With food waste being a considerable contributor to climate change, composting is one important way we can each make an impact by keeping our food out of the landfill. Below, we answer some of the most common questions we’ve received about composting.
Why should I compost?
In the United States, between 30 to 40% of our food supply is food waste, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s about 133 billion pounds of food per year.
It’s hard to imagine there’s that much food waste in the U.S. alone, especially considering food insecurity is a very real problem impacting more than 34 million people across the country, including 9 million children.
That much food waste is also straining our resources. “When food is wasted, so too is the land, water, labor, energy, and other inputs that are used in producing, processing, transporting, preparing, storing, and disposing of the discarded food,” says the USDA.
Food waste impacts our environment as a driving contributor to climate change. In the U.S., food is the largest category of material placed in municipal landfills, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA reports that municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the United States, accounting for approximately 14.3% of these emissions in 2021.
The methane emissions from MSW landfills in 2021 were approximately equivalent to the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from nearly 23.1 million gasoline-powered passenger vehicles driven for one year or the CO2 emissions from nearly 13.1 million homes’ energy use for one year.
When food breaks down in landfills, it emits methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas at least 28 times more damaging to our atmosphere than carbon dioxide. That’s due to the anaerobic conditions (i.e., lacking oxygen) of the landfill, so “methane-producing bacteria begin to decompose the waste and generate methane,” per the EPA.
To learn more about food waste and its impact on the environment, visit the following resources:
Further with Food (Center for Food Loss and Waste Solutions)
When we compost, we keep our food waste out of the landfills, helping to decrease the levels of methane gas being released into our atmosphere and, as a result, reducing our environmental impact.
How can I start composting?
There are a few different organizations that will take your food waste and compost it for you. Note that commercial composting services have restrictions about what can and cannot be accepted. What each organization will accept as compostable material varies. Be sure to check their websites, linked below, for specifics.
Black Bear Composting is an organics recycling company that services the Charlottesville area. Just like any other recycling service, they provide you with a bin and collect the contents from your curb on a regular schedule. Once a year, members can receive free finished compost.
The City Market Composting Booth (operated by the City of Charlottesville in partnership with Black Bear Composting) serves as a drop-off location for compostable materials from April through October.
You can compost in your own backyard! Here are some helpful resources on getting started with composting at home:
Backyard Composting Guide from the City of Charlottesville
Composting at Home Guide from the EPA
Composting 101 from Eco-Cycle
Your Guide to Backyard Composting from Going Zero Waste
There are also companies and products that make composting easier. We’ve listed our favorites below.
We recommend Subpod, a compost system, worm farm, and self-fertilizing garden bed that speeds up the process, turning your food waste into compost faster.
Also, check out KENKASHI, a local, family-owned company that offers a countertop bin for storing your scraps with a special design to eliminate odor. They also provide natural probiotic brews that help improve the health of your compost and soil.
At Dogwood Refillery, we carry products that make composting more convenient, whether you choose to compost at home or use a service:
Trash Liners (for collecting materials)
A number of our items can also be composted after use. Some of our favorites are:
What can I compost? And what can I use finished compost for?
If you’re composting with one of the organizations listed above, be sure to follow their guidelines about what can and cannot be composted there.
There are differences in what can be composted at home vs. what can be composted by a commercial service. That’s because at-home composting bins or piles do not typically reach high enough temperatures to decompose certain items, but commercial operations can manage them.
When composting, it’s important to maintain a balance of “greens” (nitrogen-rich material) and “browns” (carbon-rich material). See below for some common items you can add to your at-home compost bin.
Food and vegetable scraps (Avoid meat, fish, bones, greasy foods, and dairy products)
Grass clippings and yard trim (Avoid aggressive weeds, pet waste, and diseased plants)
Shredded computer paper
Shredded brown bags
Shredded cardboard (Avoid cardboard with wax coating, tape, or glue)
Once you have finished compost, you can use it like a soil amendment or mulch. Add it to your flowers, vegetables, and other plants, or around shrubs and trees. You can mix it with potting soil for indoor and container plants. Learn more about finished compost here.
Laura Drummond, a sustainability-focused freelance writer based in Charlottesville, is our blog contributor.