From Organic Waste to Garden Gold: How Composting Works
The greatest portion of our society’s waste is organic material that can be made into a useful product instead of being buried or burned.
We’re already composting thousands of tons of yard waste every year. Food waste – along with some paper – from schools, restaurants, grocery stores, etc. can be kept from our waste stream. Composting turns a problem into a product.
How Does it Work?
Composting is the biological breaking down of organic matter. When mixed with food scraps and yard waste, microbes and other organisms found in soil break down the organic matter into compost, water and carbon dioxide. The process can work as quickly as 3-6 days in a commercial in-vessel composter. For smaller composting operations such as those maintained for home gardens, composting can take 6 months or longer.
It takes thousands of years for the earth’s forces to build good soil. We can help do this in 5 – 10 years by adding compost to the soil.
The word "compost" comes from Latin "to put together." This is what we do when we compost; we put together the correct amounts of compostable materials to make a great soil amendment.
What can be composted?
- Food scraps from:
- grocery stores
- office cafeterias
- Yard clippings (already doing that)
- Paper such as napkins
- paper towels
- paper plates
- paper cups
- greasy pizza boxes
Up to 60% of large-scale compost can be paper.
- Metals? NO
- Glass? NO
- Plastics? NO (mostly)
Put The CARBON back in the SOIL, not in the AIR
When organic compounds (i.e., carbon-based) are buried in a landfill they are degraded (over a long period) in an anaerobic process to methane which seeps into the atmosphere. When burned, they are mostly released into the atmosphere as CO2.
If they are composted, some CO2 is released during the process, but the large bulk of the carbon compounds go into the soil. Complex carbohydrates and polysaccharides such as cellulose, feed useful critters in the soil as well as aerating it and holding moisture.
Compost can save you money by reducing what you spend on fertilizer or yard waste removal. Composting provides a way not only of reducing the amount of waste that needs to be disposed of, but also of converting it into a product that is useful for gardening, landscaping, or house plants.
What can be composted?
Large-scale composting usually produces temperatures of 150-160°F. These high temperatures kill disease-causing bacteria. In addition, common household contaminants such as pesticides, drugs, or cleaners are broken down or evaporated. Frederick County’s yard waste compost is regularly tested by an independent lab for any possible harmful components.