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Super Challenge: Boast About Compost Featured on Jun 13, 2008
Hit pay-dirt! For the next three months, compost your kitchen waste and yard clippings.
Composting part of your daily garbage will reduce methane emissions equal to 30 lbs of CO2 each month.
2080 people have reduced CO2 emissions by 86.91 tons by completing this challenge so far. That's equal to turning off the electricity of 102 homes for about 1 month!
Garbage. You make it. You keep it in a barrel outside for a while. And then you haul it to the curb so someone in a big truck can come take it away. That’s the way you used to think. But as a Rallyer, we bet you either know or suspect that garbage doesn’t just go away. In fact, garbage has a big, ugly (and naturally stinky) carbon footprint. You can shrink that footprint by shrinking what ends up in your trash barrel each week. Ask yourself, “How do I feel about making dirt?” If that sounds green to you, then we bet there’s a compost bin with your name on it.
The Carbon Connection
According to the EPA, the average American is responsible for creating and disposing of 4.6 pounds of solid waste each day. That’s about three-quarters of a ton of garbage per person each year or 251 million plus tons of garbage for the whole country. Most of that garbage — 138 million tons — ends up buried in landfills. The solid waste in landfills can be anything from broken up concrete to your neighbor’s old sofa and your bag of kitchen trash from three weeks ago.
You only have to think about a piece of rotting fruit to realize something important about organic matter — something than came from plants or animals. Organic matter biodegrades. Actually, it rots or decomposes. About half of the solid waste buried in landfills is some sort of organic matter, such as paper or wood or grass clippings. And even buried underground in a landfill, that material decomposes.
Technically speaking, the problem with rotting organic waste in landfills is all about methane, not carbon dioxide. When your pizza crusts and coffee grounds get buried in a landfill, they start to decompose. However, since they’re buried, the microorganisms that do all that work of decomposing the garbage do so without oxygen. A byproduct of that anaerobic activity is methane gas, the same as the natural gas used to heat your house or oven.
Unfortunately, that methane gas tends to leak out of the landfill and into Earth’s atmosphere. And, like carbon dioxide, methane is a greenhouse gas that can trap heat and drive up global temperatures. Worse yet, a methane molecule is much larger than a carbon dioxide molecule. According to the EPA, methane is 21 times more harmful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. That makes keeping methane out of the atmosphere very important.
One way to keep excess methane out of the atmosphere is to compost some of your solid waste. When you compost your kitchen waste and grass clippings, you are decreasing the amount of methane released into the atmosphere. As long as your compost is properly managed (for instance, mixed so that oxygen gets to all of the compost), you won’t be making any methane. Overall, the net gains for the atmosphere are pretty substantial. And, in case you need more reasons, there are CO2 savings associated with your town hauling less garbage around in trucks. Finally, compost eventually turns to fertilizer you can use to grow new green things that will take carbon dioxide out of the air. Pretty cool for rotting stuff.
Getting It Done
We’ll be the first to admit this, but this Challenge is a challenge. Starting to compost and sticking with it until you start to see results is a long-term commitment. It can be a monetary investment to set up a place to compost and it can be an investment of your time on a daily basis. However, as you can see from the numbers, this is a worthwhile change to make. Can you do it? Will you do it?
Need help meeting this Super Challenge? Here are a few simple suggestions:
- There are folks out there who know a lot more about composting than we do. So, go check out what they have to say at The Compost Guide and How to Compost. Both sites offer more than enough instruction to get you started composting.
- Check with your town’s public works department or the folks at the town landfill to see if the town is helping subsidize residents’ purchase of compost bins. Many towns sell their residents Earth Machine composters at a reduced price. Some towns will even bring them to your house. (The less garbage you send to the landfill, the longer the town can use the landfill and not need to find space for a new one.) The Earth Machine is made of recycled plastic and is an excellent size for most small families or individuals with yards.
- If you’re more of a “do it yourself” type, you might want to build your own compost bin. You can find plans for anything from a simple wood and chicken wire bin to simple ideas for turning a plastic storage tub into a worm composter.
- And don’t think that composting is only for those suburban folks with big yards and hungry raccoons. Even if you’re an apartment dweller, living in a highrise with a tiny patio, you can compost. If there’s enough room for flowers or plants, there’s enough room for you to make a small container composter like this one.
- Tend your compost so that you don’t undo the good you’re doing. If your compost smells like rotten eggs or ammonia, then you need to mix the pile to get it some air or add more woody material. A compost pile that smells may be releasing harmful greenhouse gases — and that’s what you’re wanting to avoid, isn’t it?
- If you have an in-sink disposal (e.g., In-sinkerator), composting will mean you’re sending less stuff down the drain. That will save electricity. It will save your town money to process your chopped up food when it finally reaches the waste water treatment plant. And it means you’re less likely to have your drain clogged by a build up of grease and potato.
Are any of you already composting? If so, share your experience with your fellow Rallyers in the Challenge Discussion section below.
Rules of the Challenge
This Super Challenge asks you to compost your kitchen waste and yard trimmings for the next 3 months. The methane you eliminate will have the same impact has eliminating 30 lbs of CO2 per month. If your garbage is coming from more than one person, you should make sure that other people in your household join Carbonrally and sign up for the Challenge, too. That way, you can see the total CO2 impact your household is having. This Super Challenge is repeatable after 3 months.
See the Math
Let’s look at what we do know. Here are our known or estimated numbers and assumptions:
- According to the EPA, the average American generates 4.6 pounds of solid waste each day.
- On average, Americans are recycling about 32% of their solid waste. So let’s apply that to the 4.6 pounds of daily waste per person and say that you now only send an average of 3.1 pounds of solid waste to the landfill each day.
- The first tricky part of the numbers has to do with the amount of methane produced by garbage buried in a landfill. The differences in the relative amounts of organic matter versus inorganic waste that gets buried in a landfill, how it gets buried, how the landfill is maintained, the size of the landfill, its age, the climate in which it is found, etc., all make arriving at this number difficult. We have seen numbers ranging from 91 to 123 pounds of methane produced per ton of buried solid waste. We’re going to use the low number. Mind you, that’s 91 pounds of methane produced per ton of mixed solid waste, which is what your landfill would be getting if you didn’t compost. If you compost, you remove the methane-creating parts of your garbage before it gets to the landfill.
- The global warming effect of methane is 21 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. We find the pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent of methane by multiplying pounds of methane by 21.
- The second tricky part of the numbers is due to the fact that some municipal landfills are now required by federal regulations to collect and burn methane formed underground. Whether the gas is trapped and burned as fuel or simply flared off, burning methane releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. But that isn’t as bad as allowing methane to leak into the atmosphere. Since we don’t know where your garbage is going and whether your landfill combusts its methane, we are adding a conservative “discount factor” that reduces the assumed pounds of methane produced by two-thirds. We do that by multiplying by 1/3.
Now put all that together to get the following equation:
- It all comes out to a savings of 1.0 pounds of CO2 equivalent per day or 30 pounds per month.
So, what do you say, Rallyers? Are you ready to take out less trash and dish up some dirt?
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