While most Americans are familiar with composting, many aren’t aware of the exact process or importance of the results. Two new reports were published by The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) , the State of Composting in the U.S.: What, Why, Where & How and Growing Local Fertility: A Guide to Community Composting, which detail the positive social and environmental benefits of composting.
Compost is made from the facilitated decomposition of organic materials , such as food scraps and yard trimmings. Compost adds organic matter and essential nutrients to the soil, which: improves plant growth, increases water retention, limits the need for chemical fertilizer, and reduces stormwater run-off and soil erosion. This enhanced soil structure and quality is imperative to support local food production.
The reports find that, 99 million acres (28% of all cropland) in the U.S. are eroding above soil tolerance rates; such that plant growth cannot be sustained. Brenda Platt, author of the two studies, says that "applying a meager half-inch" of compost to alleviate this problem, would require approximately 3 billion tons of compost. She emphasizes that "No organic scrap should be wasted" if the United States is to meet this overwhelming goal.
Compost is also important for protecting the climate. The process of composting signnificantly helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions by sequestering carbon in the soil, and reducing methane emissions in landfills by repurposing the previously disposed materials that would have produced methane in landfills.
However, the reports find that 71% of U.S. composting programs only accept yard trimmings. While food scrap collection is slowly growing, Nora Goldstein, contributor to report, points to lack of infrastructure as the cause of this gap. "We not only need more infrastructure to compost these materials, we need more infrastructure to manufacture high quality compost that our soils—and climate—desperately need," Goldstein says. The State of Composting in the U.S. report calls for a new national soils strategy for advancing composting, including new: policy, regulations, infrastructure, training, financial assistance, and progressive goals.
In the meantime, Platt argues that "The beauty of composting is that it can be small-scale, large- scale, and everything in between". The companion report, Growing Local Fertility: A Guide to Home Composting details the successes of community based "small scale" composting, that can be implemented in anticipation of the national soils strategy.
Both reports can be found on the ILSR website.
Learn about what CAW is doing to advance composting efforts: