Composting is Great, Reducing Waste Output is Better
A thrifty friend used to point out that the savings at a store sale are misleading. While a shopper can save money on a marked down item, he would save even more if he refrained from purchasing it in the first place, since they probably do not actually need it. One is lured in by the promise of a lesser burden, in this case financial. This concept applies to the disposal process as well.
Composting is a process by which food scraps and other organic leftovers are added to a specially prepared soil so as to create a nutrient-rich mixture. This is a sustainable practice for several reasons.
- Composting lessens the amount of trash we produce, which ultimately ends up in a landfill. One can break this process down further: consider the reduced amount of air and noise pollution that would result from fewer garbage trucks traveling the roads, or the reduced number of garbage bags produced (and the environmental consequences of the manufacturing process therein).
- Composting is recycling at its maximum. This special soil often serves as the site for small gardens, or even larger scale agricultural purposes. Composting uses waste to produce something new by natural means. Even formal recycling, which is still a vital practice in which everyone should partake, requires a detailed mechanized process of breaking down and re-manufacturing the products in order to be redistributed.
- Composting instills a sense of community participation and teamwork. Its sites are often locally oriented. People feel like they are pitching in and doing their part both to help the earth as individuals and as group, and working toward a more sustainable future.
A recent New York Times article detailed the growth of the New York City school composting program, which started in 2012, and now includes more than two hundred schools. Again, this is a fantastic program and participants are confident that eventually public school composting will be city wide. The program does not encourage children to pursue healthier eating habits. The author of the article, Al Baker, quoted one school’s assistant principal who offered consolation by explaining that even though the children are not eating the healthy foods more, at least it’s not going to waste. Part of this sticky situation is a series of city health regulations that forbid the redistribution of foods once the packages have been opened, Baker clarifies. Therefore, when the children take the healthy foods on their trays and then do not eat them, it goes to composting instead of trash so this helps balance things out.
While this is true, composting offers us a buffer against wasteful lifestyles and slightly reduces the environmental consequences that would result. Rather, it is up to us not to depend on new practices as excuses for bad habits. We would be better off with a more successful attempt at getting children to eat healthy, or at the very least, not take the food on their trays if they absolutely will not eat it. The less we take, the less we dispose, which is a better practice regardless of the means of disposal.
We must be cautious not to be lulled into a false sense of accomplishment like when we buy store items on sale. I recently worked at a conservation society fundraiser where it was made known to the guests that food scraps would not be trashed, but composed, keeping with the organization’s philosophy. I was astounded by the amount of uneaten food that went into these receptacles. What was the cause of this? Of course, we as Westerners have been criticized by others, and rightly do not hesitate to criticize ourselves, for our overindulgence and lack of appreciation for the great gift that is a full belly three times per day. This seemed excessive, though. Could it be that people were less conflicted about not finishing their food because they knew that it would be composted and not trashed?
Fortunately, composting is probably here to stay. It offers us many opportunities and we should take advantage of them. The very fact that the concept is catching wind is indicative of the general trend in consciousness toward environmentally friendly behavior. But we must be cautious not to become too dependent on it, content to sit back and create waste knowing that somebody else will take care of the problem and turn negative impact into something positive and productive for us. Composting should be a calling card inviting us to take action on our own initiative.
Whether it’s burning fewer fossil fuels, recycling plastics, or finishing our vegetables, the path to sustainability lies not just in improved technologies or more efficient practices, but in responsible individual consumer decisions.
Franklin R. Halprin (@FHalprin) holds an MA in History & Environmental Politics from Rutgers University where he studied human-environmental relationships and settlement patterns in the nineteenth century Southwest. His research focuses on the influences of social and cultural factors on the development of environmental policy. Contact Franklin at staff@LawStreetMedia.com.
Featured image courtesy of [Ksd5 via Wikipedia]