Compost’s Call to All Engineers

Calling all engineers! We have a problem! The majority of America and much of the developed world sends huge amounts of food waste to landfills, where it does not belong. Resources are wasted throughout this entire waste-redistribution process, which on the surface is almost ridiculous. In today’s modern society it is more feasible, and perhaps more acceptable, to throw a banana peel “away” in a trash receptacle than it is to return it to nature. Granted, the banana most likely was not grown in the nearest natural setting, yet the banana peel will still decompose. But as the banana peel currently goes, it is thrown in the trash, most likely in a plastic bag, collected by a waste company, and taken to a landfill. There the banana peel is mixed with dissimilar non-biodegradable waste, where it produces the climate-damaging greenhouse gas known as methane.

People produce a lot of food waste, including the half eaten casserole as well as the banana peel or old bread. Sending this energy-rich waste (food waste can be used via various methods to produce fuel) via fuel-powered trucks to potentially environmentally hazardous landfills seems (at least to me) backwards in this modern society. But the reason behind sustaining such nonsense is quite clear, as the waste industry topples tens of billions of dollars in revenue annually. Trash firms want to burn gas to get your food waste because it is highly profitable, despite the system’s detriment to the environment. But is there not an alternative?

I live in an apartment, like many people, and I produce a lot of food waste. I wish I could throw it outside, but I cannot. I might get in trouble, attract rodents, and make the space near our apartment building less pleasant. If we had a garden or a nearby shared public space dedicated to composting then I might be able to take my compost there. We do not. I could compost in my apartment, but I fear roaches and other bugs. We have tried to grow plants inside several times and we always get a bug infestation, so I can only imagine what indoor compost might produce or attract. I managed to find an indoor composting machine that did everything I wanted—eliminate odor, accelerate the decomposition process, and take up minimal space—but it was several hundred dollars and required the use of electricity. While I like to think of myself as environmentally aware I still cannot justify spending hundreds of dollars to handle waste that I currently discard virtually free of charge. The fact that the composter requires electricity is also less than ideal. So, I ask, is there not an improved alternative to resolve this problem (this is where I wish one more time that I had studied engineering in college)?

The call to engineers is to create an ideal composting machine which satisfies the following characteristics:

  • Less than $50, preferably less than $30
  • Made of minimal materials
  • Few if any moving parts
  • Easily reparable
  • Durable
  • Odor preventing
  • Leak-proof
  • Compact
  • Accelerates the decomposition process, if possible
  • Uses common home waste such as paper for dry material

Once the composter is made and available to the public, people can start putting their food scraps in it to produce compost. Policymakers will also need to help the public figure out what to do with this compost, such as linking communities with farms or developing curbside compost-collection programs (cheers to San Francisco, California). Otherwise the public will have a bunch of compost with nowhere to put it. Perhaps if engineers build the ideal indoor composter, the policies will come.

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About Emerging Environments

Thoughts about environmental policy, sustainability, cancer, and more.
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