By Fraser Perkins —
Landfill or Compost…does it matter?
Organic material, defined as the feces or remains of plants and animals, has one of three fates as it exits our households: sewer, landfill or compost heap. Leaving aside our sewer system, over which we have no individual control, is composting a better outcome than landfill?
The short answer is yes.
In a landfill, new material is dumped on existing material, resulting in compaction and deprivation of oxygen. Deprivation does not mean nothing happens. Microorganisms adapted to living in oxygen poor environments, called anaerobes, gradually break down organic material to methane CH4 and CO2 – in roughly a 50 -50 ratio. A molecule of methane traps up to 25 – 30 times the heat of a CO2 molecule. There is also nothing useful at the bottom of a landfill.
Composting is different. By exposing compost to oxygen, microorganisms, called aerobes, break down organic material to CO2 and carbon rich compost. While the CO2 produced enters the atmosphere and adds to existing CO2, the impact is far less than adding methane. In addition, the end of composting yields carbon-rich humus which when added to soil, stores carbon, holds moisture, stimulates plant growth and make soil easier to use.
Estimates vary but composting organic material may prevent 50% of CO2-equivalent greenhouse gas formation from disposal of household organic material. To speed composting, break up organic waste into smaller pieces.
The recently enacted mandatory composting requirement (Senate Bill 1383) is one way we can individually reduce our carbon footprint. Much more will be required to reverse Climate Change.