The fact that organic materials make up nearly two-thirds of municipal waste may sound like good news. After all, when you toss an apple core, it just rots away, right? But when University of Arizona anthropologist Bill Rathje drilled into landfills in the 1980s, he found a big surprise: legible 40-year-old newspapers, as well as perfectly preserved food--carrots, grapes and a few hot dogs. Even when organic material does decompose, the lack of oxygen in the landfill means that the decay produces methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. As a first step, pare down on paper products--the largest single category of garbage. Then plan meals more carefully: Every year, Americans throw out 25 percent of their food--96 billion pounds of leftovers. Composting will help take care of the rest.
2 Tips to Reduce Your Organic Waste Footprint
1. Red Wigglers
For apartment dwellers, vermiculture (worm composting) can provide rich compost for houseplants while neatly dispensing with leftover fruits and vegetables. Red worms can eat half their body weight in food scraps every day.
2. O Tannenbaum
If you're one of the 30 million or so Americans who will buy a Christmas tree this month, use it to make mulch in the new year, or check to find a tree recycling service near you.
Yard trimmings make up 13.1 percent of residential garbage, and over a third of it goes into landfills. Use a mulching mower to return finely chopped grass--and valuable nitrogen and moisture--to your lawn instead. In the fall, a mower can mulch leaves directly into the yard or be converted to bag the particles. They break down quickly in a compost pile.