In a world that runs off the idea of limitless growth, the realities of nature’s limits call for a reassessment of our global waste stream. The impending consequences of our ever-growing ecological overshoot – the deficit between biologically productive land and ecological footprint globally – is driving countries, municipalities, cities and companies to re-assess the value of waste from a zero-value by-product of commerce to a potential resource stream. And, in the realm of waste management, composting can be particularly valuable from an environmental, economic and social perspective.
The environmental benefits of recycling organic waste are significant. The decomposition of food scraps and other organic waste in landfills generates methane, a greenhouse gas 72 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Meanwhile, composting reduces the uncontrolled emissions of methane and is a nutrient-rich organic fertilizer that improves the biological, chemical and physical characteristics of soil. It increases soil fertility, sequesters carbon, improves plant growth and water retention, reduces reliance on chemical pesticides and helps prevent nutrient runoff and erosion.
Research has also provided an increasing volume of evidence of the economic benefits of composting. Aside from methane, diverting organic waste from landfills also reduces waste disposal costs for individuals and municipalities alike. Not only that, it also creates green employment opportunities. Indeed, unlike linear disposal systems, composting produces a value-added product for multiple end markets, where jobs are sustained, new green enterprises supported, and resiliency of local economies strengthened. In Europe alone, assuming the 60 million tons/year of unprocessed municipal bio-waste could be collected and composted, up to 50,000 direct new direct jobs could be created. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) estimates that “on a per ton basis, composting alone sustains four times the number of jobs as landfill or incinerator disposal”. And, given the fact that one ton of organic waste can generate approximately 150 kWh of electricity and 600kg of natural fertilizer, this is material too valuable to be thrown away, literally.
While we are still wasting away nearly 95% of food scraps globally, a growing number of cities, communities and individuals are recognizing the value of organic waste. Local and regional governments around the world who are faced with the waste challenges from population growth and densification are starting to see composting as a key sustainability strategy to reduce climate impacts, improve soil vitality, create jobs and protect our health. So, let’s not wait any longer to “Make Compost Great Again”.
By David Albertani, R20 Program Director.