According to the UN, if food waste were a country it’d be the third largest global greenhouse gas emitter. Around 1.3 billion tonnes of food are thrown away each year, representing 3.3 billion tonnes in annual carbon dioxide emissions (source). That’s a big problem on our hands.
So what should we do about it?
Where does composting come into the picture?
And what are the benefits of composting – for people and the planet?
Composting is the natural recycling and decomposing of organic materials.
Organic matter, like leaves, food scraps and even compostable packaging, are broken down by organisms to create a nutrient-rich fertiliser. This process turns what otherwise would be regarded as a waste product into an incredibly beneficial resource – for people and the planet.
You might be wondering why composting is important – can’t you just send your food waste to landfill and it does the same thing?
Well, not exactly.
A landfill environment doesn’t have light or oxygen, which interferes with the decomposing process. For this reason, when food waste winds up in landfill it emits methane, a greenhouse gas around 28 times more potent than CO2. These emissions contribute to trapping heat under the ozone layer and warming up the earth’s climate.
Not only that, decaying food waste in an anaerobic environment can create ‘leachate’ – a harmful liquid that leaches from landfills. If leachate is not properly collected and managed, it can leak into the groundwater and cause contamination.
But composting isn’t just important because it reduces environmental harm caused by food waste going to landfill – it can actually benefit soil, plants, people and the planet.
Creates a Nutrient-Rich Resource
Instead of contributing to landfill emissions, composted waste adds nutrients and beneficial microorganisms to the soil, reducing the need for chemical fertilisers. This can regenerate depleted soils and contribute to healthy plants.
Reduces Carbon Emissions
By composting food waste and other organics, methane emissions from landfill will be significantly reduced. Not only that, compost captures the carbon content of the organic waste it’s made of, and then stores this carbon in the ground when the compost is applied.
Creates Healthy Plants
Nutrient-rich compost can encourage thriving plant growth while naturally reducing plant diseases and warding off pests.
Healthy soils rich in organic matter can retain more water. This can ultimately help conserve water in the irrigation process, manage stormwater, and reduce the impact of drought.
Improves Agricultural Yields
Composting adds valuable nutrients to the soil, which in turn improves overall soil health and promotes higher yields of agricultural crops. It can also cut agricultural water and fertiliser costs.
Prevents Soil Erosion
Compost adds valuable nutrients to the soil, like nitrogen and phosphorus. This gives it the ability to hold more water and to grow healthier plants with deeper roots, making the soil less susceptible to erosion.
Compost can help aid reforestation, wetlands restoration and habitat revitalisation efforts by improving contaminated, compacted and marginal soils.
The cost of sending rotting waste to landfill can range between $45 – $105 per tonne in urban areas. A cost that can certainly add up when we consider Australia sends 1.3 billion tonnes of food waste to landfill every year. By composting food waste, we can reduce these costs.
In the agricultural sector, improved soil health through the application of compost means less money will be going toward expensive fertilisers and irrigation.
In 2020, the Australian Organics Recycling Association (AORA) published a report on the direct economic benefits of composting.
Here’s what they found:
There are very few disadvantages of composting.
Other than time and availability, there are very few downsides to this nutrient-rich and incredibly beneficial resource.
Compostable packaging is typically made from rapidly renewable, reclaimed, plant-based raw materials, giving it the ability to break down in a composting environment.
If the foodservice industry adopted certified compostable packaging, it would make organic waste collection easier as both food scraps and used packaging could go into one single bin. It also reduces conventional plastic contamination in the organic waste stream, ultimately reducing microplastics in compost.
That’s why we see composting as the best end-of-life option for the foodservice industry – it can help efficiently manage one of the largest portions of our waste: food scraps.
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