The food waste we generate, combined with all the other trash in landfills, directly contributes to climate change. When buried in landfills, food decomposes slowly in the absence of oxygen. This results in the release of methane — a greenhouse gas with a global warming potential 36 times that of carbon dioxide. A significant amount of our landfill waste can be diverted from landfills through a single process: composting.
Composting is a process through which decomposers break food waste down into component nutrients in the presence of oxygen. Oxygen prevents the growth of methane-producing microbes and reduces the amount of greenhouse gases we emit into the atmosphere. The nutrients can also be converted into a rich fertilizer — humus — that can be used to prime soil for growing produce. Composting directly benefits the environment and is something all students can and should do.
According to Anthony Rivera, director of the Campus Environmental Center, UT’s trash is mostly compostable materials such as food and paper products. In other words, most of our campus trash could have been saved from the landfill. Invaluable resources are lost in piles of garbage instead of being preserved and reused to sustain more plants.
“When it goes to the landfill we’re just burying it and forgetting about it” said Jim Walker, the director of the Office of Sustainability. “With composting, you’re letting it break down into soil that’s usable for growing new things.”
Students can save their compostables, such as fruit and veggie scraps, plants and egg shells, and take them to the farmers market at Mueller or UT’s Micro Farm. Both are less than a 20-minute drive from campus.
You can keep your excess food waste in a countertop compost bin in your dorm room or store compostables in a fridge or freezer. Then, once a week, drop it off, feel good about yourself and rinse the container. Repeat.
“We accept any compostables except meat, dairy and (plastic or wax-lined paper) products labeled as compostable” said Joe Diffie, owner of Joe’s Organics, the compost hauling company responsible for the farmers market compost. Although industrial composting facilities, such as the one employed at UT dining halls, are able to accept these materials, they would cause contamination in smaller-scale composts such as Joe’s Organics.
“No waste hauling company will filter through a bag of contaminated compost, it goes straight to the landfill,” said Diffie. He said items like water bottles, plastic forks and dirty diapers, have all been common sources of contamination.
An alternative drop-off site that’s closer to campus is the UT Micro Farm, a student-run organic garden that accepts compost from the community. Unlike the farmers market in Mueller, the only compostables it can accept are fruit and vegetable scraps in efforts to regulate what is being used to grow their produce.
Although saving your compostables may seem radical at first, the impact it would have on your carbon footprint over time could be colossal. With a little research and persistence, composting is as easy as taking your trash out every week. It offers an easy way for students to reduce their impact on the environment, with minimal time commitment and cost. It’s not every day students can participate in the direct change of a global issue. Take advantage of this power, and compost to stop climate change.
Badillo is a sociology and psychology junior from Guanajuato, Mexico.