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What Is Composting? - Definition and Examples

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  • 0:06 What Is Composting?
  • 2:07 Benefits of Composting
  • 2:48 Examples of Composting
  • 4:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Margaret Cunningham

Margaret has taught many Biology and Environmental Science courses and has Master's degrees in Environmental Science and Education.

In this lesson, we will explore the unique method of waste disposal where items are encouraged to rot. We will investigate the composting process, the benefits of composting, and examples of different types.

What Is Composting?

Imagine you see an old tree that has fallen in the forest. Most likely, the tree would be breaking apart and have other organisms growing on it or in it. What you would be observing is the process of decomposition, which is the breakdown of materials. Decomposition is also often referred to as decay or rot.

The process of natural decomposition is very important to one type of waste disposal. Composting is a form of waste disposal where organic waste decomposes naturally under oxygen-rich conditions. Although all waste will eventually decompose, only certain waste items are considered compostable and should be added to compost containers. Food waste, such as banana peels, coffee grinds and eggshells, are great items to compost. Adding meat products to compost should be avoided because as it decomposes, it will attract large animals and will smell very badly!

In addition to food waste, yard waste, such as grass clippings and leaves, can also be added to compost containers. These items will help increase decomposition and help reduce odor as materials break down. As with household food waste, there are also some types of yard waste that should be avoided. Perennial weeds, which are plants that come back year after year, should not be added to compost because they will grow back and spread.

Once these waste items are placed in a pile, the composting process can start. The organic materials are broken down naturally by earthworms, bacteria and other organisms that live in soil. Although the composting process can occur without any further human involvement, most composting involves the addition of water and oxygen - which occurs by turning the compost - to speed up the overall process. After several months, when all the organic material is broken down, the final product is created and is often referred to as humus.

Benefits of Composting

As of 2013, over 27% of all municipal solid waste in the United States was comprised of yard and food waste. By composting these items, it makes it possible to reduce the overall amount of waste being sent to landfills and mass-burn incinerators.

In addition to reducing waste, the process of composting also creates a usable product. The final compost, humus, is nutrient-rich and can be used to amend poor soils and fertilize gardens instead of using chemical fertilizers. The added compost also helps soil retain water and therefore can improve growing conditions.

Examples of Composting

Although decomposition can occur anywhere naturally, composting is more controlled and occurs in two different types of locations. Composting can occur on a large scale through a city or town's municipality. As of 2012, there were over 3,000 municipal composting programs in the United States. Combined, these facilities recycle around 37% of yard waste in the country. This example of composting involves the collection of waste from households and businesses and the transportation of the waste to a compost facility.

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