C O M M U N I T Y
Hi! We’re the North Carolina Composting Council, a state chapter of the US Composting Council. We are a volunteer-run organization dedicated to the development, expansion, and promotion of the composting industry based upon sound science, principles of sustainability, and economic viability. We conduct hands-on training programs, host educational events, exhibit at industry tradeshows, and offer grants to help grow composting programs in North Carolina. On our website, carolinacompost.com, you can learn everything from why you should compost, to how to get started, to where you can find bulk compost.
Check out COMPOST USE for a quick guide to using compost,
The Link Between Soil and CO2
Did you know that according to the US governments analysis of grassland ecosystems in the year 2000, only 3% of the tall grass prairie that was once in North America is still intact?
This loss has had a huge impact on the way our entire ecosystem works, but what is little known is the massive loss of soil carbon that has accompanied the loss of prairie land. All of that carbon from the soil has been released into the atmosphere and is responsible for about one third of the increase in atmospheric CO2 over the last 150 years. Turning Earth, LLC says more carbon has gone into the atmosphere from the soil than from fossil fuel between 1860 and 1970.
Soil carbon and its impact on climate change is the subject of intensifying scientific research, and with good reason. The findings of current research are expanding our knowledge of how soil sequesters carbon and how our own effort to regenerate the soil with compost can slow down the rapid rise of CO2 in the atmosphere.
Overall, the world’s soil holds about three times as much carbon as the atmosphere and recognition of its capacity to take up atmospheric CO2 is catalyzing a significant shift in the direction of the battle against global warming. The focus thus far has been in quelling emissions from the burning of fossil fuels; however crucial that reduction may be, scientists now find that soil carbon sequestration, known as a carbon “sink”, is as a promising a weapon in the fight and one that can be utilized by everyone from large agricultural and governmental organizations to individual home owners.
According to Rattan Lal, Director of Ohio State University’s Carbon Management and Sequestration Center, the world’s soils have lost between 50% and 70% of their original carbon stock, much of which oxidized when exposed to air, becoming CO2 when the soil was cultivated. Places like the North American prairie, the North China Plan and even the arid interior of Australia are now being considered future carbon sinks based on the rapidly expanding knowledge of carbon sequestration in soils. Researchers are studying how land restoration projects in these areas might bring back carbon, nitrogen and, thereby, the natural fertility these areas have lost. “We cannot feed people if soil is degraded,” Lal says.
When soil is tilled or disturbed in any way the carbon in it is exposed to the air, an oxygen source. The carbon atoms attach to the oxygen forming CO2 a potent greenhouse gas. Conventional farming practices continuously remove plant material that has grown each season that, in the natural system, would return to the soil when the plant dies. In countries like India farmers literally burn the dead plant material off the fields in order to clear the land for the next planting. Besides putting harmful smoke into the air, these intensive farming practices remove further carbon from the soil adding to the deterioration that has been rampant throughout the world for decades.
Regenerative agricultural practices like no till farming, planting of “green manure” cover crops, and top dressing the field with compost can turn back the carbon clock, reducing atmospheric CO2 while raising soil fertility and decreasing vulnerability to floods and drought.
“The nation that destroys its soil, destroys itself” -Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Plants pull carbon out of the air through photosynthesis forming carbon compounds that are the structure of the plant body itself or biomass. What the plant doesn’t need for growth is secreted through the roots and becomes food for soil organisms like microbes and fungi. This is known as the humification of carbon, a process in which the carbon is made stable in the soil. Humus, whose main component is carbon, gives soil the ability to hold water, determines its structure, and gives it fertility.
Lal estimates the potential to store carbon in the top layer of degraded and desertified soils around the world could amount to 1 – 3 billion tons of carbon annually, equal to approximately 3.5 to 11 billion tons of CO2 emissions. Active soil carbon which is located in the topsoil (generally the top 15 to 30 centimeters) is continually exchanging carbon between microbes living in the soil and the atmosphere. Bolstering soil microbiology by adding compost restores normal soil activity in places where it has been interrupted by the use of insecticides, herbicides, or fertilizers.
It is currently unknown how much carbon is stored in deep carbon pools well below the active layer of soil, it is thought that soil below the five meter depth may store carbon at much higher rates than shallower soils. Encouraging finding are coming in from scientists studying some deep rooted grasses in Australia with below-ground plant structures that plunge more than five meters deep sequestering carbon all the way down.
The Marin Carbon Project was started in 2007 when local farmers concerned about the impact of global climate change on the productivity of their farms. Located in the San Francisco Bay Area the group now includes farmers, researchers, government agencies, and nonprofits who are working to enhance soil carbon sequestration in farm land, range land, and forests. The aim is to improve farm productivity and the health of the local ecosystem while mitigating climate change. Citing research that showed dairy farms had more carbon in their soils than the adjacent grasslands because farmers sprayed manure on fields as a way of recycling the waste. This group believed that they could improve soil quality and offset CO2 emissions produced by agriculture by putting compost on grasslands.
Lead by researcher Whendee Silver of the University of California at Berkley, the Marin Carbon Project showed that applying composted agricultural and green waste to grasslands sequesters carbon at a rate of 1 metric ton per year. The fields that the project treated with compost also had higher forage production due to higher fertility and better ability to hold water in the soil. The conclusion after nine years of steady results is that applying organic matter to soils is one of the most effective ways currently available to divert CO2 from the atmosphere.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, grasslands comprise 40.5% of the earth’s terrestrial area excluding Greenland and Antarctica. The use of chemicals that kill soil microbes and fungi, overgrazing, erosion, fires and simple poor land management have robbed of much of this land of its carbon and carbon-storing ability.
Expanding the practices of the Marin Project to just 25% of California’s grasslands, Silver projects that the carbon sequestration rate would be 21 million metric tons of carbon per year. Grasslands, farm lands and uninhabited lands, with the addition of compost, could return carbon to the soil, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and divert green waste from landfills.
Organics Diversion and Methane Avoidance
Besides the large scale application of compost to grasslands, small scale composting not only sequesters carbon but prevents the production of methane in landfills. Organic “green” waste in the conventional waste stream decomposes in anaerobic (without oxygen) conditions producing methane which, according to the Environmental Defense Fund, is 84x more potent as a green house gas than CO2 in the first 20 years after its release into the atmosphere because of its ability to absorb heat from the sun.
In its Basic Information About Landfil Gas, the EPA states that municipal solid waste landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the United States, accounting for approximately 14.1% of these emissions in 2016. Composting organic waste such as food scraps, grass clippings and paper, allows the organic materials to decompose aerobically which prevents the production of methane. The US sent 31 million tons of food waste to landfills in 2007, composting this waste would have been the equivalent of taking 8.4 million cars off the road.
Residential and commercial lawns and gardens are essentially the same as an agricultural field with low biodiversity, soil depletion and lack of soil organic carbon especially if chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides are in use. Every homeowner can impact global warming by converting their land to organic maintenance practices and by composting all biodegradable household waste and applying it to the landscape.
“Fighting global warming is not out of our reach, it’s as close as our own back yard.”
Article Courtesy of NC Composting Council
Hello from your favorite Trashy Women, Karin Mills and Linda Bourne, (https://www.facebook.com/karinandlindagogreen/).
We’re the former owners of Carrboro’s Spotted Dog, where we diverted waste from the landfill for almost 20 years through composting, waste reduction, and recycling. The Trashy Women now work with multiple Triangle faith organizations, neighborhood associations, CCRCs, Life Plan Communities, and individuals to encourage and teach folks how to reduce their environmental impact through better waste management, specifically composting. We’ve implemented a full-campus compost collection program at our home church, Binkley in Chapel Hill, where we’ve diverted over 50 Tons of organics from the landfill in just over three years and received national recognition (https://youtu.be/LQQw3rGDi_E).
Karin & Linda
America has a huge food waste problem.
As food travels from farm to table, nearly 50% of it is sent to landfills, where it sits emitting methane gas and takes up space in landfills that are becoming more expensive to maintain. Among the causes of climate change, food waste is perhaps the easiest to deal with and the one where everyone can make an impact in their daily lives.
The solution is simple.
Instead of sending food waste to the landfill, we can compost it.
Close the loop on the food cycle.
Return the nutrients back to the soil while also eliminating unwanted side effects of landfilling organic waste, a win-win!
Collecting kitchen scraps is messy.
Placing an attractive compost crock, or just any random container, on your counter or in your refrigerator is a convenient and easy way to collect scraps!
Using compostable liners that you can toss right
into a compost bin makes clean-up a breeze.
Did You Know?
Worldwide-Almost 8 percent of all global greenhouse gases come from food waste—that’s 4.4 Gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions each year!! Food waste is a major source of greenhouse gases, mostly in the form of methane, a pollutant almost 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
►Food loss and waste generate more than 4 times as much annual greenhouse gas emissions as aviation and is comparable to the total emissions from road transport.
►Americans waste 150,000 tons of food each day – equal to a pound per person
►In Orange County in 2017: 75% of the “trash” sent to the landfill was not “trash” at all. Almost 50% was compostable!!
►More than 50% of food waste takes place in the home. We all can play a part, starting with reducing the amount of food that ends up in our trash bins.
►Food is wasted when we buy more than we need, store it incorrectly, throw away leftovers and cook too much.
►Throwing away food also wastes all the water and energy used to produce, package and transport it from the farm to our plates.
►Food waste creates significant environmental impacts and is costly to family budgets! There’s something for everyone to do when it comes to reducing food loss and waste.
Here’s where you come in! Toss uneaten leftovers, spoiled food, and scraps into a small compost collection container—any container will do—and take it to any of the Orange County collection sites. Make collecting food scraps popular in your neighborhood! Make composting a way of life!
peace—karin & linda
Composting as Community Building
Neighbors walking along carrying a tan and green bucket……a car stopping and a person gets out with a tan and green bucket. What’s happening? A covert operation?
No, it’s just folks in my townhome community depositing their food waste in our collection bins. Since February 2020 over 50 households in this Chapel Hill neighborhood have been participating in community composting. With the support of the homeowner’s association who provided the funds to purchase the $5 buckets from Orange County Solid Waste, we fostered interest with this promotion:
BE A TRENDSETTER! TAKE THE COMPOST PLEDGE
The first 50 folks to sign up get a free compost countertop collection bucket.
Each home generates an estimated 950 pounds of waste/year; 250 pounds of this is COMPOSTABLE food waste.
Less solid waste to the landfill means less gas used and reduction in greenhouse gases.
Finished compost is available to residents and farmers to create healthier soil.
Composting creates jobs.
You have less trash!
Our HOA continues to purchase buckets for new composters. We have a lot of pride in what we are doing. Folks talk about how good it feels to make this small, but significant, effort to mitigate climate damage. We stop and chat with each other as we head to the collection site and joke with each other about our cute tan and green buckets.
This project was amazingly easy to launch; it just takes a supportive network and the rest becomes COMPOST!!!!!!!
Composting is a simple and effective way to reduce food waste in our trash and improve soil quality.
My husband and I have been composting our food scraps for over 20 years using a covered bin near the sink. We put all of our produce scraps in it and have been able to keep hundreds of pounds of food waste out of the trash stream while returning essential nutrients to our garden soil. I encourage anyone who thinks composting is "too much effort" to learn the simple steps to home composting offered through the Orange County Compost-a-thon. It's an easy, rewarding habit that helps keep methane out of our landfills and will help you to participate actively in the battle against climate change.
Road to Composting and Gardening
October 2020, it had been seven months since the lockdown started in March. In the middle of an unprecedented pandemic, people were scared, angry, frustrated, depressed, and anxious about the situation. I, although incredibly grateful for being able to work remotely, felt the same. But what do people say about the crisis? “Crisis is an opportunity in disguise”.
Standing on my deck looking at our backyard with a large poorly-grown grass lawn, I was thinking “maybe I can turn this area into a flower garden, since I now have so much free time at home”. I didn’t waste any minute, instead, I started the project right away: digging, breaking down soil, cleaning up the grass. I worked a couple of hours in the morning before work and a couple of hours after work, hence a night owl became an early bird. I started gardening and started my road to composting.
Shortly after I dug a few inches of topsoil off the lawn, the layer underneath the shallow topsoil got exposed and it was all clay soil, the sticky, heavy, compact and dense clay. I quickly realized I would not be able to grow plants well with this type of soil. Even with zero experience with gardening, I knew that leaves and grass could easily decompose if we pile it together and I thought: maybe I could make use of the pine needles, tree leaves, and grass accumulated in the far end of our yard over the years. So I wheeled them all to the potential flower beds I dugged, covered them with clay soil and gave it some water, hoping they could magically turn into rich and fertilized soil, in a few weeks.
I checked the status almost every day and was hoping to see some amazing results. Three weeks went by, under the two big dirt/clay/leaves/grass piles nothing seemed to happen though. I was more or less disappointed and frustrated. My dream was ambitious but was it even possible or achievable? How long was it going to take to turn the piles into good soil? The soil wasn’t good, the beds weren’t ready, and I couldn’t do anything. I was stuck.
In mid-December, my son came back home from college and was interested to hear my ideas about the flower beds. As an Eagle Scout who made vermicomposting bins for his eagle project, he examined two compost piles I had and gave me a basic lesson of composting: all composting requires three basic ingredients: greens, browns and water. Greens, such as grass clippings, vegetable waste, fruit scapes and coffee grounds, contain high levels of nitrogen; browns, such as fall leaves, twigs, pine needles, papers, straws etc., contain a good level of carbons. A balanced ratio of greens and browns is essential for decomposition. He suggested that I collect kitchen scraps, papers, cardboard etc., add them to the pile; keep compost moist but not soak; turn compost every week or two to let oxygen facilitate the process.
Having this lesson from my son was a turning point of my composting endeavor. It helped transform me from an intuitive beginner to a motivated learner, someone who would always go online to find resources and learn new things about gardening and composting. I also realized composting takes time! Give it a 2~3 months’ time frame, we control the input and let the time and nature control the output.
After my tirelessly searching online for composting knowledge, online videos about effective and productive composting started to flow into our YouTube channels. Encouraged by the ideas in those resources, I started to collect every single compostable item: vegetable waste, kitchen scraps, fruit peels, eggshells, peanut shells, fermented soy beans, soybean pulp, grass clippings, garden waste etc.. I was able to collect a big jar of scapes every day or two which was then added to the compost piles. I was so amazed how much waste we human beings produce every day and how much of it could actually be turned into good things if we utilize it well!
In March 2021, when Spring was finally here after back-and-forth cold weather, I was anxious to dig the compost piles and was thrilled by what I saw. Those food scraps, fruit peels, grains, grass clippings, cardboards, paper, pine needles have all been decomposed, and they have turned into fine, rich, fertilized compost, just as good as the compost we buy from stores. Most importantly, there were so many worms in the compost! These little cute creatures crawled in the piles, ate food scraps which became nutrient-rich compost as they passed through the worms’ bodies. This process is actually called vermicomposting, which was exactly what my son did for his Eagle Project. I have to admit while I was certainly proud of him for accomplishing a creative Eagle Project three years ago, I did not fully understand its implications and benefits, until today.
Having good soil and nutrient-rich compost laid a solid foundation for my project. After adding bricks around the beds and planting a few roses, they turned into two beautiful flower beds. My roses were happy and produced beautiful flowers for me, for a newbie who knew nothing about gardening just six months ago.
The first success gave me such joy and motivation. I became passionate about home-composting and it has now become my daily routine. In addition to collecting regular compost items, I have also learned a few things:
1. Fruit peels are perfect materials to make fruit enzymes, which can be used as an organic fertilizer for flowers and vegetables. Making enzymes is extremely easy - you can simply cut fruit peels into small pieces, put them in a container, add water and sugar, depending on the weather and temperature, it would be ready for use after 2-3 months. This is a great way for organic and sustainable gardening and a perfect replacement for chemical fertilizer.
2. Eggshells help add calcium to the makeup of final compost which helps plants build cell walls. But it would take a pretty long time for eggshells to decompose completely if adding them into the compost pile directly. A better way to utilize them is to crush eggshells into fine small pieces to speed up composting. As a result I collect eggshells separately and use them in a separate compost bin for a quick turnout.
3. Banana peels have high levels of calcium, magnesium, phosphate and potassium, which will add important nutrients to the compost. I collect banana peels separately, chop them up into small pieces, and add them into the bin with eggshells, coffee grounds and topsoil, which would turn into a “golden” fertilizer in a short period of time.
Together with my husband, we arranged to cut and trim some unneeded trees, expanded our gardens, and planted more vegetables. We have also bought two large rainwater tanks to collect rainwater from the gutters so we wouldn’t need to use the precious tap water for our gardens.
Organic gardening through composing has been a remarkable personal journey for me. I have learned and grown so much in the past ten months. I have been multitasking and listening to my favorite audiobooks and podcasts while gardening: listening to classical literature such as Gone With the Wind, The Godfather, The Old Man and Sea, To Kill a Mockingbird etc. has given me incredible joy, enjoyment, appreciation, reflection and thinking. I’m physically healthier, mentally stronger and genuinely happier. I’ve learned that sustainable work and effort, blood, sweat and tears would not go nowhere, rather, mother nature will take care of you and return you with tremendously rewarding outcomes. So is true with our lives, our career, our relationship with family and friends; so is true with our society and communities.
Shared by Lijun Chen, Chapel Hill
Carolyn Guan, Student, Chapel Hill
Art can be made from anything.
Walking in my parent’s restaurant, I pass by employees tolling away at cutting up various vegetables. Carrots, broccoli, zucchini. This is the norm of the food industry, yet when I visualize the collective amount of waste, I can only sigh. Although I can not envision a world where the food industry will finally prioritize efficiency to sustainability, I can add my twist in helping lessen the produced food waste -from my kitchen. This is why making these coasters, to remind ourselves that the “useless” carrot heads and scrapes we decide to just chuck can still have a use, is essential, as there is always a way to make any material into art.