THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE OF COMPOSTING AT HOME
Written by: Benjamin Anderson & Kai-Chieh Chen
254 million-tons of municipal solid waste are generated in the U.S. each year. Of that, 31.75 million tons is food waste. Food waste plays a huge role in the production of methane gas, 34% of all methane emissions come from landfills. (Kitchen Waste Composting) Food waste is a huge problem that most people don’t even think about and something that has, until recently, been hard and even impossible to accomplish, especially for people living in an urban setting. The food waste that we put into the trash can does not deteriorate for years, and most waste is in layers upon layers of plastic, not only making the breakdown process of the organic matter a toxic one, but also preventing it from happening in the first place. The result of food waste in a landfill is toxic gas, poisonous soil, and a real loss of opportunity to return to the earth what we took from it. (Effects of Landfill Pollutants)
WHAT IS COMPOSTING?
Composting is the breakdown of organic matter by organisms, insects and bacteria. The result of this process is soil, rich in nutrients called compost. It promotes plant growth and improves the structure of the soil by helping to neutralize levels of pH, and counteracting erosion. (EPA Link to “Composting at Home”)
TRADITIONAL COMPOSTING PROCESS
COMPOST PILE – There are several methods of creating compost, but certainly each has their own strengths and weaknesses. Some are more cost-effective than others, and some are free! Other options which are new and more advanced are more costly. Traditional methods of composting include constructing a compost pile somewhere near the perimeter of an urban area, typically a home and using a simple primitive framing to set-up a boundary. This can be done with wood timbers, or something as simple as a chicken wire. Organic matter is added to the pile and turned over regularly to be covered with soil. This not only prevents the invasion of creatures, but it also assists in the decomposition process. (How to make a compost pile)
EFFICIENT/CURRENT METHODS OF COMPOSTING
TUMBLING – Tumbling is the updated version of the compost pile. The compost “pile” is now a tumbler lifted off the ground and onto a rotating drum. This way the end user doesn’t have to manually get in the yard and use a shovel to till the soil, they can just go outside and spin the drum. This does take about 5-6 weeks to produce the nutrient rich end product but is also quite convenient for anyone who has the space to do so. (Link to Product Video SPIN-BIN)
VERMICOMPOSTING – If you are someone who is squeamish about worms and insects, this method is definitely not for you, since the entire process is based on vermin transforming organic waste into compost. Vermicomposting is fairly simple and can be done for free as long as the user has a container that they are willing to use to store their compost. (link to video) The catch with vermicomposting is that the user will be required to have a bin/container of soil in or outside their home and this soil MUST contain a fairly large number of worms. This method produces some of the most nutrient rich soil, but also has its drawbacks. The soil in the container must be constantly tilled so that the organic matter doesn’t reach the top. Another thing to be careful of is being conscious of how much compost/soil is in the bin at any given time. The compost is toxic to the worms, as it is their byproduct. The contents of the container have to be rotated/refreshed when the compost is complete. Most sources recommend dividing the bin in half and only using ½ at a time to add fresh organic matter. (More information on Vermicomposting)
INDOOR – The company Nature Mill has recently released a small indoor composting bin that not only runs by itself on $0.50 a month, and also holds the amount of organic waste that a family of 4-5 produces in about a week. (For demonstration video, click here) The turnaround time on this machine is about 10 days from beginning to end. There are two trays, one that is actively being composted by the machine and another that contains finished compost for household use. (i.e. plant soil, herb gardens) When the active tray is complete, the user pushes a button and it drops the completed product into the bottom tray, opening up the top tray once again to fill. There is never a time when you cannot use it because of the two tray system. This machine will also accept paper, as long as it is with other organic material.
This technology is very recent and has a long road of development and possibility.. The machines are small enough to fit on the counter and run at a sound level of 47db. It is possible that at some point this service would be offered on a large scale basis, as is the trash and recycling services in cities and towns. Apartments may eventually come with one of these units under the sink, or perhaps a large unit would be available on each floor for tenants to use.
KITCHENS OF THE FUTURE
FALTAZI – Faltazi Labs has introduced a prototype of a truly sustainable kitchen. This kitchen takes into consideration of solid waste, water waste and organic waste. The solid waste is sorted for recycling and processed to take up minimal space, the water waste is filtered and sent to seven different areas in the kitchen, (dishwasher, steam oven, herb garden etc…) and the organic waste is composted right under the counter and dispensed into bins. This kitchen is in development and seems to solve nearly every issue of kitchen waste! Perhaps soon we will start to see elements of this kitchen popping up! (FALTAZI’S “Kitchen of the Future”)
All of the methods have the same end result, giving back to the earth and saving waste from being put in a landfill. No matter the method, this is something to think about next time you put any organic waste in the garbage or down the disposal. (Composting, its only Natural!)