BioCycle April 2004, Vol. 45, No. 4, p. 4
YES, HAVE WE EVER COME A LONG WAY!
AS WE complete preparations for the 34th Annual BioCycle National Conference, it’s time to take a break and reflect on how far we’ve come since that first annual conference back in 1971. First thing that comes to mind is how few of us there were, how it was more of a concept than an actual industry, how a handful of researchers and compost facility managers spread what they knew as far as they could. Recently Jim Parr – now retired and living in northwestern Washington state – recalled his experiences in the early 1970s when he was chief of the USDA Biological Waste Management Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland. A major challenge then was to devise sludge (biosolids) management methods for beneficial reuse so the practice of ocean dumping would end. Recalls Dr. Parr:
“There was growing interest in the feasibility of sewage sludge application to agricultural or forest lands as a ‘useful’ organic amendment. EPA decided to fund a major research program on composting. We attracted some really ‘top notch’ chemists, engineers, microbiologists, plant and soil scientists, and economists including Eliot Epstein, Patricia Millner, John Walker, George Willson and Rufus Chaney. Very few of us knew very much about either sewage sludge or composting, and thus we proceeded to take our places on the learning curve. And learn we did, especially from our mistakes and lack of foresight!”
And learn we all did – in the fields as well as laboratories – on how to invest our time, our funds, our energies to start projects for public agencies, private companies, working with feedstocks of all kinds.
Back then (and continuing as well today), you needed to be an optimist to stick with composting and organics recycling methods. One person whom we think of often – who contributed so mightily in those years to advancing the understanding and practice – is Clarence Golueke of the University of California’s Sanitary Engineering Laboratory. Here are Clarence’s observations from an early issue of this journal:
“Composting is an excellent means of managing refuse, provided it be technically and economically feasible. Since its technical feasibility has been amply proven, a demonstration of its economic feasibility is all that remains to be done for composting to be widely accepted in this country for the large-scale treatment of refuse.”
So, for upwards of three decades, we’ve been wrestling with the economics … of generating a quality product without going broke … creating food for high-volume farm crops and high-value nursery crops. Along the way, we’ve been expanding markets for compost use in erosion control, storm water management, and generating renewable energy sources.
Through it all, as the decades slipped by and the new millennium arrived, steady progress has been made in the equipment and systems designed for composting. Originally, critical functions of aeration, turning, screening and size reduction meant using a machine designed for other purposes. Then gradually and so impressively, the “BioCycling” industry blossomed in all its glory. The Directory which begins on page 56 of this issue lists hundreds of firms in categories such as aerated containers, agitated beds, bagging, biofuels, biosolids management, chippers, dewatering, erosion control, food residuals management, mixers, monitoring, odor control, screens, size reduction, spreaders, trailers and turners. As noted in the comments on what it takes to grow the sustainable composting and organics recycling industry, we truly in this year of 2004 are part of a dynamic industry whose time has come. We hope you’ll join us and your many colleagues at our 34th Annual BioCycle National Conference June 21-23, 2004 in Philadelphia as we move even further ahead. – Jerome Goldstein