Toby Campbell (pictured) writes about the power of composting in this Raven Radio Listener Commentary. (KCAW/Rose)

Note: Opinions expressed in commentary on KCAW are those of the author, and are not necessarily shared by the station’s board, staff, or volunteers.

My name is Toby Campbell. Since my husband and I moved to Sitka in 1987, we have composted our fruit and vegetable waste. It has always been astounding to me how much beautiful soil as well as balls of worms come from our compost pile, which we’ve gratefully used in our vegetable and flower beds (and shared these worm balls with our friends)!

What I didn’t really think about was the fact that IF we were not doing this, but instead throwing it all into our garbage can, which would then be hauled to a landfill, this food waste would produce methane and Co2, which are very detrimental to both the ozone layer and climate. I’d like to share some information that I recently learned about a composting program in the nearby, small Alaskan community of Gustavus…

In an interview with Paul Berry, Operator/Manager of the City of Gustavus Disposal and Recycling Center, I found out the details of their “Food Waste Composting Plan” – a very impressive, self-sustaining system. The citizens of Gustavus and commercial businesses bring their food waste to the compost center where they have a composting yard for mixing, storing, curing, and screening. People pay 19 cents per pound, the same price as for recyclables, to drop off their food waste. Because it starts out too wet, it is then covered with “overs”, which are bulky-sized wood chips and sawdust. This adds “porosity”, which is air space between the particles of waste, allowing for air circulation, preventing the production of methane gases. This mixture “cooks” for about three weeks, while the heat of the mixture gets up to at least 146 degrees, killing the weed seed.

It takes between 6-9 months to create soil from food waste. In FY 2018, 45,695 pounds of food waste was turned into about 14 cubic yards of soil. Gustavus citizens, then, buy back the soil for $4 for a five gallon bucket or $19 for a trash can full of soil. 

As I’m reading Drawdown, a  comprehensive look at global warming and what communities and individuals can do to mitigate our effects, I learned that 1/4 of global warming is due to methane gas alone; also, that there are more microbes in a teaspoon of healthy soil than there are people on the planet. These soil microorganisms help to break down organic matters as well as putting key nutrients back into circulation within an ecosystem.

My name is Toby Campbell. I love the idea that by being a responsible citizen of not only Sitka, but our shared earth, I can do something helpful, to effectuate a positive outcome, AND not add as much harmful gas to our earth’s atmosphere.