Composting: What are the Benefits?

Hope Elizabeth Darris is a Senior at Swarthmore College.  This article is based on her work in the class, Compost and Climate Change, taught by Professor Jennifer Pfluger.

Media Borough Council is considering how to expand the food compost pilot program borough-wide in 2021.  The discussion raises the question, what is the big deal about composting? 

As the program exists in Media currently, 220 households have food scraps, from pasta to fruits to coffee grounds, collected and composted by Kitchen Harvest, a compost farm located on the grounds of Linvilla Orchards. Since 2018, the Media food compost pilot program has diverted nearly 80 tons of food waste from the trash stream, creating nutrition-rich composted soil that can be worked back into the land for new food production.

But the really big deal is that those 220 Media residents are participating in a closed-loop system. A closed-loop system is when products or food scraps are continuously reused and repurposed. 

Instead of banana peels and apple cores being thrown in the garbage to end up in landfills or incinerators, those food scraps will undergo a carefully monitored composting process that will result in fully matured compost that can be used as a soil amendment. Food grown out of the soil—often locally—is repurposed into compost by a local business (Kitchen Harvest), contributing to the local economy, and used to grow more food. 

Continue to educate yourself on compost, climate change, and community-scale ways to mitigate greenhouse gas effects. For more information about the different scales/forms of composting and the science behind composting, read James McSweeney,  Community-Scale Composting Systems. To learn more about environmental racism and the work of Black community organizers, read Bartees Cox, “Why Black Americans Are Three Times More Likely to Die from Pollution.” Quartz, Quartz, 13 Mar. 2018 and watch United Shades of America: Toxic America Kamau Bell (2019). Learn from BIPOC environmentalists such as Hazel M. Johnson, Dolores Huerta, Robert Bullard, Madonna Thunder Hawk, and many more, and continue to work towards a safer, healthier world.

While the food waste program contributes to a closed-loop system and a stronger local economy, it is also a step towards community-scale waste reduction, and it addresses the inequities of local pollution. Composting reduces waste production – meaning less trash is sent to landfills and incinerators, and methane and other harmful emissions decline. In the U.S., the populations living closest to waste management facilities that pollute water and air and erode the quality of life are largely African-American (Media Borough’s trash is incinerated in Chester). Trash from neighboring communities, and sometimes other states, is treated in hazardous waste sites located next to Black and Brown peoples’ backyards. Grassroots organizations in these communities and larger groups like the NAACP and the Clean Air Council, fight for peoples’ right to breathe clean air, drink safe water, and are doing challenging, tireless work. Community-scale composting efforts that reduce waste sent to landfills/incinerators encourage residents to participate in a closed-loop system;  they are one small way to mitigate the toxic effects on those who live closest to them.

Beyond methane avoidance, composting is beneficial for individual and public health in other ways. Compost creates healthy soil that can produce healthy crops over many generations without getting depleted.  This means more nourishing food and greater food security for all. A local food compost program joins neighbors together, building stronger community ties and increased environmental awareness. Lastly, there is an element of joy that comes with creating compost. From the smell to the feel and look, holding a bucket of mature compost that was once your food scraps is incredibly rewarding. 

Borough Council will vote on this initiative at their December 17, 2020 meeting.  If the Media food compost program goes borough-wide in January, it is important to remember the myriad of reasons why composting is so important. If you would like to learn more about the Media Food Compost Program, check out the Media Borough website and E-Newsletter.