One Man's Trash is Another Man's Pay Dirt
It is, unfortunately, society's nature to discard the unwanted or forgotten. This tendency is on display across the globe, from slums of mega-cities to undernourished children in rural villages to the ugly endangered creatures that never receive attention. Nowhere, however, is this tendency more apparent than in our trash. We accumulate so much unwanted stuff that each city-dweller throws away an average of 1.2 kilograms of municipal solid waste per day. An individual's trash puts all those unwanted items on display, whether it is an old love letter, a broken glass, or a half-eaten ham and cheese sandwich.
Pay Dirt, a new report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), outlines the benefits of that half-eaten sandwich. The report outlines the environmental and economic benefits of developing composting programs in Maryland. Composting is simply the decomposition of organic matter. It occurs naturally, but it can also be controlled and accelerated with human assistance. The end product — compost — has a variety of uses and is particularly valuable as a soil conditioner.
Economically, composting can provide a surprising number of jobs. Compost stays within the local community and thus prevents outsourcing of the associated jobs. On a per-ton basis, composting, including mulching and natural wood waste recycling, employs two times more workers than landfilling, and four times more workers than incineration. On a dollar-per-capital-investment basis, composting may sustain as many as three times more jobs than landfilling and 17 times more jobs than incineration. If the 1 million tons of organic matter currently wasted in Maryland were composted, almost 1400 jobs could be created.
Environmentally, composting can contribute at a variety of different scales. Backyard gardeners have long composted their own waste and then reintroduced the compost into their gardens, increasing soil productivity. At a larger scale, composting can help protect the Chesapeake Bay watershed — it reduces stormwater runoff by holding up to 20 times its weight in water; binds heavy metals, pesticides, herbicides, reducing their leachability and absorption by plants; when added to soil compost can reduce contamination by urban pollutants by 60-95 percent.
Composting also means less waste is sent to landfills and incinerators, which translates to reduced methane emissions from landfills and lower potentially dangerous fumes from incineration. In addition, because of its high water retention, compost helps prevent soil erosion, and is being used on steep roadway embankments and as part of the growing trend of green infrastructure, which includes green roofs, bioswales, rain gardens, and vegetated retaining walls. ILSR argues that composting offers Maryland the opportunity to become a leader in green infrastructure and provide a model for other states to follow.
Continue reading at Worldwatch Institute.
For more information, read the report Pay Dirt.
Compost image via Shutterstock.