Composting is Carbon Sequestration…in Your Backyard!

Is it too lofty to consider our backyards as carbon sinks? How can we increase the capacity of our own little patch of ground to sequester carbon and cycle nutrients in a way that is more imitative of ecological processes? We can through composting, and we don’t need to look too much farther past our own kitchen. Just like food nourishes our body, our food “waste” can nourish the soil.

The EPA estimates that approximately one-third of the solid waste stream is actually compostable. When food waste goes to a landfill, it decomposes in an environment devoid of oxygen and releases methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

On the other hand, organic waste material in a simple compost pile is exposed to the air and unrestricted by the tightly compacted layers of a landfill. It decomposes aerobically and can become a rich soil amendment. The end product of compost returns nutrients in food and yard waste to the earth, where they can feed plants and soil microbes to build healthy soil. Healthy soil is full of life, and in turn, full of carbon.

Curious to give composting a try?

Home composting need not be complicated, messy, or odorous. It need not require much space or specialized training. In fact, it is quite forgiving. You can build a bin or two, or leave it as a pile. It’s really up to you. Follow a few basic guidelines, and you’ll be storing soil carbon like a pro!

Composting your organic waste will depend on a balance of 4 main inputs.

  • water
  • oxygen
  • “greens”
  • “browns”

Greens tend to be moist and make up a majority of your food waste – things like coffee grounds and fruit and vegetable peels. Browns tend to be dry materials – things like leaves, straw, newspaper, and woody yard waste. In general, the Goldilocks approach should help you to balance the input of materials so that the pile is not too wet or too dry, but just right.

What should you leave out of your compost?

It is typically recommended to leave out meat, dairy, and very oily food waste to reduce the risk of attracting pests.

What else do you have to do?

Microorganisms will do most of the heavy lifting. They need oxygen to do their job, so remember to give them a breather and aerate the pile once in a while. Turning the pile with a shovel or garden fork will accelerate the decomposition process and reduce any chance of foul odor from anaerobic conditions. Keep in mind decomposition will happen more quickly during warmer months. A two-pile system can help separate new kitchen scraps from a well-aged pile that is ready to incorporate into the garden.

If you don’t have any backyard greenspace to compost, it still may be possible to divert your food waste from the trash. Volunteer-led initiatives are filling the gap to offer community composting co-ops in some cities within the Bay watershed. Check to see if there might be one in your area!

For ideas about other ways to make a difference in your local watershed, click here to Get Involved!

Happy composting!