Resource, Not Waste

Resource, Not Waste

Composting makes its debut in Birmingham

Some might argue going green and being more environmentally conscious became a more mainstream idea in the last five years. Issues like the “save the turtles” initiative and metal straws became trendy, many people started to really think about what kind of impact they have on the Earth.

In more recent years the act of composting, buying bulk soaps and detergent, changing from single-use plastic and paper to more green options has begun to take North America by storm. Being more sustainable through acts as simple as conserving water by taking shorter showers or by buying your vegetables from local farmers can help our earth in so many ways. But one of the main ways we’ve learned to help the environment is by composting and keeping certain items out of landfills.

Photos taken by Claire Pool

When food scraps go into landfills, they generate methane, a greenhouse gas with a global warming potential 84 times greater than carbon dioxide. Because the food scraps sit in piles around the landfills, they aren’t being moved and aerated to prevent methane from building up in pockets. Greenhouse gases cause climate change by trapping heat in the atmosphere, but also contribute to respiratory diseases from smog and air pollution. So by choosing to compost over tossing out food scraps to go to a landfill, you’re helping to create a greener place to live.

But what exactly is composting? Composting is the aerobic decomposition of organic materials by microorganisms.

Matthew Nesbitt, the founder of Field Culture Compost in Birmingham, further explains the science behind composting and why it works.

“Most homes that compost have a barrel type composting holder,” Nesbitt said. “This is where you’ll store everything. You need a mix of nitrogen compounds, air and water. These have to be balanced.”

Nesbitt went on to describe the necessity of balancing the ratios of carbon to nitrogen during this process.

“It’s 3:1 carbon to nitrogen by volume. Wood chips, fall leaves, natural sawdust will help create the carbon. It also has to be aerated, meaning you have to turn the compost so it doesn’t create pockets of methane and it will continue to decompose,” Nesbitt said.

Most people are turned off by composting because of the smell- rotting food isn’t exactly the most welcoming scent. 

“Well-made compost doesn’t smell. If it does, then add more carbon,” Nesbitt said. “If it’s dry, add more water. If it’s not breaking down, add more nitrogen, (a.k.a food scraps).”

Field Culture Compost is Birmingham’s first composting facility, having appeared in late 2020 and flourishing since. The company’s subscription service for picking up compost from homes includes a 3.5 or 5-gallon container for customers to store food scraps. Then, their team comes either weekly or bi-weekly to collect compost. They use the food scraps to make compost, which is eventually used by farmers, gardeners and landscapers to improve their soils, which then returns valuable nutrients back to the land.

This soil comes from a circular economy model, arguably one of the most exciting parts of what composting does. By taking food people can’t or don’t consume and turning it into compost, the company then creates nutrient-rich soil, which they sell back to the community of farmers, gardeners and landscapers to begin growing more crops.

Field Culture Compost also offers its subscription services to commercial businesses, with restaurants being one of its biggest customers.

Weston Stitt, the sustainability manager at Bottega in Birmingham, Ala. talked about why composting became an option for their restaurants when he had to look for other ways to deal with the food scraps.

“Our farms in Harpersville, Ala. is where we keep our chickens, and we would supplement the chickens with old food scraps from the restaurant. Sometimes the chickens weren’t interested in the food or the food was toxic to them, so there was always a process of dividing the food, removing the toxic pieces, taking off stickers and it was all very time-consuming.”

Stitt began seeking out another option to reduce food waste but that wasn’t as time-consuming as sorting their scraps for the chickens. 

“We had a contact at the Alabama Environmental Council who directed us to an article about Field Culture Compost, and we immediately saw they could fill the void we needed,” Stitt said.

Visions started to align, contracts were made and suddenly Bottega was one of Field Culture Compost’s initial commercial clients. 

Field Culture Compost spent a lot of time educating Bottega’s staff on the importance of composting for the Earth. They also provided explanations and lessons on how to get them started quickly. The elements of the program, like the education, the environmental impact and the financial benefit, made it worthwhile to Bottega.

So why should other businesses switch to composting? Stitt said it has benefitted not only the environment but also his family’s company.

“One thing I think of when I think of composting is that it attaches to three pillars: social, financial and environmental. You have a great opportunity to connect with your staff, see what they think and hear their opinions. You also end up saving money by not needed solid waste management as often. Lastly, you see the impact you’re able to make on the environment through this service.”

Seeing each side of Field Culture Compost and the impact they are making on the Birmingham environment is eye-opening. The relationship shows not only homeowners, but also commercial businesses, that they can take one small step toward a greener planet through composting. It serves as a powerful model for other local businesses that value a more sustainable Birmingham.