First there was garbage collection, then there was recycling, and now there is compost. A fast and easy way to contribute to sustainable development, composting is the act of accumulating decomposed organic matter separately from the garbage we send to the landfill.
It comes in many forms and is undertaken in many ways, from curbside collection to the backyard, where the compost can be a key addition to a vibrant garden. Indeed, it is an efficient way of rehabilitating soil, the very basis of sound agricultural practices. In many civilizations, of course, poor soil quality led to significant food shortages. The idea, then, is to avoid repeating the same mistakes.
Compost, or humus, is rich in nutrients and microbiological life. Where soils are compacted or dried out, as they often are in urban areas, adding compost to soil can be beneficial in many ways. To name a few, soil structure improves, moisture is retained, pH is neutralized, and fertilization is activated. Compost can breathe new life, so to speak, into struggling organic compounds. Dried out cityscapes could certainly benefit from this, frail parks and neglected gardens to name a few.
Essentially, the process of composting involves combining nitrogen-rich and carbon-based materials, such as cut green grass and dead leaves, respectively. The mixture of the two substances becomes a breeding ground for literally millions of different organisms including bacteria, fungi and arthropods. The ensuing process through which organic matters are consumed yields nutrient-rich soil, ripe for fertilizing. In some cases, the process may also reduce the number of pesticides present. Indeed, a win-win situation.
Most importantly, composting keeps organic material out of garbage cans whose contents end up in municipal landfills. Literally millions of tonnes of organics are dumped into garbage dumps every year where they decompose into volatile substances such as methane, a major source of greenhouse gas. Of course, moving all this matter by way of great big garbage trucks consumes tremendous amounts of oil and gas, while the natural world is robbed of valuable nutrients.
This is where communities and not just individuals can step in. It is one thing to build a compost heap in your backyard, but composting is most effective when communities mobilize to establish municipal-wide composting programs. In some cases, programs are so well developed that trucks pick up compost curbside on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. While an excellent solution, initiatives of this kind require substantial public and sometimes private-sector investment.
Until such a time as the funds are allocated and logistics worked out, communities can act together, independently of the authorities, by locating composting sites in the neighbourhood, accessible to as many as possible, where compost can be dropped off and soil can be produced: a project to be managed by you and your neighbours alike.