By Kristen DeAngelis, Gwynne Mhuireach and Sue Ishaq
Almost overnight, the COVID-19 pandemic has transformed many Americans' relationships with food. To relieve some of the stress associated with shopping safely for groceries and ensure food security, many people are once again planting "victory gardens." This tradition hearkens back to previous generations who cultivated home gardens during both World Wars.
How Compost Feeds Soils<p>Healthy soils are living mixtures of minerals, microbes, organic matter, water and air. Unhealthy soils may contain fewer microbes or less organic material. This makes them less active and less helpful for plants. Poor soils have trouble holding water, and are unable to decompose organic material into usable building blocks for new growth.</p><p><span></span>Making degraded soils healthier requires <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-restore-our-soils-feed-the-microbes-79616" target="_blank">feeding the microbes</a>. They need new organic matter – plant or animal tissues – that they can break down and recycle.</p><p>In healthy soil, some of that food comes from growing plants that fix carbon from sunlight and pump almost half of it, in the form of sugars, into the soil. In exchange, the microbes provide other nutrients that plants can't acquire on their own.</p><p>Soil microbes also feed on old organic matter, like leaf litter and dead roots. And new biochemical analyses suggest that when these microbes die, they <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.soilbio.2014.12.002" target="_blank">become part of soil organic matter themselves</a>.</p>
Access to Compost Is an Equity Issue<p>If compost is such a great resource, why don't more people make their own? In many ways, <a href="https://theconversation.com/inequity-takes-a-toll-on-your-gut-microbes-too-127659" target="_blank">healthy soil is a luxury</a>. For starters, it takes time to set up a compost pile, followed by continued maintenance – adding browns and greens at the right intervals, watering the pile and turning it over weekly in summer or monthly in winter.</p><p>Composting also takes tools and construction materials that not all aspiring gardeners can afford. It requires access to space, and a friendly regulatory environment that allows residents to create compost piles, which can produce odors and attract pests if they are not managed properly.</p><p>Factors like these are increasing interest in municipal composting programs, in which a community collects and processes residents' organic materials. These programs typically accept food and yard waste from restaurants, schools, businesses and local residents, and create a large-scale, <a href="https://ilsr.org/neighborhood-soil-rebuilders/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIwb744v7-6AIVzMDACh0gsADnEAAYASAAEgL5TPD_BwE" target="_blank">professionally run composting facility</a>.</p><p>Municipal composting saves money for communities by <a href="https://smartasset.com/mortgage/the-economics-of-composting" target="_blank">diverting food waste from landfills</a>. It also promotes sustainability by reducing <a href="https://www.epa.gov/lmop/basic-information-about-landfill-gas#:%7E:text=Methane%20Emissions%20from%20Landfills,of%20these%20emissions%20in%202018." target="_blank">emissions of methane</a>, a powerful greenhouse gas produced in landfills when waste breaks down in the absence of oxygen. And combining lots of different waste sources improves the breakdown of organic materials and generates <a href="https://doi.org/10.1515/eng-2017-0028" target="_blank">more nutritious compost</a>.</p><p>Many municipal programs allot participants a certain volume of compost in return for the waste they provide. And some offer <a href="https://www.cambridgema.gov/Services/curbsidecomposting" target="_blank">pickup and delivery</a>.</p>
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Growing Compost Programs<p>We encourage people with the necessary time and resources to <a href="https://www.esa.org/microbial/education-outreach/" target="_blank">try home composting</a>. However, creating and supporting municipal composting is necessary to meaningfully reduce greenhouse gas emissions from food waste and increase access to healthy soil.</p><p>Composting programs are sometimes available through <a href="https://ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/growing-local-fertility.pdf" target="_blank">local community gardens or farms</a>. Many private companies operate <a href="https://compostnow.org/compost-services/" target="_blank">local compost pickup services</a>.</p><p>Among U.S. cities, leaders in promoting city-scale composting services include <a href="https://sfenvironment.org/es/zero-waste/recycling-and-composting" target="_blank">San Francisco</a>, <a href="https://www.seattle.gov/utilities/services/food-and-yard/food-and-yard-waste-at-home" target="_blank">Seattle</a>, and smaller cities like <a href="https://www.burlingtonvt.gov/DPW/Recycling-Solid-Waste/FAQs" target="_blank">Burlington, Vermont</a>. These programs rely on local ordinances that either offer incentives or require restaurants and other large food waste sources to compost food waste instead of sending it to landfills.</p><p>Municipal composting needs consumer support to attract and retain funding and other resources. Demands for land, especially in urban settings, can spur city governments to sell underfunded or underutilized community spaces for commercial use – especially if local neighborhoods <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-019-10011-w" target="_blank">lack social capital to advocate for themselves</a>.</p><p>Promoting community-based food production and recycling waste via composting <a href="http://illinoiscomposts.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Municipal-Composting-one-pager-1.pdf" target="_blank">provides many benefits</a>. It creates jobs, expands access to healthy fruits and vegetables, improves the local environment – especially the soil – and helps <a href="http://www.safsf.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Silvestri_Estrada_SoilsCommunity_Final.pdf" target="_blank">mitigate climate change</a>. Best of all, investing in local agriculture helps boost the local economy, especially for <a href="https://doi.org/10.1093/heapol/czu109" target="_blank">those who need it most</a>: people seeking better access to safe and nutritious food.</p>
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Courtney Lindwall
If you're one of those people cooped up safely at home, with creative energy and free time to spare—count yourself lucky. Here, we've rounded up a list of two dozen environmental projects that can make your time indoors, or right outside, a little brighter. Whether you're ready to start rescuing more of your kitchen scraps, sewing your own cloth napkins, or documenting those backyard butterflies, we hope these simple green ideas will provide a calming means of coping during these unprecedented times. Have fun and stay safe.
Experiment in the Kitchen<p><strong>Spice up mealtime with recipes from </strong><a href="https://savethefood.com/recipes/" target="_blank">Save the Food</a> that will also help prevent your food from going to waste. Make a fromage fort to spread on your crackers, or "scraps falafel" to use up wrinkly onions and wilted herbs. And for dessert, how about some <a href="https://savethefood.com/recipes/leftover-mashed-potato-apple-cider-donuts" target="_blank">leftover mashed potato apple cider donuts</a>? </p><p><strong>Rescue wilting herbs.</strong> Make <a href="https://savethefood.com/storage" target="_blank">herb oil ice cubes</a><a href="https://savethefood.com/storage" target="_blank"> by </a>packing diced herbs into an ice cube tray, covering with olive oil, and freezing. Thaw for ready-made flavor in your next dish. You can also transform less-than-fresh herbs into sauces, like chimichurri or pesto, or roast them and mix with salt to create longer-lasting seasonings. </p><p><strong>Start a windowsill herb garden. </strong>You'll need some seeds or a small plant, an upcycled container like a coffee canister that leaves room for growth and drainage, and a sunny ledge. (The Herb Society of America can help you determine <a href="https://www.herbsociety.org/hsa-learn/intro-to-herbs/hsa-gardening-for-kids/light-indoor-gardens.html" target="_blank">the right dose of light and water for each species</a>.) In a few weeks' time, you'll be ready to add a sprig of fresh basil to your bowl of pasta or diced cilantro to your batch of guac.</p><p><strong>Arrange a plant-based recipe swap</strong> with friends and family, which will reduce your diet's climate impacts while creating some virtual community. (Remember: If <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/experts/sujatha-bergen/saving-planet-starts-our-plates" target="_blank">every American cut just one hamburger</a> or about a quarter pound of beef out of their diet each week, we could reduce emissions by as much as taking about 10 million cars off the road each year.)</p>
Enjoy a Dose of Nature<p><strong></strong><strong>Make your own basic bird feeder</strong> using pine cones, twine, nut butter, and birdseed. <a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/B-rxsVfAvaa/" target="_blank">This video from the Feminist Bird Club shows you one way to do it.</a> Hang it on a nearby tree you can spot through your window, then grab a pair of binoculars and do some armchair birding!</p><p><a href="https://www.nrdc.org/stories/how-and-why-be-seed-savior" target="_blank"><strong>Create an herbarium</strong></a>—a scrapbook of pressed, dried flowers or other plants. To prepare your samples, press the plant matter in a large book or between sheets of newspaper and place a weight on top. When the leaves are dry, mount them on acid-free paper to preserve them, and label each specimen on the page. You can also include illustrations, photographs, seed packets, and notes.</p><p><strong>Sharpen your naturalist ID skills.</strong> Try to identify every species of plant in your backyard or on a neighborhood walk. You can do the same for wildlife—and share your findings through <a href="https://www.projectnoah.org/" target="_blank">Project Noah</a>, a citizen science platform to discover, share, and identify wildlife.</p><p><strong>Grow new indoor plants</strong> with the use of stems and leaves, rather than seeds. Though it <a href="https://www.bbg.org/gardening/article/how_to_propagate_houseplants" target="_blank">depends on your individual plant</a> species, propagating houseplants is often as easy as cutting off a stem or leaf from an existing plant and sticking it in soil or fresh water. If it takes, a new root system should form within a few weeks—leaving you with a hearty second plant within a few more months. (Pro tip: This works for green onions too! Nearly submerge their sliced-off roots, end down, into a glass of water that you change every few days. Voilà: a nearly endless supply of scallions.)</p><p><strong>Observe monarch butterflies</strong> in your backyard and share your findings with Monarch Watch, an organization devoted to their <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/stories/monarch-butterflies-get-head-start-schoolyard" target="_blank">conservation</a>. Each year, monarchs make a remarkable 3,000-mile trek from as far north as the southern parts of Canada to the mountains of Mexico and back—but these pollinators are <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/experts/sylvia-fallon/monarch-butterfly-numbers-fall-again" target="_blank">in danger</a>. Register as one of Monarch Watch's citizen scientists to <a href="https://monarchwatch.org/calendar/?fbclid=IwAR1bawlAoraeMokwdiZa_GVONQqtDnqQxc_EM_UwzbO0zhq733PT6CQIgLc" target="_blank">help track the population's health</a>.</p><p><strong><a href="https://www.nrdc.org/stories/how-turn-your-patch-earth-barren-bountiful" target="_blank">Boost your backyard biodiversity</a>. </strong>Plant some milkweed—the main food source for monarch caterpillars and egg-laying habitat for the butterflies. Hang a bee nesting box somewhere it can get sunlight and warmth. Add a barn owl box or attach a simple roosting perch to a pole. For reptile enthusiasts, set up a small wood pile, using brush or old logs as shelter for lizards and snakes (plus fungi).</p>
Do Some Handiwork and Art Projects<p><strong>Make face masks </strong>for your friends, family, and workers on the frontlines. This <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/DIY-cloth-face-covering-instructions.pdf" target="_blank">Center for Disease Control guide</a> breaks down different techniques. If you're comfortable sewing, you'll just need two 10-by-6-inch rectangles of fabric, two pieces of elastic, and a needle and thread for each mask. The no-sew option only requires a T-shirt and scissors. Remember: Cloth masks should be cleaned regularly (the CDC says a washing machine is sufficient) in order to remain effective.<strong></strong></p><p><strong>Get your crayons out </strong>and do some therapeutic coloring. In honor of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and as part of a collaboration with NRDC, Studio Number One and its creative director, artist Shepard Fairey, have converted some of its archival activist artwork into <a href="http://www.studionumberone.com/free-downloads" target="_blank">black-and-white printouts for at-home coloring.</a></p><p><strong>Tackle your plastic bag stash</strong>, especially if your city or town is among those that recently banned the bag. Since current conditions may eliminate collection and recycling programs for plastic bags in your area, consider upcycling them instead. There are plenty of online tutorials for how to make outdoor pillow cushions stuffed with plastic bags, weave bags into <a href="https://www.instructables.com/id/Make-a-basket-out-of-plastic-bags/" target="_blank">sturdy baskets</a>, or wind them into jump ropes.</p>
Build Your Community<p><strong></strong><strong>Start an environmental movie club.</strong> Various apps let you host movie nights with friends online, so you can chat while you watch. You can find our recs for standout environmental films on <a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/B-QNBxqJAUR/" target="_blank">Instagram</a>—including <em>Poisoning Paradise</em>, <em>Virunga</em>, and <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/stories/how-turn-your-patch-earth-barren-bountiful" target="_blank"><em>The Biggest Little Farm</em></a>—with short summaries and tips on where you can find them online.</p><p>Document the environmental changes in your community<strong>, as they relate to climate change, through the </strong><a href="https://earthchallenge2020.earthday.org/" target="_blank"><strong>Earth Challenge </strong>2020's online portal</a>. The project will collect billions of observations in air quality, plastic pollution, and insect populations, and your insights will help promote policy change to address our warming world.</p><p><strong>Tune in to a new podcast</strong>. We recommend <a href="https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/range/hot-take-4#/" target="_blank"><em>Hot Take</em></a>, featuring NRDC's own Mary Heglar and her cohost Amy Westervelt, which takes a critical but constructive, intersectional look at how climates issues are being covered in the media. And despite the weighty content of the podcast, laughter is one of its defining sounds.</p><p><strong>Connect with climate justice activists</strong> by following along with <a href="http://thisiszerohour.org/our-actions/#actions" target="_blank">Zero Hour's Getting to the Roots digital series</a>. Each week, it focuses on a different theme that is a root cause of the climate crisis as well as ways to solve it—through digital leadership training, webinars, virtual open mics on Instagram and Twitter, art competitions, and podcast releases.</p><p><strong>Write a </strong><a href="https://www.nrdc.org/stories/how-write-successful-letter-editor" target="_blank"><strong>letter to the editor</strong></a> that tackles one of the environmental issues facing your community that's close to your heart. The letter can be written in response to a piece that's already been published by a given media outlet, or it can be a proactive statement of support for or opposition against a particular issue that affects fellow readers. It's the perfect way to reach thousands of individuals and still remain publicly engaged without having to leave the comfort of your home.</p>
New methods to reuse "fast fashion" clothes, recycling of construction materials, and adoption of electric school buses could all become possible in New York City under far-reaching new climate legislation introduced Thursday by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.
Adam Hester / Blend Images / Getty Images
The climate needs your help, the water needs your help, the land needs your help. In 2019 be part of the solution. The soil you walk on and grow food in holds a secret to some of the biggest problems facing the planet today.
- 5 Ways to Make Your Garden Regenerative ›
- Climate Change Makes Soils Saltier, Forcing Farmers to Find New ... ›
By Tim Lydon
When we gather around the table with friends and family this holiday season, many of us will look down at platefuls of climate change. It won't be our intention, of course, but one aftermath of our holiday cheer is food waste, which is increasingly cited as one of the world's biggest sources of carbon pollution. Fortunately, awareness around the issue is growing, and new resources—from simple household apps to major industry and government initiatives—are emerging to help us tighten the belt on food waste.
For Bill Gates, toilets are serious business. The billionaire philanthropist kicked off the Reinvented Toilet Expo in China and unveiled a new toilet that does not require water or sewers, and uses chemicals to turn human waste into fertilizer, Reuters reported.
"We are all here for one reason: because more than half the world's population doesn't have the safe sanitation they need to lead healthy and productive lives," Gates said in a speech on Tuesday in Beijing.
By Anita B. Stone
Compost—there never seems to be enough. And if you keep adding material to a single heap, the stuff is never really finished. The solution? A three-bin compost system.
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Food, as we know, is a terrible thing to waste. Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption gets lost or wasted every year. But what if we could use food waste to create more food?
That's the elegantly full-circle idea behind Indie Ecology, a West Sussex food waste farm that collects leftovers from some of London's best restaurants and turns it into compost. The nutrient-rich matter is then used to grow high quality produce for the chefs to cook with. Call it table-to-farm-to-table—and again and again.
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