How Does Composting Work?
On average, American adults generate 210 million tons of solid waste trash each year. Approximately 27% (or 56 million tons) is recovered through recycling, while the rest is placed in landfills to decompose and rot. When organic solid waste decomposes, it releases harmful greenhouse gases into the air, which can produce a number of harmful effects on the environment.
Composting offers a simple and safe method of recycling organic solid waste, and it is an integral component of reducing household waste. Composting is inexpensive to do, and the result is a beneficial natural fertilizer that can be used for farming and gardening.
During the composting process, microorganisms break down organic material in the presence of oxygen to the point where it is able to be safely handled, stored, and applied in the environment. The finished product is a fertilizer that is rich in inorganic compounds, including potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen. The microorganisms are able to break down organic compounds via aerobic respiration, and in order to live and thrive, these microscopic organisms require access to oxygen and water.
For efficient composition, the following conditions for composting must be met:
- Regular Fresh Air – Your compost pile should, ideally, be turned every other day.
- Adequate Water – Your compost pile should be kept moist, but neither should it be soaking wet.
- Proper Carbon to Nitrogen Ratio – A compost pile should have a 50:50 mixture of brown materials (like cardboard and twigs) and green materials (such as fruit and vegetable peels and grass trimmings).
- Small Particles – Smaller particles are able to break down much more quickly, and large pieces of material should be broken down into smaller ones.
- Adequate Amounts of Soil – The microorganisms involved in the composting process need access to proper amounts of soil.
The powerhouse of your compost pile is bacteria. These are the microorganisms that break down plant matter and produce heat and carbon dioxide. Microbes are who generally begin the composting process, but as they consume compost materials, they raise the compost pile’s temperature, which attracts heat loving organisms. While it is brewing, compost piles can reach up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit in temperature.
Insects, worms, and slugs can also participate in the composting process by consuming decomposing matter and then excreting the finished compost. These excretions act to improve the texture of compost by transforming small particles into larger, flakey particles.
The Benefits of Composting
Composting is beneficial for the environment in that it reduces the amount of waste that is sent to landfills annually; however, it also offers a whole host of other benefits. For example, using compost in your garden will improve the soil’s structure and composition. Adding compost to your soil also adds humus proteins, which enable soil to resist compaction and improve its ability to retain nutrients and moisture – something that is especially important for drought prone regions.
Soil fertilized with compost has significantly higher levels of moisture retention when compared to non-fertilized soil. This enables homeowners to use less water in their gardens. When soil is better able to retain water, it increases the soil’s ability to resist compaction, which includes reducing runoff and erosion. According to data recently released by the EPA, a single acre can retain 16,000 gallons of water per 1% of organic material added to it. Healthy soil should contain roughly 5% organics. Subsequently, an acre of land, after the addition of compost, should be able to retain 80,000 gallons of water.
One of the lesser known benefits of using compost is that it enables plants to ward off disease. According to a study recently conducted by the University of Illinois, soil that is regularly treated with compost produces plants that incur fewer problems with pests. Compost works to control insects and diseases that could otherwise invade sterile soil.
The microorganisms that help break down the materials used in your compost are also capable of devolving other organic materials, like manure, pesticides, and plant residue. This prevents these materials from entering water sources where they would become pollutants. Not only is using compost beneficial to your plants, but also to the surrounding environment.
Want to start a compost area in your backyard? We done the research to help you find the best compost bins and tumblers.