost.
There are many other good points to be made. But I do not want to overstate the case. No doubt you recycled before seeing this article and, after reading it, will now recycle more consistently and attentively. Perhaps you will take steps to create more opportunities for people to recycle and compost at properties you help manage.
There is no waste in nature. Let’s try to model her good example.