Photo courtesy Karim Nice
Americans generate about 210 million tons (231 million short tons) of trash, or solid waste, each year. Most of this trash (57 percent) gets placed in municipal landfills. About 56 million tons (27 percent) is recovered through either recycling, in the case of glass, paper products, plastic or metals, or through composting, in the case of yard waste. Composting is a method for treating solid waste in which organic material is broken down by microorganisms in the presence of oxygen to a point where it can be safely stored, handled and applied to the environment. Composting is an essential part of reducing household wastes. It can be done inexpensively by every household and produces a product -- finished compost or humus -- that can benefit the environment as a natural fertilizer for gardening and farming.
How much trash do you make in a year? What kind of things do you throw out? How much can be reduced by recycling or composting? To answer these questions, perform a trash audit.
In this article, we'll look at what happens when solid waste is composted, how you can make your own compost, why you benefit from composting, and how you can make a benchtop compost column to study composting in a classroom laboratory or science-fair setting.