Editorial: A Positive Attitude

Nora Goldstein, BioCycle

Nora Goldstein
BioCycle June 2013, Vol. 54, No. 6, p. 4

Last week, I was the keynote speaker at the Northeast Resource Recovery Association’s (NRRA) 32nd Annual Conference in Manchester, New Hampshire. The NRRA is nationally recognized for establishing innovative grassroots recyclables marketing cooperatives with competitive pricing that enables small, rural and large urban communities to manage their own recycling programs. The theme of this year’s conference was “The ‘Dirt’ on Recycling” as interest is growing in these communities to capture more resources in the waste stream, including food waste.

The title of my presentation was “How to Succeed In Composting: Managing The Art & The Science.”  When asked for a show of hands as to how many conference attendees currently operate composting facilities, only a few were raised. This makes sense as the NRRA focuses on materials recycling. Later that day, I gave a workshop on food waste composting, and when polled, the audience was thirsty for knowledge on that particular organics stream.

The challenge for the keynote was how to sum up the art and science of composting in 30 to 40 minutes. For guidance, I referred to a book, The BioCycle Guide to The Art & Science of Composting, published by our company in 1991. This book was one of our bestsellers, as it came out in the heyday of the municipal composting boom when over 20 states had adopted disposal bans on leaves, grass and/or brush. Communities and their service providers turned to composting in droves. As BioCycle had already been in existence for 31 years by that time, we were the go-to source of knowledge and insights.

In the introduction to the book, our publisher and editor, Jerome Goldstein, started out with the following insight: “Success in composting requires the right attitude as well as the right technology. The Art & Science of Composting stresses the critical interrelationship between attitude and management, between subjective and objective, between policy and principles.” Thinking about that statement, I realized how prescient Jerry’s use of the word attitude was. Running a composting facility is a challenge and those who succeed do so in part because of their commitment, passion, vision and grit — aka attitude.

One of the photos I used in the presentation was of a truck starting to unload source separated food waste. The material was well on its way to decomposing, with a significant amount of liquid pouring out with the solids. The science part of how to manage those food waste loads is to quickly mix it with amendment, achieving the optimum carbon to nitrogen ratio that also provides adequate porosity, structure and moisture management. The “art” (or subjective) part is figuring out the best way to optimize that science, e.g., the materials handling part of managing those loads of highly putrescible and potentially odorous organics.

Each time I turn to my father’s writings for guidance and insights on how to tackle a particular task, I am blown away with what I discover. This time was no exception, and I’d like to share with BioCycle readers the closing paragraph of Jerry’s introduction to the Art & Science of Composting: “In many ways, composting has become a model for the transition that needs to occur in all areas which directly affect our quality of life and how we manage present and future resources. Composting is a key to sustainable waste management, and in that context, gives us insights on how an infrastructure for sustainability can be achieved. The achievement is based on research, technological advances, public policy initiatives, private sector investments — and most important — the commitment, talents and dedication of a great many individuals. On these building blocks, the potential of composting is being fulfilled.”

What a fabulous reason to have a positive attitude!

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