Composting is not just a great practice for diverting fall leaves and yard waste from the waste stream, but it also improves soil quality, helps to prevent erosion and has economic benefits as well. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance, along with BioCycle magazine, Coker Composting and Consulting, and the University of Washington, recently released a report that outlines the status of composting in the United States. The report, State of Composting in the U.S.: What, Why, Where & How, explores the environmental and economic benefits of composting, as well as offering recommendations for growing the compost industry.
The United States has 99 million acres of land which are eroding faster than they can be restored by natural processes. Not only does erosion lead to topsoil loss, but it also leaves behind soil that lacks the ability to store water and provide adequate nutrients to plants. Compost can rebuild depleted soils by replenishing nutrients and restoring the ability of the soil to hold water. Composting also provides 1,400 new jobs for every one million tons of organic material composted, compared to the only 120-220 jobs from disposal of the same organic material at landfills or incinerators.
Besides the need for composting, the report also looked at which materials are currently being accepted at composting facilities. Today, just over 70% of facilities accept yard trimmings only, while the remaining facilities accept yard trimmings plus a variety of other materials, such as food scraps, agricultural waste, animal manure, and biosolids from wastewater treatment. Food scrap composting especially presents an area for growth because nationwide less than 5% of food scraps are recovered from the waste stream.
Of the facilities currently in operation, 72% compost less than 5,000 tons of organic waste per year. The report states than in order to increase composting, the number and size of facilities needs to expand.
A lack of funding remains a major roadblock to creating an infrastructure for increased composting. In addition, regulations sometimes delay the development of facilities, especially those that wish to accept a broader range of organic materials. Regulatory change is coming, but slowly. Almost 20 states have recently revised their regulations, or are in the process of doing so.
In 2012, a total of 19,431,687 tons of organics were composted. While that number seems high, the report points out that to provide those 99 million eroding acres with just half an inch of compost a year, we would need 3 billion tons of compost. Because this number is so much higher, the report claims “no organic scrap should be wasted.”
For the full report, read State of Composting in the U.S.: What, Why, Where & How. For more information on composting, check out The Very Hungry Macroorganism and How to Compost.
Photo credit: © Mysticfalcon | iStock | Thinkstock