Fast Facts

Composting, Landfills & Global Warming

Composting food waste and organic yard debris reduce the serious landfill challenges facing the US today. Not only are landfills leading contributors to global warming (landfills emit large amounts of methane gas), they also pollute groundwater, waste precious resources, require a great deal of energy to manage, and discourage recycling, reuse, and composting.

In our society, we often make it easier to throw things away rather than reuse or recycle them. The average American tosses away 4.5 pounds of trash per day, adding to the grand total of more than 236 million tons of refuse the US accumulates per year. Of that amount, approximately 25 percent is composed nearly equally of food scraps and yard debris, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. These are the very materials which, once in the landfills, produce ozone-damaging methane, a greenhouse gas that is twenty-one times more potent than carbon dioxide, another global-warming threat. But these organic materials can also be turned into rich, life-supporting compost. Whether you live in an apartment, in a home with a backyard, or on a farm, you can help reduce the emission of damaging greenhouse gases by composting.

Composting decomposes organic materials, such as food scraps and lawn and garden debris (e.g., Grass Cuttings, leaves, weeds, pine needles) with microorganisms (e.g., bacteria and fungi) and transforms into a dark, humus-like substance. The benefits of composting go far beyond keeping millions of tons of waste out of our landfills. Compost is an ideal medium for growing fruits and vegetables, flowers, shrubs, and trees. Because it is a rich source of nutrients, use of compost significantly reduces or eliminates the need for fertilizer. Compost improves soil texture and its ability to hold onto moisture, thus protecting against drought. Compost also helps control erosion and weed growth, and acts as a protective barrier against toxins in the soil.