One of the most amazing capabilities of compost is its ability to sequester carbon. The carbon in organic materials that would otherwise fill up the atmosphere can instead be safely stored in soil for decades, which also enables microbe and plant growth that increases the total carbon sucked in. This has the double-whammy benefit of both restoring our soil health and lowering emissions.
We’ve always known how amazing compost is at this and the science just keeps mounting in support. In fact, recently a study conducted over no less than 19 years has shown just how powerful compost can be as a solution to climate change.
So what was this study really about and does it mean that the world is starting to wake up to compost?
Published in the Global Change Biology journal by researchers at the University of California, this article is truly ground-breaking (no pun intended) in the field of compost research. Over 19 years, these scientists dug up 6ft deep soil cores on conventional, cover-cropped and compost-added land and the results were astounding.
Conventional soils didn’t release or store much carbon but surprisingly, cover-cropping, while increasing surface soil carbon, was actually losing significant amounts of carbon below that depth and over the long term. Cover-crops are typically grasses and legumes planted to prevent erosion, restore nutrients and, often claimed, sequester carbon. This finding blows through that long-held belief and puts another ball in the compost court.
The most exciting finding was that when compost was added, soil carbon content increased 12.6%, almost 1% per year. This is way more than the international “4 per 1000” initiative, which pushes for an increase of 0.4% of soil carbon every year.
This finding has massive implications to agriculture. Farmers managing hundreds of acres of land will be able to not only capture a substantial amount of carbon, but offset their agricultural emissions, improve their soils and create a valuable product out of their waste streams.
The study also validates something we’ve been saying a long time.
Artificial carbon capture, technologies that chemically or mechanically suck carbon out of the air and store it underground, is fascinating. It’s an exciting area of innovation and will eventually have its place. However, it's what’s called “business-as-usual”. This technology is so hyped up because it means that industry and individuals can continue on as they are without needing to change anything.
Carbon capture already exists and it’s called compost. Not only that but compost also restores soil health, retains moisture, recycles organic waste, builds circular economies and countless other benefits. Worldwide composting, from home to farm, is going to be a pretty big change but it’s a change that we need to make.
You can start by sequestering with your very own backyard compost as we're always posting about the best compost tips and how to get started! Make sure you've subscribed and are following our socials - Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn - for all the best compost content.