Composting is the practice of using naturally occurring micro- and macro-organisms to break down organic materials such as plant matter, food scraps, and some packaging products into nitrogen-rich fertilizer for soil. Integrating compost into soil mixes reverses soil nutrient depletion and can reduce the overall impact of farming and gardening activity on a piece of land.
Starting this year, businesses and restaurants in Austin will be required to compost food scraps and other compostable materials. Considering the fact that Americans waste 40% of the food available to them, this is great news. Diverting food waste to compost is one method of reducing the overall waste put in landfills and reintroducing vital nutrients into the ecosystem.
However, there are some important do’s and don’ts when it comes to composting. Putting the wrong materials into a compost bin can contaminate the compost. For example,when non-biodegradable plastics are put through a composting process, the compost that is ultimately generated will contain small granules of plastic. These bits of plastic wash out of gardens and farms during rainstorms and eventually pollute the ecosystem.
In addition to all campus dining halls, Halal Bros on the Drag offers separate bins for collecting compostable materials. Hopefully, other establishments will soon follow suit. As you encounter composting receptacles at these locations and others around campus and Austin, keep these pointers in mind to make sure what you throw into that “Compost” bin is actually compostable:
- All compost operations (both backyard and industrial) can handle raw vegetables and fruits, other plant matter, and coffee grounds and filters.
- Industrial composting operations (restaurants, dining halls) can also accept eggshells, meats, bread, and cooked foods.
- If disposable dining products (paper plates, napkins, even some plastics) are labelled as compostable, they can be composted by industrial composting operations.
- Paper products that have a plastic lining (soda cups, coffee cups, some paper plates, milk and juice cartons, juice boxes) cannot be composted. These products will contaminate the compost stream.
- Other plasticware, packaging, or trash not labelled as compostable should not be composted. Consider recycling these products instead.
- Remember — a compost bin is not the same thing as a trash can.
Keep these pointers handy and continue to educate yourself about composting. To go a step further, you can begin a compost pile in your dorm or apartment with the help of this graphic. By working together, we can reduce our food waste and return beneficial nutrients to gardeners and farmers, both large and small.