Landfilling organic waste contributes to global warming. Organic material does not decompose in the dark, low-oxygen conditions of landfills. Instead, it degrades in a way that produces methane – a greenhouse gas around 56 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.
Landfills are the third-largest source of methane emissions in the U.S., responsible for 18 percent of total methane emissions. Globally, greenhouse gas emissions from waste have nearly doubled since 1970 and are now responsible for 3 percent of all human-made greenhouse gas emissions. In 2017, landfills emitted methane equivalent to 108 million metric tons of carbon dioxide – more than the total emissions of 34 individual states in 2016.
In the United States, 4.6 tons of cropland soil per acre are eroded annually, more than nine times the natural rate of replacement. The application of compost can reduce soil loss by 86 percent, bringing this system back into equilibrium.
Unlike landfilling, composting organic material helps plants and microorganisms to grow and actually pulls carbon out of the atmosphere. One model found that applying compost to 50 percent of California’s land used for grazing could sequester the amount of carbon currently emitted by California’s homes and businesses through increased soil and microbe activity.
Americans landfilled or incinerated over 50 million tons of compostable waste in 2015. That is enough to fill a line of fully-loaded 18-wheelers, stretching from New York City to Los Angeles ten times. This unnecessary addition of waste to landfills contributes to their constant growth.
Composting could reduce the amount of trash sent to landfills and incinerators in the U.S. by at least 30 percent, slowing down the incessant growth of this blight on our landscape.
I’ve wanted to compost for so long, but I’ve just never lived in a place where it was logistically possible. Now that I can do it, I’m obsessed. I’m so excited about all the things I’m not throwing away! Every time I’m cooking I’m like ha! No trash can for you carrot tops! Big fan.
-Lily, Residential Member
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