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Turn Trash into Treasure: Start Composting 
United States residents produce a lot of waste. As of 2010, the USDA estimated our country’s annual food waste to be 30-40 percent. In addition to food, there is usable waste from lawn and landscaping maintenance. 

What if we could capture this waste instead and use it to reduce costs, build soils, prevent erosion, reduce pollution, teach science, conserve water, improve plants, and be healthier people?

Composting provides this solution. By following some general guidelines, most people can turn their organic waste into a valuable resource. 

The composting cycleReasons to compost
Now is the perfect time to begin composting. In Spring 2020, many people are spending more time at home, cooking, gardening, and looking for ways to be self-reliant. Composting offers a regenerative investment and, as mentioned, has numerous benefits.
Water Conservation:  Due to compost’s high humus concentration, compost acts as a binding agent, helping sandy soils hold water and permeate clay soils. In doing this, rain returns to the ground where plants benefit from moisture instead of running into the storm drain. Ultimately, this management of water eases flooding and erosion, which have far-reaching impacts.  

The Environment:  As the University of Tennessee’s Office of Sustainability succinctly puts it: “Composting helps divert organic matter from landfills. In landfills, organic matter can’t decompose properly because it’s covered under layers of trash; as a result, it produces methane gas as it decomposes, a potent greenhouse gas that is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Solid waste landfills are the single largest man-made source of methane gas in the United States. By trapping heat in the atmosphere, methane gas contributes to the greenhouse gas effect that is fueling global warming.”
Health:  The U.S. Compost Council states, “Compost is most well-known for its contribution to healthy and resilient plant growth. It has a number of complementary benefits to plant growth, among them that it balances soil density, adds and retains nutrients, and discourages disease, pests and weeds. Compost also improves the biological, chemical and structural health of soils. This helps both the plants that grow in that soil, as well as supporting the surrounding ecosystem of worms, bugs, microbes, and others.” Additionally, ongoing research supports that healthier plants and soil improves people’s immunity, mental health, and prevents disease. 

Science:  As a completely closed loop recycling process, compost allows scientific observation to trace the process of waste to something regenerative. Chemical, biological and physical processes offer numerous opportunities for learning and teaching. 
Cost Savings:  As the benefits listed above demonstrate, composting saves tax-payer money by diverting waste away from landfills and reducing damage to the environment. Further, composting aids in stormwater management and soil composition thereby saving money on management projects. Managing compost even provides low-cost benefits to both mental and physical health.

compost in garden
Choose your adventure

Outdoor (pile) Compost: This type of compost uses a ratio of carbon (brown) and nitrogen (green) materials to decompose both yard and food waste. It can be as involved or laid-back as you’d like. We've got detailed instructions right here, and here's a helpful diagram from Ijams Nature Center. 
Vermiculture (worm) Compost: Making compost is what red wriggler worms do best! In a one-square-foot container, one pound of worms can eat one pound of food waste. This system is ideal for households lacking yard access. The EPA has a great resource
Collect compost materials
For most compost methods, consider an intermediary vessel for collecting food scraps in the kitchen. This container is recommended to have sealing capabilities and be easily accessible while preparing food. If emptying these kitchen scraps often, the sink or countertop might be best. If waiting to compost the food waste, then consider placing the food scrap container in the freezer or refrigerator to slow decomposition.
commercial composter
If your household is producing a lot of food waste, or collecting food scraps for an off-site compost heap, an inexpensive five-gallon bucket with a sealing lid placed on a porch or near your outdoor trash is an ideal option to keep pests out and odors contained. 

For leaf, brush, and other yard debris, simply pile these materials near your compost or at your curbside for disposal through the City's Yard Waste Collection. Annually, Knoxville sends an average of 26,000 tons of brush and leaf material to be converted into mulch! 

For more ways to get started, below are Knoxville area resources. Additionally, the Tennessee Environmental Council provides resources and incentives for Knox County.  If you're interested in participating in or hosting future composting education opportunities, please email wramericorps2@knoxvilletn.gov.

Knoxville Area Resources:

 UT Knox County Extension Office 

UT Gardens - Resources & Occasional Composting Classes 
Keep Knoxville Beautiful - Composting: Heaps of Fun 

Beardsley Farm & CSA

Living Earth - Compost & Soils 

Hines Fine Soils - Compost & Soils 

Green Heron Compost Service 

Posted by ptravis On 06 May, 2020 at 12:52 PM