The United States throws away approximately 30-40 percent of its food supply annually, which contributes to methane gas production, but composting provides an alternative to throwing food in the garbage. Free use photo
Canning the food waste problem
In the United States, food waste is estimated at between 30-40 percent of the food supply — which comes out to approximately 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
Tons of food that could have helped feed people in need or been composted is instead sent to landfills, where it is quickly generated into methane, contributing to landfills being the third largest source of methane in the United States. According to the EPA, organic materials such as paper and paperboard, yard trimmings and food waste are the largest component of municipal solid waste. Paper and paperboard account for over 27 percent and yard trimmings and food waste accounts for another 28 percent.
This amount of waste has far-reaching impacts on food security, resource conservation and climate change, according to the USDA. But composting, the process of natural decomposition of organic materials, provides an alternative to tossing food waste in the garbage.
Composting has a variety of benefits. For example, compost enhances rainfall penetration, which reduces water runoff and soil erosion, according to the USDA. This, in turn, reduces sediment, nutrients and pesticide losses to streams by 75-95 percent. Compost also improves the soil and enhances beneficial microbes that help reduce plant diseases and pests.
Robbie Warner is the owner of Pilgrim Light Farm and composting is kind of his forte. According to Warner, composting is happening all around us whether we know it or not.
“Anytime you go into a park and you go down a walking trail and see beautiful plants and trees, it’s not there by mistake,” Warner said. “You don’t see shovels or wheelbarrows and hoses, because no one is tending to it, because composting is a natural process and a way that nature takes care of itself.”
Harnessing the beneficial aspects of composting, is where Warner says he comes in and it’s a good place to start for anyone that wants to reduce their food waste, greenhouse gas emissions and, in turn, enrich their soil.
Composting has two broad categories, aerobic and anaerobic. Aerobic composting happens when microorganisms that need air consume and decompose organic matter. Anaerobic composting happens when microorganisms that don’t need air to consume and decompose organic matter — it’s the smellier of the two. Most folks who compost though rely on aerobic, or above-ground decomposition. It’s the simplest method to start with because all it really requires is a pile of organic matter.
Warner says the real goal of composting though is compost tea. Compost tea has bacteria and microbes that produce secretions and enzymes that break down minerals and allow the plant to access those nutrients, according to Warner.
“Compost tea is the final product of compost, its putting compost in a liquid form, which is the only way a plant can take it up,” Warner said. “It’s full of microbes and bacteria. But what a lot of people don’t understand is there are a lot of things in the ground that the plant needs and wants but can’t get too, and that’s where the compost tea comes in.”
Warner will be hosting a free presentation on the basics of composting on May 22 at 6 p.m. at the San Marcos Public Library. He will also talk about vermiculture and vermicomposting, the process of using worms and microorganisms to convert food waste into compost.
Presentation attendees will be provided with a resource list with materials and books and have the opportunity to ask specific questions about composting. For more information on the presentation, call the San Marcos Public Library at 512-393-8200.