Let’s Talk Trash

It is clear, and common sense tells us, that our present way of dealing with solid waste is unsustainable. We Americans produce anywhere from 2 to 5 pounds of waste per person per day. Let’s assume we are doing a decent job of recycling (and that the Chinese start to take our plastics again), and we are aware of what can go into the recycling stream. Despite our efforts, the percent of our trash that goes into the garbage truck headed for the landfill is huge. Generally, we recycle only about 30% of our trash. A significant percent — around 55% — of the material that is trucked away is organic (paper, yard debris, food scraps). All of this organic material could be composted.

OK. But why should we compost? Well, there are at least three good reasons:

  1. It will save our town money if this material is removed from the solid waste stream. Landfill space is limited; at present, there are two operating landfills in the state, and one is slated to close. Costs to our town for solid waste disposal are going to go up with time.
  2. Organic material in a landfill breaks down anaerobically (without oxygen). This produces methane, powerful greenhouse gas and contributor to climate change; it is 30 to 40 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. On the other hand, composting changes the chemistry and the type of microbes involved in the process from anaerobic to aerobic (with oxygen). Methane is not produced with aerobic breakdown.
  3. Compost, the net product of composting, has unique abilities to capture carbon, sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and therefore offsetting greenhouse gas emissions.  Studies done outside of San Francisco have shown that when a half-inch layer of compost (produced from food waste in the city) is spread in vineyards and orchards an amazing thing happens: one ton of this compost can sequester the equivalent of two-thirds of a ton of carbon dioxide annually. And this effect continues for many years.

So, perhaps you will decide to try composting. If so, what are your options? You could try composting in your backyard. You could compost yard debris as well as food scraps. Much information is available on the Internet about backyard composting. Usually, a bin is used, and it needs to be turned and watered periodically to keep the microbes that do all the work in a happy state. The addition of meat and dairy products could be problematic by causing odor and attracting critters.

To help you reap the benefits of composting, especially if you have little space or interest in backyard composting, we encourage you to consider Mr. Fox Composting Company (currently the only option available). Their drivers will pick up your food scraps from a large bin (that they provide) weekly or biweekly for a fee ($16 dollars a month for biweekly pickup). York Ready For 100% is offering a free kitchen counter-top bin to the first 50 households to sign up with Mr. Fox. You can do so easily online at To request a free countertop bin, send an email to [email protected]. An extra benefit: in spring, Mr. Fox will give you a free bag of compost to spread in your garden.

“Small acts multiplied by millions of people can transform the world” (Howard Zinn). Here is an opportunity to perform a small act in the fight to reverse climate change. Composting is an act that the climate change bible Drawdown rates as #60 of 100 measures to fight climate change.

Mac McAbee

[email protected]

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