Black is the new gold. Today’s consumers are embracing sustainable practices and black gold, or compost, is in. Composting recycles organic materials, reduces landfill waste, and also improves soil quality. The result? A cleaner, healthier planet and robust garden. So, when did the history of composting begin? We’ll be blunt — a really long time ago.
Home Composting: A History
Farming started in West Asia around 12,000 BC. At this time, people discovered that it was far easier to pick a spot and grow or harvest your food instead of wandering indefinitely as hunter-gatherers. But it was a steep learning curve.
Evidence suggests the ancients created compost heaps in-situ. But the first written account of composting practices didn’t occur until about 2300 BC. Clay tablets found in Mesopotamia indicated that ancient Greek and Italian farmers cycled agricultural waste between farms. In ancient China, farmers fertilized rice paddies with anaerobic composting methods.
In North America, there are accounts of Native Americans placing seeds in pieces of fish to aid in nutrient availability and optimum crop growth. But in the US specifically, George Washington is believed to be the founder of home composting operations.
George Washington: Composting’s Founding Father
Washington wanted Americans to be good farmers. The fledgling nation needed reliable food production and a healthy, well-fed populace. He believed that caring for the soil through beneficial amendments and crop rotation was critical for plant growth. First, he experimented with mud from the Potomac River. But that didn’t work. Eventually, Washington discovered that compost was the ideal soil enhancer he’d been looking for.
A letter Washington wrote to his farmers said, “Rake, and scrape up all the trash, of every sort and kind about the houses…and throw it…into the Stercorary.” And thus, composting practices in American were born.
Home Composting Today
Around 25% of Americans practice composting at home. Most use the material to fertilize gardens, enhancing vegetable, fruit, and flower growth. Composting also gives people a way to reduce their household waste and lessen their contributions to landfills.
Starting a backyard compost heap is relatively easy. The biggest threat to the compost’s health is contamination with non-sustainable plastics and chemicals. But healthy inputs to the pile aren’t too difficult to achieve. The following materials can be put into a home compost heap:
- Food waste (banana peels, apple cores, eggshells, etc.)
- Wood trimmings
- Grass clippings
- Dried newspaper
Regular turning of the heap, moisture control, and airflow will cause the materials to break down. Within a few weeks, the pile will turn into rich, black compost that can be used to fertilize the garden.
Can plastics be composted?
Unfortunately, single-use plastics contribute significantly to landfills and pollution levels. But consumers and companies are becoming more aware of the benefits of switching to compostable plastics.
Sustainable plastics are made out of a compostable, biofilm material that can be safely added to a home compost pile. Composting, in addition to sustainable plastic use, can significantly cut down on waste levels and methane emissions.
Home Composting Benefits
If you’ve got the space and the time, home composting offers many benefits. The material enriches the soil. Amending a garden with home compost helps the soil retain moisture, and it can also reduce the incidence of plant diseases and control pests.
Using home compost cuts down on the need for potentially harmful chemical fertilizers. Methane emissions are also reduced since you’re not adding compostable materials to a landfill. With patience and perseverance, your home compost pile can result in a cleaner, healthier environment, tastier fruits and veggies, and vibrant flowers.