Compost Like Our Climate Depends on It (Because it Does)

Kitchen counter top compost bin
Nationwide, food waste makes up almost 25% of everything we bury in landfills. Photo Credit: JulieK2 via Shutterstock

If nothing else, read this…

Searching for a small change that can have a big impact on our climate? Look no further. It’s time to start composting! Turning food scraps and other organic waste into clean, healthy compost helps prevent climate-damaging emissions from landfills and incinerators. And it improves soil health, which helps remove carbon from the atmosphere and prevent additional carbon emissions.

A Climate Solution Hiding in Plain Sight

Climate doom is real. Many of us worry that the fight against climate damage is a hopeless uphill battle against selfish corporations and dangerously slow-to-act governments. Broadscale solutions like enforceable targets for emissions reductions are already having an impact, but they can sometimes feel out of our hands. Technological fixes, like renewable energy generation, home heat pumps, and electric vehicles, are also effective. Although these advances are here to stay, they’re not always the most accessible or affordable.

But these climate solutions aren’t our only options. In fact, there’s a low-tech, cost-effective tool to fight climate damage waiting for us right now – in our kitchens, our backyards, and our curbsides. It’s a solution that has been around for millennia. And if we all took part, it would have the same impact as taking tens of millions of cars off the roads every year.

Yes, I’m talking about composting. Keeping food and other organic waste out of landfills and incinerators and using them to make clean, carbon-capturing fertilizers is one of our best options for slowing and reversing climate damage. And along the way, composting can help us save money and reduce our dependence on toxic, false solutions to our waste crisis.

Starve the Methane-Producing Beast

Landfills are the third largest source of methane emissions in the U.S. And there are more than 2,600 landfills across the country. Every single one of these landfills releases methane into the air 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that, altogether, these methane emissions are equivalent to 109.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. That’s the same as adding 23 million cars to the roads each year!

But these scary calculations don’t tell the whole story, as the Agency may be significantly underestimating landfill methane emissions. In fact, landfills might be releasing twice as much methane as the Agency estimates.

What’s to blame for all this methane? Food waste. Along with other organic materials like yard waste, paper, cardboard, and wood. When these materials break down in the absence of oxygen – for example, under an enormous mountain of trash – they release methane.

Nationwide, food waste makes up almost 25% of everything we bury in landfills. Combine that with all those other organic materials, and more than half of what the U.S. buries in landfills each year leads directly to the production and release of methane.

There’s only one way to prevent all these climate-damaging emissions: Keep food waste and other organics out of landfills (and incinerators, too). Where do we start? With food rescue programs! These programs take good, edible food (like funny looking produce that consumers fail to buy) that would otherwise go to waste and use it to feed people, especially those who are food insecure. The remaining food – scraps or anything rotten – should be composted.

Composting helps create the ideal environment for bacteria and fungi to break down organic materials without producing methane. Even better, the result of the clean composting process is a natural fertilizer (compost) that can help boost soil health.

Healthy Soils Fight Climate Damage

The climate benefits of composting are about more than just avoiding methane emissions. The food we keep out of landfills and instead turn into clean compost? It continues to protect our climate years later by capturing and removing carbon from the atmosphere.

How exactly does compost pull off this feat? Through two important carbon-storing pathways. First, all that organic matter – your vegetable scraps, the piles of leaves from your yard, the sandwich that your toddler wants to mash into a ball but not actually eat – contains a lot of carbon. Unlike incinerators and landfills, which release that carbon into the atmosphere, composting retains much of that carbon in the finished compost left at the end of the process. Add that compost to our soils, and voila, you’ve stored carbon in the ground rather than releasing it into the atmosphere.

The second pathway emerges as compost is spread on top of and mixed in with existing soil. Remember, compost is a natural fertilizer. And what do fertilizers do? Boost plant growth. Compost helps crops, trees, grasses, shrubs, and backyard vegetables grow faster, bigger, and healthier. That allows those plants to pull more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere than they would without the compost-based turbo boost.

But wait, it doesn’t end there! There are even more climate benefits to composting. Because compost boosts plant growth, it can replace synthetic chemical fertilizers. The manufacture, transport, and application of synthetic fertilizers all have a massive negative impact on our climate.

On top of all that, by keeping soil healthy, compost can help avoid carbon emissions that come from soil as it degrades. Compost wins again!

It’s Easier Than Ever to Use Food Scraps to Protect Our Environment

The compost story doesn’t end with fighting climate damage. Composting can also protect our rivers, lakes, and oceans by preventing stormwater runoff. And it creates good, local jobs – more than twice as many jobs as landfills, and more than four times as many jobs as incinerators.

Backyard composting, curbside composting services, and town and city food scrap collection programs are cheaper and more accessible than ever before. Find the option that’s best for you and get started today. And urge your state legislators to push for food waste prevention legislation that will keep organic waste out of landfills and incinerators and help support composting infrastructure.

Just Zero is working across the country to help make this composting vision a reality. Sign up for our emails today to stay in the loop on all things composting and Zero Waste!

Join the Movement

Scroll to Top