Cut Methane Emissions by Composting
Food waste is a problem. About a third of all food produced in America ends up being discarded.(1) This a problem for consumers because it wastes their hard-earned dollars, and it’s a problem for the environment because of the Green House Gasses (GHG’s) landfill waste produces, which are primarily carbon dioxide and methane. However, there is an opportunity for methane emissions to be cut through the actions of individual households.
Why is Methane gas important?
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions have arguably become the poster child for climate concerns. Methane (CH4) however, is more than 25 times more efficient at trapping heat in the atmosphere, and “the concentration in the atmosphere has more than doubled in the past two centuries”.(1) The good news is that methane is comparatively short lived, and thus a reduction in the amount emitted will have a relatively swift positive impact.
Anaerobic bacteria (found in environments without oxygen), decompose organic materials and produce methane as a byproduct. Such is the case in solid waste landfills. Although there are over 500 landfills in the US where methane is captured and used for fuel, in most landfills, methane escapes to the atmosphere.
What can I do as an individual?
Start composting at home! It is simple, dirt cheap, and can be done in small spaces.
What you will need: a bucket with a lid, a pan to sit it in, dirt, paper, and kitchen scraps
Your morning cup can help cut methane emissions.
Composting is a process that breaks down organic material. It is also a great way to make use of kitchen scraps and also save money on fertilizer and soil for gardening or lawn needs.
How to get Started
For indoor, aerobic composting start with a small container made of metal or plastic that has a lid and a shallow pan to go underneath it. The container should be at or under 5 gallons to help reduce the chance of unpleasant odors.
Punch about 5 holes in the bottom of the container about 2 inches apart so that it can drain and Oxygen can get in then set it in the shallow pan.
Place a layer of dirt ¼ the depth of the container. Dirt is helpful in keeping the smell down as well.
Place a layer of shredded paper to cover the soil. Newspaper is best but anything will work as long as it is not glossy or heavily inked.
Add kitchen scraps!
The do’s and don’ts
Do add- vegetable peels, leafy greens, stems and stalks, coffee grounds and filters, paper tea bags, and napkins that are not soiled with cleaners or fats, rinsed egg shells,
Don’t add- seeds, cooked food, animal products like fish, meat, fat, or dairy products
*Minimize citrus to prevent the compost becoming too acidic to break down properly
It is not advised to add fish, meats, or dairy in this composting scenario. Animal derived products are the preferred food for anaerobic bacteria. This is due to their protein and fat content. Anaerobic decomposition does not generally generate the high temperatures that are needed to kill harmful organisms. That is why this type of material breakdown can cause odors that attract scavengers and pests as well as posing an increased risk for the spread of pathogens.
The aerobic composting mentioned here is simpler, more forgiving and can be done on a smaller scale while preventing the release of methane gas.
Items should be added in 3:1 ratio of paper (called a “brown”) to the common kitchen scraps which are “greens”. The nitrogen in the green components of the food scraps help the bacteria oxidize carbon and generate heat as they grow which helps to speed the breakdown process further.
After scraps and paper are added, spread a thin layer of soil to discourage fruit flies. The compost should be stirred once a week then a layer of soil added to the top.
Now just let it sit for 1 week closed and undisturbed to allow the process to happen.
In a week or so your compost will be ready to be added to houseplants, sprinkled over the lawn, or added to the garden. So, keep what you can out of landfills to reduce methane emissions and help the most by compost!
Latitudes Environmental is a full-service consulting firm, having interest in air pollutant emissions and the regulations that govern their limitations.
1. 1 Global Methane Initiative. Importance of Methane
2. Learn the Composting Basics