I am often asked why people should compost.? My general answer has been because it is better for the environment and then I usually say something about how organic materials do not break down well in landfills.? My attempt to find a better answer to this great question led me to the book Garbage Land written by Elizabeth Royte.? I want to first disclose that while I made my way through the majority of the book, I was unable to finish it before it was due to return to the library.? I will however share with you what I was able to learn from my limited reading.? Care to hear?? Well, to get your mouth watering, your mind turning, and your hands eager to make change I present you with a brief (and by no means thorough) list of reasons WHY:
- Limited Space:? So, when your garbage leaves your possession–as it does with your neighbors and their neighbors…–it eventually makes it way (after a few stops) to a landfill.? Now the current system encourages the public towards an out of sight, out of mind approach to garbage.? Sanitation workers come by weekly to remove garbage from our presence and after that occurs we no longer have to think about it, and because we do not have to, we don’t.? For this reason we have no comprehension of the vast amount of garbage we individually and collectively create.? We have, as a group, become disconnected from the waste process. Let us try to get reconnected. To do so we must think.? 1.? If everyone produces as much or more waste as you do AND 2.? All that waste gets put in landfills AND 3.? We know that even organic matter will not break down in your lifetime or even in many lifetimes (The book goes over why organic material doesn’t break down in landfills.? It basically has to do with the vacuum that landfills create, keeping out oxygen, a necessary component of decomposition) AND 4.? There is a limited amount of land space then, what is going to happen?? We will run out of room and the out of sight, out of mind mentality will no longer be a possibility or our means of disposal will need to be more creative.? This leads me to the next reason….
- Poor neighborhoods get stuck (or are paid to get stuck with) the stink.? So, it turns out that not everyone has the luxury of not being impacted by garbage.? Once, it gets put in the bin and placed on the curb it becomes public property.? Yet, it does not become the burden of all.? It often becomes the burden of those already marginalized and/or in need of financial assistance.
- Large amount of gas is used as fuel-inefficient sanitation vehicles transport increasing amounts of material (garbage).
- Fossil fuels are used to make fertilizer when compost could be used.? 5.5 gallons/acre of land (p. 125)
- Organic material gets mixed with toxic material and goes from having the potential of being nutrient rich soil (see #4) to being polluted by toxic substances that are also being deposited in the landfill (such as, that bottle of nail polish remover you threw out).? In some cases, depending on the design of the landfill, apples have been found intact decades after finding a “resting place” in a landfill.
- AND….my contribution to The List…..the cycle of life.? This is not to be taken lightly, especially given the fact that it has existed since life on Earth began.? A perfect example of this is the Amazon Rainforest whose rich biodiversity depends on the “life –> death –> decomposition –> life” cycle.? (A side note:? the soil of the Amazon Rainforest independent of this cycle is actually not all that nutrient rich.? When parts of the Amazon Rainforest are clear cut for timber and/or cattle ranches within a few years the soil is becomes dry, depleted of nutrients, and thus no longer is able to produce much vegetation.)
There you have it.? A few reasons to begin composting your organic waste, as well as incentive to decrease the amount of overall waste you produce.
As for Garbage Land, I would definitely recommend giving this book a read.? Be aware (but not discouraged) that this is no easy book to process as it is packed with information–history, research, studies, interviews, book references, etc., but Royte does a applaudable job presenting it in an interesting manner.