By Eden Gallanter
You know how throwing things in the garbage is easy, but taking out the trash is something that nobody likes to do? Dealing with trash collection and disposal is a big endeavor, especially if you’re talking about an entire neighborhood or city. Trash has to be compacted and hauled to a landfill, where it often creates health and environmental hazards. Either that or it’s incinerated, releasing toxic chemicals and vast quantities of carbon emissions into the air. These disposal methods are costly and laborious affairs, but it has to be done. Trash is all the stuff that nobody wants, right?
Actually, a great deal of our trash is in high demand. What’s more, it can be taken off our hands at no cost whatsoever and made into something we can use, all with minimal effort on our part. This portion of our trash is any kind of organic matter: food scraps, paper, wood, plant materials, feathers, manure, etc. The natural processes of fungi, worms, and microbes will happily turn this unwanted waste into compost–something many people pay money for in order to enrich their gardens or farms.
Composting is not quite that easy. If you want to do it yourself, you’ll have to know a bit about what you’re doing. For example, animal matter (meat scraps, roadkill) can certainly be made into nutrient-rich soil, but decomposition will take longer than for plant matter, and will require higher temperatures. Compost is best piled in the open air with plenty of sunlight, have the right composition of green and brown material and should be turned over regularly to supply the microbes with oxygen. However, like many skills, once you know what you’re doing, the job is fairly easy.
The great news for folks living in the San Francisco Bay Area is that most counties have community-wide composting programs. If you put your organic waste into the green bins, the City will whisk it away and do all the work for you. San Francisco has an excellent urban compost program. Since 1996, the program has diverted 907,000 tons of organic waste from the landfill, using anaerobic microbe digestion to make it it into either compost or energy.
Says Melanie Nutter, the director of the San Francisco Department of the Environment, “We have the highest landfill diversion rate of any city in the nation, with 77 percent [waste diversion].” Also, since all organic matter is carbon-based, and we as a planet have an escalating problem with carbon-based greenhouse gasses, one of the other great things about composting is that it puts that carbon back into the soil, instead of releasing it into the atmosphere. San Francisco has, since the urban compost program’s inception, offset all carbon emissions from Bay Bridge traffic for two years.
So why go down that high-cost, high-impact, high-effort road of trashing everything you don’t want? Instead, you can let nature turn your waste into a healthier future for the planet.