Carbon emissions from cars and factories often are blamed for creating the climate crisis, yet food waste contributes the most greenhouse gases in the world.
“Methane gas is a greenhouse gas,” said Nat Stein, composter in chief for Soil Cycle, a division of Colorado Food Rescue, a nonprofit that aims to build a healthy and equitable food system. “It’s like 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, the big headliner.”
Indeed, food waste emits so much methane that if it were a country, it would be the third-largest generator of greenhouse gases behind the U.S. and China.
“I think as people increasingly feel and experience the impacts of climate change — and of drought and wildfire and flooding that we all experience here in this region — people are like acutely aware of how the mismanagement of our resources impacts our health and safety,” Stein said.
Wanting to tackle the problem in Colorado Springs, she created her first composting site in the Shooks Run neighborhood last summer. She’s added two more since. Composting naturally recycles food waste, creating “black gold,” a nutrient-dense, dirtlike substance that enhances gardens’ growth.
The Westside Community Center has reaped the benefits. It’s working with Soil Cycle to use some of the compost for its new community garden.
“Not only do we get to keep food waste out of the landfill, but we also now get to put it into our soil and get vegetables from it,” said Richard Mee, one of the gardeners there. “So it’s a perfect collaboration, a perfect synergy.”
Having a prolific garden is not the only perk of composting food waste, said Mee. It can help your health, too.
Because soil with compost is more nutrient dense, the vegetables are, too. “Good bacteria in the soil props up our gut microbiome, which then causes us to be healthier,” Mee said.
With the environmental and human health benefits of composting, Stein hopes to bring more centers to the city. “After we started in Shooks Run, at the end of that pilot period, we had like 40 households,” she said. “We’re kind of ready to expand because we were getting a lot of interest outside of that geographical territory.”
In order to reach a larger base, Stein said, she hopes to get more donations, volunteers and supplies. She currently needs cement for their Westside Community Center location and also is in need of supplies for the new project opening next month at Ivywild.
Stein and Mee acknowledge that composting often gets mischaracterized as being smelly and too hard to do correctly. But it doesn’t take a biologist to create the sweet- and sour-smelling black gold, they say.
“I’m not a scientist. Like I didn’t know about this until I started doing it,” said Stein. “I think part of our mission is to be able to communicate the environmental and biological aspects of composting in a way that’s accessible for people.”