Composting Roundup

BioCycle November 2013, Vol. 54, No. 11, p. 11

Minden, Nevada: Composting On The Ranch

Composting on the Bently Ranch in Carson Valley, Nevada

Composting on the Bently Ranch in Carson Valley, Nevada

For nearly two decades Bently Ranch in Nevada’s Carson Valley (just east of Lake Tahoe) has been growing alfalfa, wheat and barley, and raising beef cattle, on its 62,000-acre spread. The ranch, founded by Donald E. Bently, a prominent Nevada entrepreneur and conservationist, has also been spreading the word about the benefits of compost and other eco friendly practices. According to its website, using compost is part of the ranch’s mission “to develop and promote a better ranching and farming model that can be used throughout the United States: a model that is both high in efficiency through diverse use of natural resources and grounded in the traditions of the Old West.” Bently Ranch began composting about 15 years ago, after officials from several local wastewater treatment agencies asked them to begin processing green waste and biosolids from five districts, according to General manager Matt McKinney. The facility currently receives green waste from the South Lake Tahoe Region’s Douglas County Transfer Station. Bently also accepts wood waste and construction waste at its 40-acre composting facility, charging a tipping fee.

In 2012, the facility processed 8,590 tons of wood waste, 5,160 tons of green waste and 9,223 tons of biosolids. The farm also composts agricultural residuals, such as “hay straw we can’t use,” McKinney says. The composting ratio is approximately one-third biosolids to two-thirds green and wood waste. Once the windrows reach an internal temperature of at least 130°F for pathogen reduction, it takes about 90 days to reach the mature compost stage. Regarding odor control, “we’ve learned a lot over the years,” McKinney notes. The key is daily turning, using a Scarab windrow turner, and daily watering, using a Mack truck that was reconfigured for that purpose. The two-person operation mixes feedstocks with a front-end loader. Finished compost is applied on the ranch’s fields, improving soil quality. Yields have steadily increased over the years, along with the water-holding capacity of the soil, which is important in an arid climate. In its first few years of composting, the ranch sold compost to the public, but, as its needs have grown over the years, Bently now uses all of the compost it makes on-site, according to McKinney. “We’re in a very sandy, desert-type area, so the more organic material we can get into the soil, the better off we are.”

The ranch grows wheat and barley in rotation with alfalfa, which is a perennial plant. Every eight years, alfalfa is removed and compost is applied to the fields at a rate of about one ton per acre. Compost is also applied each year after the annual wheat harvest. The soil is topdressed with compost, and then “disked-in” to a depth of eight to 10 inches. Bently keeps its ag operation “as pesticide-free as possible, McKinney says. “But once you start using biosolids for composting, you cannot use the “organic” label, which is silly.” Incorporating compost has enabled the ranch to reduce its use of commercial fertilizer by about two-thirds.

Malmo, Sweden: Online Composting University

A nonprofit organization,, recently introduced an online learning platform on organic waste management for local governments and the agricultural sector. “It’s not easy enough for influencers from around the world to get education on the benefits of source separation and organics recycling,” says Camille Duran, Founder of, which is based in Malmo and has operations in San Francisco and Barcelona, Spain. “The difficulty of the early-stage research is a real barrier to action; on a topic of such importance, anyone on the planet should have access to independent knowledge and be able to build a vision free of charge.” This new generation learning platform features on-demand video education but also offers a gateway to the resource recovery industry where participants can get in touch with experts and equipment companies to get support in their region. The course syllabus was created by an international advisory board, and provides a comprehensive introduction on organics recycling based on success stories from around the world.

“We focus on the common denominator to all regions,“ explains Duran, “and show participants how regulations, climate and societal structures impact system design. We have many reasons to look at this topic from a global perspective and believe that a strong international movement is a real driver for communities to move forward with source separation of organics. We need to create a premium collaborative environment and work together for a domino effect.” is currently leveraging a global distribution approach. The course is in English but will be available shortly with subtitles in Spanish, Mandarin, Arabic, Japanese, Italian, French and Portuguese to facilitate access in six continents.

Upper Marlboro, Maryland: Food Waste Composting Pilot Project

Prince George’s County’s newly launched composting pilot project.

Prince George’s County’s newly launched composting pilot project.

Prince George’s County, Maryland, recently initiated a 4,500 tons/year food waste composting pilot project at its Western Branch yard trimmings composting facility in Upper Marlboro, which is operated by Maryland Environmental Services (MES). The facility has historically accepted yard trimmings and is now testing the addition of food waste in a one-year pilot involving six batch tests. The county selected Sustainable Generation LLC’s SG Mini™ System utilizing GORE® Covers (the company is the authorized sales and service provider of the GORE covers in North America). According to MES, the system design uses less space than its current configuration, has low energy consumption and reduces the curing cycle from eight months to eight weeks. Prince George’s County has forged several partnerships for the pilot, including the receipt of institutional food waste from the University of Maryland, residential food scraps from The Town of University Park and commercial food scraps from Whole Foods Market. “Approximately 25 percent of what we throw away is food waste,” notes Director of Prince George’s County’s Department of Environmental Resources Adam Ortiz. “By composting it into a more nutrient rich product we can bag and sell at nurseries, we can direct resources back to the county and improve the environment at the same time.”

Cambridge, Massachusetts: Curbside Residential Food Waste Collection Pilot

The City of Cambridge is soliciting volunteers for its pilot program for curbside collection of residential food waste. The one-year pilot will run from April 7, 2014 to March 30, 2015. The city’s goal is to recruit 500 to 800 participating households by December 20, 2013. Participation is voluntary. “This is an exciting initiative for the Cambridge community as we become more green and sustainable,” says Randi Mail, Recycling Director for the City of Cambridge. “Eligible residences must be in a specific area of North Cambridge, have city trash service, and be single family homes or multifamily buildings with no more than 12 units.” To qualify, residents in the designated area must get City trash service and complete the “I’m Interested” form at www.CambridgeMA.Gov/CompostPickup.

Bennington, Vermont: Hauler Expands To Food Waste Composting

TAM Waste Management, based in Shaftsbury, Vermont, recently opened a food waste composting facility — TAM Organics — in Bennington behind the Bennington Transfer Station. Generators that signed on for collection service initially include Bennington College, Burger King, and several restaurants, reports Trevor Mance, owner of TAM Organics. The project is also a participant in the Highfields Center for Composting’s Close The Loop program, which offers educational materials for generators on source separation methods and technical assistance on composting. The composting site has a concrete pad to mix incoming food scraps with leaves, wood chips, straw and manure, and a gravel pad for windrows. Piles are about 5-feet tall and 10-feet wide. There also is an area for compost curing. Equipment is minimal, notes Mance: a loader for mixing, turning, and loading material, a dump truck for creating the windrows and an office/equipment trailer.

Okeechobee, Florida: Indoor, Industrial-Scale Composting On Tribal Land

McGill Environmental Systems has been selected by Johns Family Enterprises (JFE) and AgriCycle Alliance to construct an indoor composting facility on 85 acres located on the Brighton Seminole Indian Reservation near the community of Lakeport in Glades County. The McGill Regional Composting Facility at Brighton (McGill-Brighton) is a joint venture between AgriCycle and Seminole-member-owned JFE. With an annual processing capacity of about 100,000 tons, the facility is expected to employ about 20 people. Primary service area for McGill-Brighton will include most of south-central Florida between the Gulf and the Atlantic coasts. Construction is underway with start-up anticipated for mid-2014. A wide variety of organic feedstocks will be accepted, as well as compostable products.

Financing for the project has been provided by the Native American Bank (NAB), in cooperation with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Division of Capital Investment. “It is important to the financial health of any local community to develop a diverse economic base spread across multiple sectors,” says Clay Colombe, senior vice president-chief lending officer for the NAB.  “This project not only represents a major step toward that goal for the Brighton Reservation, but also brings beneficial economic and environmental impact to the entire south Florida region. The role this facility will play in protecting the Okeechobee River Basin cannot be overlooked, and we welcome the opportunity to support these types of projects.”

The project represents the first of its type for AgriCycle and the fourth composting facility designed by McGill for others. According to Gene Lewis, AgriCycle spokesperson, the company hopes to replicate its successful development model by partnering with other native-owned companies and tribal councils across the U.S. “Location is a critical component in the successful siting and operation of a composting facility this size,” he explains. “Land assets on the Brighton Reservation offered all essential components — a good building site within 100 miles of major metropolitan centers, acceptable highway access, and an enthusiastic and supportive community. McGill’s designs and operating protocols make the company an ideal choice for this particular site.” Florida is a prime market for the premium compost products manufactured at McGill facilities, adds Noel Lyons, president of McGill. “In urban areas where soils are sandy and irrigation water is precious, the use of high-quality, performance compost is the only practical means of raising soil organic matter to the point where it will hold moisture, reduce storm water runoff, and cut the amount of commercial fertilizers required to keep turfgrass and landscaping in peak condition. The Brighton plant is ideally situated to serve those types of markets.”

Lansing, Michigan: Bill To Repeal Yard Trimmings Ban Defeated

A bill introduced in the Michigan legislature in April that would have lifted the state’s ban on disposing of yard trimmings in landfills was rejected by a Michigan Senate committee in early November. SB 314 would have allowed the disposal of yard clippings in landfills, a practice banned since 1995 under legislation signed by then-Governor John Engler. It was defeated in a 5-4 vote of the Senate Energy & Technology Committee, reports the Michigan Environmental Council. Senator Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) introduced the bill in hopes that increased organic matter in landfills would produce more methane gas, which landfills could then recapture and turn into energy. “The defeat of this bill in the Senate committee is a win-win for Michigan’s economy and environment,” said Elisa Seltzer, director of Emmet County Public Works. “Composting in Michigan provides good jobs and is a great soil amendment.”

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