Composting 101 – What It Is and Why It’s So Important
Why: Because fighting climate change is a priority in our personal and professional lives. We aspire to leave the smallest carbon footprint we can while helping our families, friends, customers, and city do the same. In the United States, 30–40% of organic material makes up the composition of landfills. This material does not break down into nutrients. Instead, it emits methane gas, an especially toxic heat-trapping greenhouse gas that is up to eighty times more potent than carbon dioxide. Municipal solid waste landfills are the third largest source of human-related methane emissions in our country.
The average Philadelphia household produces 20 pounds of organic waste a month. When you compost with us, you will likely generate 30-40% less trash. Our efforts also help the city of Philadelphia save money on its tipping fees and transportation costs by diverting significant amounts of organic materials from its trash collections.
Compost benefits the earth because it returns nutrients to the soil, is a natural fertilizer that improves soil aeration, controls erosion by creating good tilth, increases water retention when absorbed into loose or sandy soils, protects plant roots from sun and wind damage, and reduces soil diseases.
What: Our customers divert their non-meat food waste, paper, cardboard, yard and plant waste, coffee grounds and filters, among other items from landfills. When people ask, “what goes in the bucket,” I always say, “if it comes from the ground, it can go back into the ground.”
How: We make more than 90% of our organics collections via bicycles and deliver them to gardens and farms and gardens throughout the city.
We construct aerated static piles in bins from recycled wooden pallets. Organics are piled in and combined and covered with brown materials like leaves and woodchips to keep in heat and keep out pests. We add worms to some piles and insects will make their way through the materials to consume them. Microorganisms are the most important digesters, as their eating causes the piles to heat up and break down. They also excrete plant nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and magnesium. Temperatures can get up to 140 degrees, which kills pathogenic organisms and weed seeds. Piles are turned to open up new surface areas, bring outer layers into the center, and improve aeration. Insufficient aeration causes the aerobes to die and the decomposition process slows. The pile will also give off smelly gases like hydrogen sulfide, putrescine, and cadaverine. Equally important as aeration is moisture. Moisture keeps the process going and makes a hospitable environment for the microbes that are breaking down the materials in the pile. The equivalency of a wrung-out sponge is desirable.
After 4-12 weeks, the piles decrease to about half their size. The piles are now dark with a crumbly texture of nutritious “black gold” that can be added to soils to grow strong and healthy plants. Indeed, the circle of life for these materials is complete and they are now food for new organic materials. What was grown from the ground has returned to it.