Composting is a major aspect of any sustainable gardening or living system, including one that is Permaculture-based. This practice is a vital one, both from a waste management standpoint and a resource management standpoint. It decreases our reliance on fossil fuels, and it helps to conserve resources by providing natural fertilizer. This single practice could help to reduce the carbon footprint of an entire organization. Composting at an individual level is certainly important; but when more companies and organizations choose to compost, the positive impact to the environment could ultimately be astounding. Exploring the concept of composting is critical now and in the years to come.
How Composting Works
When compostable waste is stored in piles, the process of creating rich fertilizer begins. Once the waste matter is added to a pile, bacteria start to break it down – they also create heat and carbon dioxide as a result. In addition to the bacteria, other organisms (such as insects, worms, and slugs) feed off of the matter, too. Once the matter is digested, they produce their own waste matter that subsequently becomes fertilizer. When the materials in a compost pile are no longer recognizable as the items they originally were, typically after at least a few months, then the compost is ready to be used as fertilizer.
What is Compostable and What is Not
Knowing what to compost and what shouldn’t be composted is essential when devising a compost system. Many items may be added to a compost pile, including plant matter and even coffee grounds. Some paper can also be composted; shredded documents may safely be added to a compost pile, as can receipts, matte business cards, and envelopes (though the transparent windows should be removed first).
Some products should not be composted; they may attract unwanted pests if added to a pile, they could create a health risk for the humans and animals nearby, or they might negatively alter the moisture balance of a pile. Items that should not be composted include used personal care products, milk and meat products, cooking oil, and printed paper (such as the kind found in magazines). Sawdust should only be composted when it is chemical-free and if you know the source of the wood. Human or animal waste matter can be composted, but they are done a bit differently from the process described above. Thus, it is best to compost them separately.
The Benefits of Composting
One of the top reasons to compost is to reduce the amount of waste that goes into the local landfill. The matter that accumulates in a landfill increases greenhouse gas production, which is depleting the ozone, causing climate change and global warming, and causing rising sea levels. When landfill waste is incinerated, toxic ash and excessive carbon dioxide production are the results – and both of these things are bad for an ecosystem. Composting provides a better waste management strategy.
In addition to being a more efficient waste management method, composting also aids individuals and organizations in achieving optimal resource management. Creating fertilizer is simply more cost effective than buying it. This is especially true in places such as Svalbard, where products must be flown or shipped in from other places.
Composting is also good for the land itself. Compost helps to create soil that is dense in nutrients, and it can even neutralize the acidity level of the soil. This leads to higher quality fertilizer that helps to produce better plants overall.
The need has never been stronger to create more viable solutions for managing waste. This is why so many countries have made a significant effort to encourage composting whenever possible. We at Polar Permaculture compost as much as we can. With our worms, we can take organic waste and turn them into worm castings in just 2-3 weeks. This is then used as fertilizer to help us grow our produce to feed the town.