Composting is the process of mixing organic yard and kitchen waste in order to produce nutrient-rich humus to enrich the soil in your garden or flowerbed. You can compost using large piles of layered organic materials, small bins of shredded organic scraps or even red worms in a container in your basement. Many people are vaguely aware of the fact that composting is eco-friendly, but you may be surprised by how much composting benefits the environment.
Landfill Waste Reduction
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, compostable materials such as paper products, yard trimmings and food scraps made up over half of the 250 million tons of waste Americans sent to landfills in 2008. Composting a significant portion of these materials would drastically reduce the amount of waste that enters landfills each year. You can start reducing the amount of organic waste you put into your trash by just composting one type or waste (such as lawn clippings) until you're used to the composting process; gradually increase the amount of organic waste that you compost so eventually you're not putting materials into your trash can that don't need to be there.
Greenhouse Gas Reduction
According to DenverGov.org, organic waste in plastic-lined landfills produces greenhouse gases such as methane as it slowly decomposes anaerobically (without oxygen). These greenhouse gases may be an important contributing factor in global warming. By composting the organic yard and kitchen waste that you would normally throw in the trash, you're able to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that America's landfills produce. The aeration you provide for your compost when you mix the layers of organic materials helps provide air for the oxygen-loving bacteria in your compost to decompose it without producing these gases.
Composting enriches the physical and chemical properties of all types of soil, especially poor soil that has problems growing plants. When you add compost to your garden soil, it decreases the overall soil density, loosening the dirt and allowing it to absorb more water. This also slows down the effects of erosion by reducing the runoff of water during storms and floods. Additionally, finished compost contains nutrients--such as nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium--that plants need in order to grow well and stay healthy.
Composting absorbs odors and helps clean up damaged or polluted soil. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the composting process can degrade harmful materials such as volatile organic compounds (VOC) that are in materials like heating oils; these compounds can enter the soil and without composting they may vaporize, ultimately harming people when they inhale them. Just as important, the decomposition process that takes place during composting can destroy a range of other harmful soil pollutants such as wood preservatives and pesticides.