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International Compost Awareness Week: Keeping Our Soil Rich and Healthy

As our calendars approach the first full week of May, we should turn our attention to the International Compost Awareness Week (ICAW). This isn't just an occasion. It's a reminder of the tangible impacts of composting on our lives. 

Designed as the industry's leading comprehensive education initiative, ICAW highlights the vital contribution of composting in enhancing soil fertility, capturing carbon, filtering water, and many more. Stay with us as we delve deeper into this matter.

Featured in: May - Awareness Days, Months & Observances.

History and Background of International Compost Awareness Week

compost close up
Photo by herb007 on Pixabay.

The Compost Council of Canada started International Compost Awareness Week (ICAW) in 1995. Since then, the event has expanded to the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Ireland, focusing on composting.

Every first full week of May, it educates people about the importance of composting in enriching soil, promoting healthy plants, and reducing the reliance on artificial fertilizers and pesticides. Community and business events also occur throughout the week to encourage all types of composting, from backyard to large-scale composting.

ICAW has grown in scope and impact over the years, introducing various initiatives such as the "ICAW Poster Contest" in 2007 and the "Compost Film Contest" in 2019. It has also teamed with the International Compost Alliance (ICA), which includes compost associations and the compost industry, to promote composting worldwide.

Every year, participating international partners incorporating the United Nations Sustainable Goals (SDG) collaborate to promote composting to combat climate change. In 2024, the theme of the event is “COMPOST... Nature’s Climate Champion!”

The Cause and Its Challenges

According to the EPA, food scraps and yard debris contribute 28% of total waste. Most of this waste ends up in landfills, producing methane, a greenhouse gas. 

Composting is an environmental powerhouse, but people continue to misunderstand it. Investing in education is needed to have a successful compost pile. Once one knows what to add and not add to the pile, the challenge is making the habit of maintaining it.

Accessibility is also an issue, especially for urbanites living in high-rise apartments without gardens. Moreover, the scarcity of community composting programs and lack of policy support are significant challenges in reducing organic waste. 

Although recycling is more commonly mandated and incentivized by local governments, composting still needs to catch up. 

Why International Compost Awareness Week

compost
Photo by Goyojona on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

Composting isn't just a buzzword in eco-conscious circles; it's a significant, scientifically-backed tool with proven benefits for waste management. Consider for a moment the usual end destination of your discarded fruit peels or used coffee grounds - most likely a landfill. Changing this narrative by composting turns what was once 'waste' into a resource, effectively decreasing our contributions to landfills.

Moreover, composting plays a substantial role in combating climate change. How? By composting organic waste, we limit the production of methane, a notorious greenhouse gas, during decomposition in landfills.

But the wonder of composting doesn't end with waste reduction and climate change mitigation. The earthy, dark material from composting - often called "black gold" by gardeners - is a nutrient-dense boost for soil health. It improves the soil's moisture retention, making your plants more drought-resistant, and aids in thwarting those pesky plant diseases and unwanted garden pests. 

Ever noticed the vibrant, lush greens in a garden fed by compost compared to one that relies on chemical fertilizers? That's because composting contributes to making our soils and landscapes more fertile, dramatically boosting agricultural productivity while reducing our dependence on chemically loaded fertilizers.

Composting is also our ally for those trying to navigate water restrictions or simply seeking to lower their water usage. Enriching our soil with compost enhances its capability to retain water, trimming down the watering session frequency.

Lastly, our efforts to compost create a welcoming home for the small but mighty do-gooders of the soil ecosystem - worms and microorganisms. These underrated heroes play their part in fostering healthy, sustainable ecosystems and supporting the cycle of life.

So, perhaps composting might be the next small act in your daily life, making a difference for our environment and future generations. Your leftover peels, coffee grounds, and garden clippings could be a part of the solution, not the problem.

Quick Tips On How To Build A Compost

compost after sieving
Photo by SuSanA Secretariat on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

Composting is a simple yet effective means of reducing waste and cultivating healthy soil. However, achieving the desired results requires an understanding of basic principles. Key to this process is the nurturing of helpful microorganisms, which thrive in a balanced environment of nitrogen and carbon materials.

Home compost systems prefer aerobic decomposition. Here, microbes harness oxygen to process waste efficiently. Temperature regulation also plays a part in impacting the rate at which food waste decomposes. Moisture control is vital, too, with conditions needing to be neither overly dry nor wet.

You should incorporate a mixture of nitrogen and carbon materials in your compost. Nitrogen sources can include fruit scraps or coffee grounds, while carbon-rich materials might be cardboard or dry leaves. Avoid non-biodegradable substances and pet waste, which aren't conducive to a healthy compost.

In urban locales, check for local composting guidelines. Adaptable strategies exist even for those with limited outdoor space. With correct handling, composting can be an easy and eco-conscious action in daily life.

Efforts and Initiatives

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has instituted the Global Compost Project. This project reduces organic waste and curbs carbon emissions by promoting composting practices worldwide. UNEP has brought composting to the environmental table and has sparked a composting revolution on a global scale.

Meanwhile, the European Compost Network (ECN) is a non-profit organization devoted to sustainable organic waste management and composting throughout Europe. Their educational programs and events, especially during International Compost Awareness Week, have generated awareness and practical solutions for sustainable waste management.

At the local level, some governments have made significant efforts to reduce waste and promote composting practices. 

San Francisco, for example, has implemented a composting program that has diverted over 1 million tons of organic waste from landfills. This initiative is an excellent example of how communities can take responsibility for the environment and implement effective waste management strategies.

How to Get Involved and Support International Compost Awareness Week

food waste and garbage on compost
Photo by Bernard Dejean on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

During International Compost Awareness Week, you can participate in local composting workshops or webinars to learn about the composting process. This hands-on learning experience can enrich an individual's understanding and also empower them to contribute to the cause. 

In addition, social media can amplify the message of International Compost Awareness Week through popular hashtags such as #ICAW or #CompostAwareness. 

Volunteering is also a rewarding avenue to support this cause. Educational institutions, compost associations, and community centers often appreciate volunteers who can impart composting knowledge. 

You can help promote organics recycling, for instance. Collaborating with local eateries or grocery stores to compost their food waste is another actionable step to curb waste in landfills. Moreover, it cultivates a community ethos centered on sustainability, which should make composting fun for everyone.

Lastly, if you still don’t have a compost pile in your homes, encourage the whole family to start one. Together, learn what not to compost and what you can and build DIY compost bins.

Conclusion

International Compost Awareness Week encourages people to compost organic matter, in order to reduce landfill waste and support the environment's health. Let us transform our relationship with waste and the environment through composting and work towards a better future for our planet and generations.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. What is International Compost Awareness Week?

This annual collaborative and international effort aims to raise public awareness about and celebrate composting and its role in reducing waste and improving soil health.

2. When is it celebrated?

This event occurs in the first week of May each year.

3. Why is composting important?

It helps divert organic waste from landfills, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and enriches soil with valuable nutrients.

4. How can I start composting at home?

Collect fruit and vegetable scraps, yard waste, and other organic materials in compost bins or piles. Make sure to maintain the right balance of green and brown materials, keep it moist, and turn it regularly.

5. What are the benefits of composting?

Composting reduces the need for chemical fertilizers, improves soil structure, retains moisture, and promotes healthy plant growth. It also helps reduce landfill waste and supports a more sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyle.

Mike is a degree-qualified researcher and writer passionate about increasing global awareness about climate change and encouraging people to act collectively in resolving these issues.

Fact Checked By:
Isabela Sedano, BEng.

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