must we compost?
As an influential institution, McGill University
has an obligation to portray positive environmental
leadership. As a leading science and engineering
research center, McGill has the capability to
reduce its own negative environmental impact.
The Gorilla Composting project will send a strong
message to the City of Montréal that McGill
is an environmental leader, encouraging municipal
authorities and other institutions to take action
Organic recycling is an important issue to work
on, given the recent attention in Canada and especially
in the City of Montréal. The environmental
benefits are spectacular, the costs are minimal,
and the research and development will put McGill
University at the forefront of a growing field.
Other institutions and the City will consult McGill
for organic recycling solutions.
- Current Organic Matter Disposal - what's
wrong with the status quo?
Immediate dangers due to landfill disposal of
organic matter include gas emissions suspected
of having reproductive and carcinogenic effects,
and known to cause intense fires. In southern
Québec, most landfills have permeable limestone
bottoms which, due to wet organics transport sludge,
leach any toxins into the surrounding groundwater.
Long-term problems with current organic disposal
are the non-recoverability of organic resources
and diminishing landfill space - local landfills
will close in less than 10 years. Regarding climate
change, green houses gases produced by landfills
account for 6% of total CO2-equivalent gases in
Québec , and organic waste is a significant
part of landfill material.
The City of Montréal has mandated that
60% of compostable waste be diverted from landfills
by 2008 , and while residential pick-up will begin
at this time, institutions such as McGill will
not be included , even though they will be factored
into the reduction goal. Therefore, McGill will
be required to take action to meet this target
on its own.
- World Food and Ecosystem Outlook
Montréal throws away 2000 tons of organic
waste per day , while surrounding agriculture
administers masses of non-renewable chemical fertilizers
and pesticides, which tend to destabilize natural
ecosystems and contaminate surface and ground
Many parts of the world, including Canada, are
subject to soil degradation and depletion due
mostly to the lack of replenishing humus or organic
matter that provides fertilizer and nutrients
in the soil.
Most of the world is subject to rapid loss of
functional ecosystems due to unsustainable agriculture
and harvest practices, and waste disposal.
- Benefits of Composting - how does composting
Compost, the result of natural biodegradation,
is a renewable resource. Chemical fertilizer,
derived from petroleum and produced with additives,
is not. Agricultural application of compost and
organic fertilizers outperform artificial methods
for the long term , and can be procured locally.
Composting aids the formation of aggregates in
soil, which tends to improve aeration, improve
drainage due to increased permeability, and decrease
the need for fertilization and irrigation.
Humic acid and other organic compounds returned
to soil via composting protect soil from drought
via water retention, protect soil from erosion
which is mainly caused by low fertility, restores
minerals and micro-nutrients, and balances pH
and CNPK levels. Also, the composting process
kills pathogens, decreasing need for pesticides,
and supports a healthy, natural ecosystem. Plants
have evolved to grow out of compost in the presence
of other life.
Composting eliminates organic matter deposition
in landfills and subsequent problems.
Inner-city greening with the help of compost produced
on-site improves soil health and sustainability
of a downtown green space while also eliminating
transportation and cost of soil and fertilizers.
If the human race is to persist, measures must
be taken to make agriculture more sustainable
and preserve natural ecosystems.
- Bottom Line
Composting transforms organic waste into a valuable
resource, and is a worthwhile investment.
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