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Your First Garden: The Surprising (And Best) Reason to Start Composting

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Your First Garden: The Surprising (And Best) Reason to Start Composting

August 15, 2019

Last week, my husband said to me, “We should start composting.”

What I heard instead: “Why aren’t you composting? If you really care about gardening, shouldn’t you compost? Are you lazy? An imposter? A hypocrite?”

Cue a long, defensive, and slightly hysterical response. To be fair (to myself), I have a history of accurately reading between the lines when it comes to my husband, but this time, I definitely overreacted.

I obviously have issues when it comes to composting. I know it’s the right thing to do—who can quibble with turning waste into a free soil conditioner?—but I’ve heard too many stories of composting gone bad (often involving vermin and stench) to commit to it—until now, that is. My husband gave me one super-compelling reason that I’d never thought of before: It’s better for the environment.

A Joraform Compost Tumbler, left, makes it easier to compost. Photograph by Jonathan Hökklo, from Sustainable Solutions: A Modern Garden for a Historic Townhouse in Brooklyn.
Above: A Joraform Compost Tumbler, left, makes it easier to compost. Photograph by Jonathan Hökklo, from Sustainable Solutions: A Modern Garden for a Historic Townhouse in Brooklyn.

I’d always assumed that our food scraps that end up at the landfill would eventually naturally decay and return to the soil, so to speak. Problem is, most food scraps, stuck inside garbage bags, don’t get the oxygen necessary to degrade, and what happens instead—anaerobic (without oxygen) decomposition—produces methane, a major contributor to global warming. And what happens when landfill waste gets incinerated? It produces carbon dioxide, another major player in global warming.

Given that, according to the EPA, 30 percent of food and yard waste in the US ends up at the landfill, we should all be doing our part to keep organic matter out of landfills—and composting is the best way to do this. Composting food scraps and yard waste not only saves them from a terrible, greenhouse-gas-producing death at the landfill, but also gives them new life as a soil conditioner. Win, win.

N.B.: Featured photograph by Daniel Dent for Remodelista, from A Berkeley Kitchen Tour with Alice Waters and Fanny Singer.

To learn how to start composting, see Hardscaping 101: Composting Systems. And be sure to read these stories as well:

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