Dr. Greenthumb, or How the Pandemic Can Make a Person Think About Composting
A Multi-part Series Rooted in the Facts
For the average person growing up in Long Beach, a backyard was a 5-step concrete walk from end to end, unless you had a larger one in exchange for living space the size of a closet. So growing any kind of garden or trying to compost rarely crossed people's minds, despite efforts to be as sustainable as possible.
Then in 2020, a pandemic hits and the shelves of grocery stores were ransacked by panicking consumers like swarms of locusts (our condolences if you were trampled by anyone we know scrambling through the aisles). For those in need of stress relief, cannabis shops experienced a boom, and ever since we’ve notice many of our peers growing plants in their homes.
Familiar with the Soil
Personally, the travesty caused my curiosity to collide with a sense of urgency, and I wanted to know if growing our own plants/garden at home was a possibility; but let's be honest-- the ‘Male Bravado Starter Pack’ didn’t come standard with gardening instructions growing up with machine shop and sports. That being said, as renaissance men and hemp advocates, the group at GreenTek took soil samples and began investigating what makes a good harvest.
Genuine searches will tell you good soil tends towards slight acidity, with a PH slightly below neutral (PH 6-7). Why? For one, the breakdown of organic materials into carbon dioxide, water and compost in the soil releases hydrogen in balances that promote life.
What’s more, the soil needs a mix of nutrients--food for crops--mainly Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium. These are commonly found in fertilizers, but a quick “sustainability” search was filled with articles detailing how runoff from animal manure fertilizers often cause waterway poisoning algae blooms, and are bad for the environment...It is truly amazing how such a green mission quickly gets caught in nuance. After removing our palms from our faces, we found this gem:
"The Cadillac of balanced organic fertilizers is compost. Besides offering a wide spectrum of nutrients, especially when made from a wide spectrum of raw materials, compost is also a good source of organic matter. So good, in fact, that its nutrient concentrations are not high enough for compost to be legally sold as “fertilizer”; it must be classified as a “soil amendment.” (AP News)"
Compost, right... like food scraps, agricultural waste, and what everyone says single use items need to end up as?
Composting, a Climate Change Reducer
The irony of the age of advertising jargon is that so many ads talk about the compostability of products, that you can be fooled into thinking you really know what “compost” actually means. Certainly, it’s a popular moving target of both companies and critics for its benefits and disadvantages, but in its essence, why is composting important?
For many, when we think of sustainability and life-cycles, composting often comes up. Eco-Conscious companies like Sana, and GreenTek, make developing products from renewable, compostable materials their mission statement. Yet a common critique of compostable plastics is that if they end up in the landfill, they defeat their purpose, since they produce GreenHouse Gases(GHG); but if the materials are plant-based how can that be?
To us, the answer was intriguing. While factories spewing out pollutants are definitely culprits of GHG’s and climate change, in reality, organic waste like food scraps and yard trimmings that end up in a landfill also contribute climate-changing emissions to a staggering degree. How? The key factor is being stuck under tons of stagnant waste, which raises the temperature and suffocates the bacteria that would naturally decompose materials into the carbon, water and nitrogen nutrients for soil--almost regardless of the inputs. This spurs the production of ammonia and methane, the most potent (GHG). When composted instead, materials are ground up, aerated, and rotated to produce a nutrient-rich supplement for use in wineries, cannabis farms, home gardens and more. This doesn’t apply to many petroleum-based materials and other contaminants that living microbes can’t consume (so these materials are not welcome in any composts), but for the rest, there are over 200 facilities compost statewide, generating revenue from processing these life-giving materials.
Agro-Waste, the Big Picture Problem
Unfortunately, by that logic, all organic waste that doesn’t make it to composting is a problem, something policymakers are taking note of. Like many members of Hemp associations, Greentek is keenly aware of the millions of pounds of biomass waste left after harvest, and what the impact of legalization means at a commercial level. New farms will balloon the 10+ million tons of organic/recyclable waste annually that ends in landfills in California alone. Due to the links between emissions and worsening fires and droughts, regulators have begun passing laws designed to cut disposal of organic waste in half over the next few years, diverting them to composting centers to create value instead. How serious are they? Their newest regulations put corporate producers of organic waste who don’t follow guidelines in the position of facing CalRecycle’s penalties totalling hundreds of thousands of dollars per year by 2025.
Despite this, the biggest obstacle currently appears to be that the state’s composting infrastructure can barely handle the current amounts of waste, let alone the explosion of material that's about to occur.
Spreading the Seeds in Our Garden
While more high quality mulch means greater resources for our own home growing op, the bigger picture concerns tied to composting gave greater depth to our desire to create quality soil, and sparked quality conversation on the topic of less pollution, circular economies, and reductions in climate change.
What do you think? Does the fact the policymakers are aggressively moving to influence systemic change inspire you? Or are there greater, more feasible ways to maximize a circular economy.
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The journey into sustainability starts with us, as we seek to better understand and support meaningful systems in our society. As future executives and leaders, we must be humble enough to learn about the world beyond our individual bubbles, and be willing to trumpet positive ideas that shift mentalities. -- J. L. Hinshaw
Biobased is an Ongoing Series of Articles by GreenTek Packaging writers, a collaboration with industry leaders and resources designed to illuminate the topics relevant to the mission of Circular Economies. To learn more about the topic, visit the links below: