How is composting connected to climate change?

Global warming refers to the warming of the planet, and it occurs when CO2 and other “greenhouse gasses” such as methane are released into the atmosphere. It might not be immediately clear how plastic products or food waste has anything to do with the release of these gasses and the warming of the planet; however, the two are linked. 

When food waste or organic compostable products are thrown into the garbage, they make their way to landfills where they decompose without exposure to oxygen. This anaerobic decomposition releases methane into the atmosphere, and that means adding to the greenhouse effect impacting global warming. 

Don’t let this knowledge about compostable products convince you to use plastic, though. Single-use plastics not only pollute the oceans, fill up landfills, endanger animals, and wind up in our food and drinking water–they also contribute to global warming. Plastics are derived from fossil fuels, and the extraction, transportation, and refinement of these materials adds to the greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere as well.  Plastics that end up littering our environment also produce methane and ethylene (another greenhouse gas) when exposed to sunlight or water.

Instead, just ensure that your compostable products are disposed of properly. Food waste and “browns” like cardboard or paper are easy–you can compost them yourself using pretty much any composting method. For compostable single-use products, it isn’t quite as easy. Some items, especially PLA, may require a high amount of heat to break down–much more heat than you’d generate in the average back-yard compost pile. As a result, an industrial composting service may be your only option, and if that isn’t available, you may have no choice but to throw those into the landfill. Other items may break down in your home compost but take much longer- a year or more. Use this resource to determine what you can do with your compostable products.