Here in Cambridge and at MIT, literally tons of waste are thrown away every day, filling our landfills and generating methane and carbon emissions when they could be generating value for our communities. Recent data from the EPA shows that people in the United States generate on average 4.4 pounds (2 kg) of trash per person every day. Approximately 65 percent of this ends up in a landfill, resulting in 160 million tons added to our landfills — enough to cover the entire area of Cambridge, Massachusetts with over 75 feet of garbage — every year.
But with composting, nature has provided us with a way to not only reduce our production of municipal waste, but also turn it into something useful. Through this natural decomposition process, our nutrient-rich food waste is turned into soil that can be used to grow more food.
Up to two thirds of American “garbage” is actually food waste. This means that if we separated this organic material and composted it, we could prevent up to 32 million tons of waste from being sent to the landfill every year. In producing more rich, organic soil through compost, we could also reduce the need for artificial fertilizers, which pollute our waterways through runoff. Plus, diverting food from landfills can mitigate the methane emissions that result from anaerobic decomposition (landfills are the source of 20 percent of US methane emissions).
Composting allows us to prevent unnecessary landfill growth, make rich soil, and slow global warming all at the same time. Fortunately, MIT started a composting program several years ago, and all you need to do is pay attention to where you throw your waste. If it’s any type of food — cooked or raw, meat or vegetarian — or packaging clearly marked as compostable, then put it in the compost bins! And remind your friends not to throw trash into the compost, because if there’s too much non-compostable material mixed in, a whole bin’s worth will have to be sent to a landfill.
There are currently many places on campus where composting is an option. There are compost bins next to the trash and recycling bins at Lobdell, Stata Center, Koch Café, Edgerton Center, and Sloan, as well as all along the Infinite Corridor. In addition, all Bon Appetit kitchens have been composting their pre-consumer waste, and as of the beginning of this semester, those eating in the dining halls also have the option to compost what’s left on their plates. Most of the dorms (both graduate and undergraduate) either have composting collection for residents or are starting pilot programs this spring.
If you live in one of the dorms where there is already compost collection, then get in touch with your dorm’s environmental or sustainability officer to find out how to participate. If you would like to help raise awareness about composting and spread compost collection to other places on campus, please contact Composters@MIT (email@example.com) or the UA Committee on Sustainability (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Jillian S. Katz ’16 is a member of Composters@MIT, and Joshua C. Hester G is a member of the GSC Sustainability Committee, the MIT Sustainability Club, and Composters@MIT.