Diversion of organic waste from landfill disposal is a growing trend nationwide. Saint Louis County is currently increasing efforts toward this goal through encouragement of composting programs.
What Are Organics?
Organic wastes are materials that can be broken down into nutrient-rich humus through the natural compost process. The Saint Louis County Waste Code defines organics as any carbon-hydrogen based material by-product from food production, clothing, agricultural and horticultural operations, landscape maintenance, forestry and timber industry, animal and human waste, bio-solids or other materials originally from plants or animals.
One of the main constituents of the organic waste stream is food waste. The EPA estimates that 100 billion pounds of food waste – about 3,000 pounds per second – is generated each year in the U.S. Although the waste diversion rate for many materials has substantially increased since the 1970’s through implementation of single stream recycling programs, the generation of food waste has increased by approximately 50% during the same time period.
Another major constituent of the organic waste stream is yard waste. Yard waste is comprised of grass clippings and trimmings from bushes, trees, and other yard vegetation. Disposal of yard waste in landfills is generally not necessary (and in most cases banned), as these materials are easily composted into a resource that enriches soils and gardens. Since the yard waste ban went into effect in the early 90’s, backyard composting has become quite popular and commercial composting is a growing industry.
Management of Organics
Organic waste disposed in a landfill decomposes and generates methane — a potent greenhouse gas. According to the EPA, methane has 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. Landfills are a major source of human-related methane in the United States accounting for more than 20 percent of all methane emissions.
The best way to manage organic waste is to reduce the amount generated (Source Reduction). The EPA suggests following the hierarchy in the adjacent graphic to manage food wastes. Reducing, recovering, and recycling organic waste diverts organic materials from landfills and incinerators, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from landfills and waste combustion. The use of recycled organic waste (compost) has many environmental benefits such as: improving soil health and structure; increasing drought resistance; and reducing the need for supplemental water, fertilizers, and pesticides.
In Saint Louis, the infrastructure is not quite there yet for widespread organics collection. You can express your interest in adding organics to yard waste collection programs by contacting your local officials. In the interim, try to backyard compost or vermicompost.