By Kirk Ritchey
Many of you have probably heard of Paul Hawken’s 2017 New York Times bestselling book, Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Proposed to Reverse Global Warming. This revolutionary study proposes not just to slow climate change, but to reverse it, and to that end lists 100 carbon sequestering solutions that are already in practice around the globe.
The carbon sequestering solutions listed in Drawdown are organized into seven sectors. Eighteen of these solutions fall into the food sector, and one of them is composting. Yes, it may seem too simple, but composting our organic matter does matter.
For millennia, cultures throughout the world used compost and manure to feed their crops and gardens. In the late 1600s a Dutch scientist first saw “little beasties” under a microscope and thus began our understanding of how living microbes build soil. Recent studies found more microbes in a single teaspoon of healthy soil than humans alive today. These microorganisms perform two major functions: they break down dead plants and animals and they make these nutrients available to plants’ roots. In short, composting enables a thriving plant ecosystem.
Today, nearly half the waste created by humans worldwide is biodegradable over a period of a few weeks or months. However, if this organic material goes into our current waste system, it’s carried off to the landfill and placed in a no-oxygen environment where it slowly decays and creates methane gas, which powerfully contributes to our planet’s warming trend. Yes, there are methods to manage this methane gas, but it’s far more cost effective to keep this organic matter from entering our landfills in the first place. Today, composting efforts around the world range in scale from backyard bins to large commercial operations.
Organizational Development consultant Will Grant states there are four levels of action that bring about behavioral change: 1. individual, 2. family/friends, 3. community, and 4. governmental policy. Most attempts to influence climate change have focused on levels 1 and 4 (change your light bulbs, sign this petition for congress to act, etc.). We have been hearing these directives for years. Grant says levels 2 and 3 can potentially influence a far greater number of people. Community leaders can create local changes, and these organizations are then seen as replicable examples for other organizations. The energy spreads outward, creating behavioral change throughout our cities and towns. These efforts can then be incorporated into government policy, which in turn will influence individual consciousness, so increasing numbers of people come to understand that they can affect positive change.
Let’s look how Grant’s observations are unfolding here in the Hudson Valley. Public-private partnerships between town governments and private companies have begun to set up systems to reduce the amount of organic waste that goes into our landfills. These systems intervene by collecting organic waste from businesses and institutions such as schools and hospitals, and taking it to a composting processing area that then sells or distributes microbe-rich compost back to farmers and household gardeners. Communities are also offering similar partnerships that collect organic waste from individual homes.
Community Compost Company (communitycompostco.com), is a privately-owned business, that operates in areas of the Hudson Valley and northern New Jersey. They offer organic waste pickup services for residences, businesses, schools, and other institutions. Close to my Woodstock home, businesses can arrange for Community Compost Co. to pick up their food waste. The company is also partnering with the Town of Saugerties Transfer Station where residents can deposit their organic waste for a small fee, which recently launched and is already taking in 600 pounds of organic waste per week. Their Spring 2019 goal is to take in 1,500 pounds of organic waste a week, thus preventing that amount of food waste from entering landfills and creating methane. New Paltz also has composting available community-wide. Village leaders of Rhinebeck, Red Hook, and Tivoli are coordinating efforts to create similar community-level compost collection programs. Ulster County Resource Recovery Center (ucrra.org/compost) has a commercial composting facility, and the NYS DEC, via their Climate Smart Communities Resources and Services program, offers education and grants aimed at helping municipalities set up compost collecting services. So, as you can see, there is a strong momentum growing for local communities to prevent organic matter from reaching our landfills.
Composting as a climate change solution will occur at a greater level of participation when a sizeable number of communities, businesses, and institutions across the country implement similar programs. To learn more, contact your town leaders, purchase the Drawdown book at your local bookstore, go to The New York Library Association (NYLA.org) about community action programs on Drawdown, or contact me at info@WoodstockNYTransition.org.