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COMPOSTING ISSUES AND BENEFITS

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The process of decaying organic materials is referred to as composting. The components are subjected to degraded, wet, self-heating, and aerobic conditions to form a stable compound. Composting results in the stability of organic waste and the eradication of many plant and animal diseases.

History of composting

Animal dung, a raw form of compost, was first used in Ancient Egypt around 3,000 B.C. where it was scattered directly on the fields as a form of fertilizer for crops. Later, manure was combined with soiled stable straw and other garbage and allowed to stay in mounds until it was required. The rain kept the heaps moist and assisted the breakdown process, generating rich compost.

The Greeks and Romans realized the importance of compost to promote crop productivity and even used the warmth of decaying compost to grow summer vegetables in winter. Christian monasteries kept the skill of composting alive in Europe after the collapse of the Roman Empire, and by 1200 AD, compost was again being utilized by many farmers. Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were significant landowners during the late 1700s and early 1800s in the United States. When they were not concerned with matters of state, they spent much time pursuing novel agricultural practices, including trials with various composting processes and materials. 

As years of repeated harvests reduced the nutrients in the soil on the East Coast, the practice of composting became prevalent. This tendency persisted until the early 1900s when it was believed that 90 per cent of the fertilizer used in the United States originated from compost. That all changed in 1913 when a German business began creating synthetic nitrogen compounds, including fertilizers. These new chemical fertilizers could be generated less expensively than unpleasant animal dung and compost, and the farmyard compost pile quickly became a thing of the past. By 1950, it was estimated that barely 1 per cent of the fertilizer used in the United States was made from compost.

Composting’s Benefits and Drawbacks

Although composting offers several advantages, there are also some issues to consider.

Benefits

1.         Improvement on soil quality. When it is blended with other soil components, compost can boost the nutritional mix, which will likely translate into a better growth pattern for plants. Composting may thus be a good way of enhancing the environment for your plants while also getting rid of organic waste, especially if you have a garden. Compost will not only increase the nutritional mix in the soil; it will also boost the soil structure. Using compost, the soil mix will be better equipped to retain water, which is especially significant in hot summers as plants can live without watering much longer compared to soil not mixed with compost.

2.         An organic fertilizer. Another plus for compost is that it is a fully organic fertilizer. Since only organic food waste and other organic materials may be composted, the resulting product will equally be organic. Compared to traditional chemical fertilizers, organic ones don’t lead to soil and groundwater contamination. Moreover, traditional fertilizers are also manufactured using fossil fuels, which contributes to the release of greenhouse gasses and worsens global warming.

3.         Increased crop yield. The use of compost in gardening can also lead to considerably improved crop yields. Compost, which may be considered a type of fertilizer, can help plants develop better and increase agricultural harvests.

4.         Reduced waste: Most organic waste either end up in landfills where it contributes to soil contamination or is burnt, which releases greenhouse gasses. By composting organic food waste, the overall waste pileup is minimized and some could be used for horticultural purposes instead. Reduced waste also translates to a reduced cost in waste management.

5.         Kids Education: In addition to reducing the ecological footprint, the subject can sensitize the younger generation about environmental issues and the strategies for minimizing such. Composting better connects individuals with nature and for the youths, they are more likely to adapt those Eco-friendly qualities into adulthood.

Issues with Composting

Below are some issues to consider when composting:

1.         Requires additional resource investment. One downside to composting is that it requires a certain amount of time and energy in the beginning. For instance, you might need a composting container and other equipment to get started and while it is ongoing, there is a need for constant supervision.

2.         Offensive odour. Composting also typically generates unpleasant odours. Depending on the form of organic food waste, offensive odours might arise which might affect comfort at home or the neighbourhood.

3.         Increased Pest activities.    Another concern about composting is that it may attract rodents and pests to the area which have attendant health implications.  While most composts attract bugs that are quite innocuous, they might potentially attract snakes and some wild creatures to the area.

4.         Requires close supervision. Composting also needs some monitoring in order to obtain optimum results. Regulated temperatures, sunlight, humidity and other weather conditions are all parameters to be monitored. 

5.         Requires Patience.   Composting requires a lot of patience as it could take a significant amount of time for the food waste to be digested into usable compost. For instance, depending on the sort of input materials, the composting process might take from one month to one year until the organic matter has been entirely digested and is ready to be utilized as fertilizer or soil conditioner.

6.         Disease potentials. Since organic waste is digested through bacteria action in the composting process, they might contribute to the spread of diseases if there are lapses in the safety aspect.  Also, since rodents are prevalent in compost sites, not taking necessary precautions may come with communicable diseases.

How to Compost

1.         Choose your leftover food. Start with fruits and veggies – the skin of sweet potato, the top of a strawberry. Also, tea bags, coffee grinds, eggshells, old flowers, and even human hair are all compostable.

2.         Containerize the food scrap. When composting, kitchen waste should be part of a purposeful stacking process to speed up decomposition.  You may store the leftover foods in a bag in your freezer or behind the fridge to avoid odours and insects in the kitchen.

3.         Select the site to produce the compost.    For this phase, you have to consider the space you’re currently living in. If you don’t have a backyard but still want to compost, you can take the food scraps to a community garden or a compost pile that you share with neighbours.

4.         Make the compost mix. The greens and browns are the two most important colours in compost combinations. “Greens” are often food scraps, such as fruit and vegetable peelings, coffee grounds, or grass clippings. These add nitrogen – a vital factor for microbial development. Microorganisms are the actual heroes of this process; they undertake the heavy lifting of degradation. “Browns” are richer in carbon such as egg cartons, newspapers, dried leaves, and pine needles. It is advisable to tear up the paper items before placing them in your pile. A helpful thing to remember is that green materials are often moist, while brown materials are typically dry. When you’re layering, you want the dry browns on the bottom and the moist greens on the top.

5.         Wait and aerate.        How long do you have to wait for decomposition? If it’s hot, you could get there in two months quite easily, and if it’s cold, you could get there in six months. And for every component to go down, it could take a year. To keep things going, you’ll want to stir the pile, possibly using a stick or shovel. You have to make sure the air is moving and that it’s moist but not too soggy. In the end, the smell will tell you when the compost is ready.  A bad compost smells bad but a well-developed compost smells more like wood, or soil.

Compostable Items

Some items that can be composted are:

  • Fruits and vegetables.
  • Eggshells
  • Coffee grinds and filters
  • Tea bags
  • Nut shells
  • Shredded newspaper cardboard
  • Papers ttrimmings
  • Grass clippings
  • Houseplants
  • Hay with straw leaves
  • Sawdust
  • Wood chips
  • Rags made of cotton and wool
  • Hair and fur
  • Fireplace ashes

Countries with a commendable composting culture

The following countries have recycling and composting rates of 55% or higher, four of which are in Europe. They are Germany, South Korea, Austria, Slovenia, Belgium, and Taiwan. The six countries mentioned above have the highest recycling and composting rates in the world. Germany wins the award for recycling and composting with about 65 per cent of its waste being composted.  South Korea ranks second, responsible for composting 59 per cent of its garbage. Coming very close behind are Austria and Slovenia, who tie for third place with 58 per cent. 

Belgium and Taiwan round out the top environmentalist countries, each with a 55 per cent recycling and composting rate. Furthermore, Switzerland, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg receive honourable mentions for waste recycling and composting rates of 45 per cent.

References/Attribution:

“First human use of animal manure”  https://agrn.com.eg/en/what-is-compost/

“90% of the fertilizer used in the United States came from compost”

https://www.texasorganicsoil.com/blog/2015/8/12/the-history-of-compost

https://www.texasorganicsoil.com/blog/2015/8/12/the-history-of-compost

“countries that engages in Composting” https://blog.batchgeo.com/environmentally-friendly-countries/

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