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 Composting Basics

Establishing a formal composting waste program for leftover food scraps and green, organic materials is something that is gaining popularity and frequency in many municipalities and neighborhoods in rural, urban, and suburban areas. A Composting program can be an effective way to reduce waste disposal fees, can contribute to replenishing the quality of soil, and helps to save space in landfills for items that cannot be recycled. However, before your city or town starts a composting program for waste food and food scraps, it’s essential that some research be done first.

Whether you’re starting a small composting program or a large project, understanding and controlling these five composting requirements will help to improve your chances for food waste recycling success.

1.     The first key to food composting success is to understand the nutrient and feedstock balance. Successful decomposition of organic matter requires a balance of “green” organic material that is nitrogen-rich such as horse, cow, goat, chicken or other farm animal manure, food waste and food scraps, grass clippings, and “brown” organic materials that are carbon-rich such as wood chips, branches, and dry leaves. Establishing the right nutrient blend for your geographical location requires patience and experimentation. If you get it right, you’ll have nutrient-rich compost. If you get it wrong, you’ll send up with something that resembles a bad-smelling pile of food waste!

2.     The second factor to control for is the particle size. If you fail to shred the compostable material the surface area won’t be ideal for organisms to feast on and the breakdown will take much longer or not at all. However, shredding material into very small pieces will restrict the air flow and that can reduce the composting process. Once again, you’ll need to experiment to find what works best for your climate.

3.     Moisture is also an important composting factor to remember. The microorganisms living and eating their way through your compost pile require moisture to survive. Depending upon the climate and weather conditions in your region, occasional watering of your compost pile may be necessary.

4.     All living things require oxygen to survive and your compost pile is a living thing. Regardless of the size of your compost pile, it needs to be turned on a regular basis to monitor the decomposition process and if necessary, adding in brown or green matter.

5.     It is helpful to monitor the temperature of the compost area as microorganisms cannot survive when conditions are overly hot or cold. Having an understanding of the weather and temperature conditions will help you to plan the best place for a compost pile and if additional support may be required during winter or summer months.

Composting food isn’t quite as easy as disposing of food in the garbage, but once you understand the science and requirements, you can help to improve the environment while save your business or municipality money by removing food waste materials from the landfill.

Composting - General Information

1.      Composting is the process by which organic matter is decomposed in a controlled environment to become compost

2.      The organic matter being decomposed cannot be used in its original state due to various reasons, but is useful when turned into compost.

3.      Compost can be beneficial to the environment by adding organic material to soil, improving soil aeration and drainage, and increasing the amount of nutrients the soil can hold.

4.      Composting saves money that would otherwise be spent on the disposal of the organic waste, while also creating a useful by-product.

5.      Many different materials can be composted, including food wastes, grass clippings, and certain by-products produced by food processing, the paper and wood industries, and chemical production.

6.      Co-composting is a method used in composting where two different products are composted together. This not only accelerates the amount of time it takes for decomposition to occur, but also improves the quality of the compost.  Keeping in mind the carbon to nitrogen ratio in the products you compost will lead you to be able to make higher-quality compost in a shorter amount of time.

7.      Many markets exist for the sale of compost if enough is created.

8.      Windrow composting is the easiest type of composting to implement. The waste is piled in six foot high piles that are about 12 feet wide. The windrow is turned to accelerate the process by aerating the waste.

9.      Aerated static pile composting uses an air plenum, which the compost pile is built on top of. The air flow is controlled mechanically, therefore allowing larger compost piles than you can use with windrow composting. A blower is attached to the system to circulate air throughout the pile.

10.   In-vessel composting is generally the most expensive form of composting. There are many different ways to do in-vessel composting, but all include keeping the composting confined in containers and using certain methods to accelerate the composting process. The reason the costs are so high is because the material to build proper containers is costly and the amount of maintenance and operation needing to be done is very high and requires skilled workers.

11.   The microorganisms in the organic material are what turn the waste into compost. They break down the materials into less biologically active compounds using a process called digestion. Temperature, aeration, and moisture are the three things these microorganisms need to be able to thrive and digest the waste.

12.    The curing period occurs after digestion. The compost decomposes much slower during this phase and it’s very important that curing piles are turned. Otherwise the compost may start to smell bad and compounds may develop in the compost that will harm any plants the compost is used on.

More on Composting

Organic materials (such as food, wood, and yard waste) make up the majority of the solid waste we throw away, in both residential and commercial environments. These materials could be composted and reused instead of thrown away and added to the waste stream.

Food Waste

13.      Food waste is the number one waste added to landfills.

14.      When food waste decays in landfills, it releases methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas and is very dangerous to the environment.

15.      Throwing food away in regular dumpsters attracts insects and rodents. Food should be stored in a leak-proof reusable bin while waiting to be composted.

16.      Composting is beneficial because it reuses food scraps that would otherwise be thrown away, not only taking them out of the waste stream, but also using them to create another useful product.

17.      Composting can be done on- or off-site, depending on how much waste you r company creates, how much space you have for composting machinery, whether you have enough employees to handle the task, and whether or not you have a usage for the amount of compost that would be created.

There are a few different composting methods to choose from if you are interested in starting your own on-site composting:

A.      In-vessel composting is good for companies who produce any volume of waste and they take up less space than other composting methods.

  • -The vessel food waste is put into is enclosed, with a controlled environment (which is probably electrically regulated) inside. The equipment generally will have a way to turn the enclosed waste so it aerates properly.

  • -In-vessel composters can be just about any size, depending on how much waste is being processed.

  • -Unlike other composting methods, in-vessel composting can be done year-round because it’s contained and the internal environment is controlled.

  • -Just about any kind of organic waste can be composted with in-vessel composters.

  • It takes a few weeks before the material is properly composted.

B       Aerated Windrow/Pile Composting is used for large amounts of waste.

-Organic materials are shredded and  placed in long piles or rows. These piles are turned by hand or a machine.

-This method requires large amounts of land and labor

Since large amounts of waste are processed using this method, large amounts of compost are formed.  Be ready to deal with this if you choose this method

C.      Unaerated Static Pile Composting is suitable for small amounts of waste.

-Cannot process meat or grease at all.

-Waste is all placed in one pile instead of rows. Aeration is done by layering the pile with wood chips so air can pass through the pile. Pipes may also be used for aeration.

-This method needs much observation to make sure the process is continually working correctly

-Compost is produced within 3 to 6 months.

D..     Vermicomposting uses worms to break down organic wastes.

-This method is quick and produces a very good compost

-Red worms and organic matter are placed in a container together. Over time, the worms eat food scraps and paper and turn it into a compost called castings, which is used as potting soil.

-This is a relatively simple and quick method of composting and the bind can be sized for the amount of food waste they need to contain.


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