Organic Waste Shouldn't Be Wasted

In industrialized countries, organic waste material is a serious problem. While a small portion of it is composted and used as a soil amendment, the great majority winds up in landfills or in our waterways (sometimes having been treated first and sometimes not). With the advent of super-sized agricultural factories that produce mass quantities of animals such as cows and pigs, it sometimes sits in holding ponds or in massive piles, creating a health hazard to anyone within miles.

If the waste is sent to a landfill, as household food waste usually is, it frequently will begin to partly decompose once buried, and a liquid run-off known as leachate is created. This liquid can contain dangerous microorganisms and chemical contaminants, and can pose a serious health hazard should it enter waterways or the drinking water supply, which it has done many times.

Some municipalities use massive incinerators to lighten the load on the landfill, and sometimes the heat energy is even captured to be used. If just organic waste material was being burned, this might be an acceptable solution. Unfortunately, these incinerators usually burn garbage indiscriminitely, with the result that toxins like mercury are spewed from their smokestacks

We could learn a lot from our friends in less advanced countries when it comes to handling our organic waste materials. While economics is surely the driving reason there, it's still true that everything, including waste, gets used to its full potential. Here, where there's always 'more' available, and most of us can afford it, we've been less motivated to find solutions. This is slowly changing.

There are many different proven ways to reduce the amount of organic waste that goes into landfills or otherwise becomes a potential health problem, not to mention requiring continual financial expenditure to replace used-up landfills and aging treatment plants. There have always been many good health reasons to institute more enlightened waste management practices. Now, with the cost of energy skyrocketing, there are also energy production benefits that can be had.

As an illustration of the latter, special structures known as 'digesters' have been used in some places to create fuel from waste. In one of these designs, the waste material is placed into the digester, where the process of anaerobic (without air) digestion takes place, and methane (referred to as a biogas) is produced. The methane is used as a fuel, and after the fuel has been extracted, a slurry is left which can be used for fertilizer. This process works quite well with animal wastes. First, because they are normally available in large quantities, and secondly because the digesting process removes any pathogens which may have been present in the original waste material.

Of course, composting is another solution to the organic waste problem, and we have a number of articles on this site that provide lots of info on both regular garden composting and vermiculture, or worm farming. Both not only allow for safe disposition of waste material, but provide for improvement to the soil. While we always recommend worm composting if you have the inclination, any type of composting is both good for the earth and good for your garden.

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