About Zero Waste > Healthy Soils, Healthy Food

Healthy Soils, Healthy Food


Our soils are losing their nutrients, but our trash is full of nutrient-rich grass clippings, banana peels, and leaves. Put the two together, and we can grow healthy food, fight climate change and reduce waste.

We’re losing soil, and fast

Dirt is everywhere, but healthy soil isn’t. It can take 500 years to build one good inch of topsoil, and that’s the soil that grows all the plants and food we, and every species on earth, needs to survive.

The problem is we’re losing our topsoil — through overgrazing, intensive farming, and more urban development. In the U.S, 28% of cropland is losing soil faster than it can regenerate. Nearly 1/3 of the world’s cropland has been abandoned because of soil erosion and degradation over the past 40 years.

Composting restores soil to produce healthier food

cultivation-177906_1280Meanwhile behind most homes, businesses, and schools are trash cans overflowing with the nutrients that our soil needs — in the form of potato peels, grass clippings and leftover pizza. Nearly half of the trash in the U.S. is biodegradable material that could be composted.

Through composting programs, we can return these nutrients to the soil. Think farm to table…to farm.

Compost works wonders for soil. It can:

  • Conserve water by decreasing irrigation use
  • Produce more crops
  • Reduce the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides
  • Suppress plant diseases and pests, thereby producing healthier plants
  • Protect against both erosion and flooding
  • Filter pollution out of the soil and restore contaminated lands

Every investment in our soil is an investment in cleaner air and water, healthier food, diverse ecosystems, and a stable climate.

Soil is a secret weapon against climate change

You’ve heard that planting a tree can reduce your climate footprint because trees pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

But soil stores carbon too, and it turns out, a lot more. Soils store three times more carbon than plants or our atmosphere.

That means applying compost to our soils can help pull carbon out of the atmosphere and fight climate change. So instead of just working to put less CO2 emissions into our atmosphere, with composting we can actually pull down what’s already been emitted and store it in our soil.

In fact, exciting new research out of Marin County, California shows that widespread compost use could make a big dent in our carbon emissions: Applying less than a half-inch of compost to 5% of California’s rangelands would sequester 28 million tons of carbon from the atmosphere — the equivalent to taking 6 million cars off the road each year.

food waste hierarchy, ILSRWe can also tackle climate change by keeping biodegradable materials out of the landfill. When leftover food, cardboard boxes and grass clippings decompose in a landfill, the result is methane, a greenhouse gas 84 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Learn more about how throwing away biodegradable materials in the landfill contributes to climate change.

Your two-part solution: Composting and using compost

Zero Waste teaches us to first reduce our food waste and yard trimmings, then compost what’s left and return the nutrients back to the soil. That means you have two key action steps:

  1. Separate your biodegradable materials for composting, including food scraps, grass clippings, leaves, branches, and soiled paper like paper towels or tissues. From backyard bins to worm composting to curbside collection programs, there are lots of ways to compost. Find the solution that’s right for you.
  2. Use the compost at home, at work, at school, and everywhere in your community. Applying compost isn’t just about our farmland. Everywhere we see dirt — from our gardens to our parks to our highway medians — is an opportunity to build healthier soil and fight climate change. Learn more about how and where to apply compost.

 More Benefits of Zero Waste

Composting and recycling also boost our local economies by producing jobs and creating value from our discards. Discover how Zero Waste invests in strong, local economies.

learn more about Jobs & Economic Impact


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