Does composting make a difference?


Most of us are striving to become more environmentally aware.  A proactive, personal step in trying to make a difference is that of starting a home composting system. This can be done on various scales, so it is a possible option for people living in both small apartments and those who are fortunate enough to to have a few hectares at their disposal.

But before we rush headlong into a home composting project, it is important to know what to expect. As with anything, if your expectations don’t match what the project can deliver, you’ll be left feeling disappointed and frustrated.

It’s worth examining just what sort of a difference composting can actually make. There is also a lesser known ramification of effective composting, which is the production of useable thermal energy.

The basics of composting

But first, what is composting, and how can it make a difference? Composting is the process of decomposition of raw organic materials such as food scraps, garden refuse and manure. In essence, compost is the organic material that can be added to soil in order to assist in the growth of plants and vegetables. As plants grow they draw out nutrients from the soil, which if they’re not replenished over time can result in a reduction of plant growth as well as an increase in plant disease.

Considering that 20 – 30% of our household waste is a combination of food scraps and garden refuse, by starting a compost heap, not only can you create a viable source of nutrition for the soil, but you can also drastically reduce the amount of waste that is currently going into our already overstressed landfills. This is actually one of the most pertinent issues facing local municipalities in many parts of the country today.

Too hot to handle

Not only are the landfills too full but also what is happening in these sites is that an excessive amount of methane gas is being produced. Methane is considered a greenhouse gas and can be devastating to the climate because of how effectively it absorbs heat – in the first twenty years, it is over 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide!

Landfill methane is produced due to the items therein undergoing anaerobic decomposition. What this means is that because the layers and layers of waste that are regularly dumped become compacted over time, there is no movement of oxygen through the decomposing items. In this way, the landfill produces methane.

In your backyard compost heap however, what should happen is that the pile is regularly turned and mixed, which allows for an exposure to oxygen. As it breaks down it releases CO2 (carbon dioxide) instead of methane.

Another way to assist in this process is through the introduction of vermiculture, or worms, which assist in the process.

The benefit of the home system is that it therefore plays a vital role in assisting the reduction of green-house gases. One might believe that it’s too small to really make a difference, but the truth is that each small step in the correct direction results in a large shift becoming possible.

Turning up the heat

There is a remarkable bi-product from your compost heap. As the natural material breaks down, it releases heat. This thermal heat can be accessed and utilised in order to heat your greenhouse or home. One method in which this is done is through a loop coil heating system. This is where tubes are coiled under, or run through a compost heap. Water is then passed through them which heats the water and this can then be run through underfloor heating systems, or other similar systems. The heat inside a compost pile can reach 50 – 70 degrees Celsius. This  is an untapped source of heating your home. All it takes is a bit of planning and research.

Creating thermal energy in your own backyard might seem like it’s not enough to contribute to the usage of an average household, but if you start to give it some thought, the creative possibilities are fascinating. Ever wanted an outdoor shower? Well now it’s a plausible option…

So next time you throw away food scraps consider the alternatives and begin that compost heap today!


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