Friday, March 31, 2017

How Compost Heals Your Soil


Guest blogger Charlie Gonzalez
 
Compost is often described as a panacea for improving all types of soils. Whether you have clay or sandy soils, adding compost (or organic matter) improves the soil structure, and increases its ability to retain moisture and nutrients.

Storing Water for Drier Days
Organic matter acts like a sponge, soaking up excess water and nutrients, and making them available when plants and soil life need them. For every 1% increase in organic matter, soils can store an additional 1/2 gallon of water per square foot (that's 25,000 gallons per acre).

Keeping Carbon Where It's Needed
Not only that, but did you know that organic matter is 58% carbon, and that by adding compost to your soil you are sequestering carbon? In fact, leading soil scientists estimate that if we increased the carbon content of the planet's soils by just 2%, it would offset 100% of our current greenhouse gas emissions (Source: Dr. Rattan Lal).

While we should certainly continue pursuing ways to reduce our carbon footprint by moderating our consumption and increasing efficiency, the excess carbon in the atmosphere still needs to go somewhere. The solution is in building healthy soil!

Turning Waste into a Resource
In the United States we waste 40% of all food produced - an estimated 133 billion pounds each year. Only 3% of that wasted food is currently diverted from landfills. So that other 97% breaks down anaerobically and contributes nearly 25% of all our methane emissions!

By composting you are converting that waste into a valuable resource, building healthy soil and mitigating climate change. That's something to celebrate!

Keep up the good work!



 
For a wonderful short film on the amazing power of soil, check out “The Soil Story”.

 

Charlie Gonzalez is an intern at the Hamilton County Recycling and Solid Waste District. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and a business certificate in Sustainable Agriculture Management from Cincinnati State. He is about to complete the M.A. in Urban Sustainability and Resilience at Xavier University, where his thesis is focused on composting.

3 comments:

  1. Charlie, can you site your sources for the statistics above? They are very powerful, and I would love to be able to reuse them.

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    Replies
    1. Here are the sources for the post:

      "In fact, leading soil scientists estimate that if we increased the carbon content of the planet's soils by just 2%, it would offset 100% of our current greenhouse gas emissions." Dr. Rattan Lal

      Here are a bunch of additional sources that pertain to the carbon sequestration and moisture retention potential of soils when organic matter content is improved:
      http://compostfoundation.org/Portals/2/Images/Increasing%20the%20OM%20in%20Soil%207%2002%2014%20CURRENT.pdf
      http://www.onenaturellc.com/press/c5isfbpw8tbytnpsdlaw5z3tvh07a5
      http://e360.yale.edu/features/soil_as_carbon_storehouse_new_weapon_in_climate_fight
      http://matteroftrust.org/14211/the-solution-under-our-feet-how-regenerative-organic-agriculture-can-save-the-planet
      https://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/blog/solution-under-our-feet-how-regenerative-organic-agriculture-can-save-planet

      http://www.chelseagreen.com/grass-soil-hope

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_carbon_ranches

      "In the United States we waste 40% of all food produced - an estimated 133 billion pounds each year. Only 3% of that wasted food is currently diverted from landfills. So that other 97% breaks down anaerobically and contributes nearly 25% of all our methane emissions!"

      Here are some sources for the first sentence:
      https://www.usda.gov/oce/foodwaste/sources.htm
      http://www.sustainabletable.org/5664/food-waste

      I should note that estimates vary widely. Some organizations, like Feeding America, state only 70 Billion pounds is wasted annually. The following EPA link states that only 3% is diverted from landfills, but also has a very low estimate for quantity wasted (they state "over 30 million tons" ... which is more than 60 billion pounds):
      https://www3.epa.gov/region9/waste/features/foodtoenergy/food-waste.html

      That was in 2010, and the following link that I just found says 5% diverted in 2014...so it looks like the trend is that diversion is increasing:
      https://www.epa.gov/sustainable-management-food/sustainable-management-food-basics

      For the third sentence:
      http://foodshift.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/FoodWasteStatisticsandBibliography.pdf
      http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/issues/305/food-and-climate/5-plan-ahead-to-prevent-food-waste
      https://www.elpasotexas.gov/~/media/files/coep/sustainability/food%20waste%20prevention%20and%20recovery%20resolution_final.ashx?la=en

      Estimates here also vary a little - they range from 20%-25% of methane emissions.

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    2. Sorry these do not read as links! I will try to embed in the post.

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