Composting Roundup

BioCycle March/April 2016, Vol. 57, No. 3, p. 14
Compost Ninja, an organics collection business founded by Aaron Hanson.

Compost Ninja, an organics collection business founded by Aaron Hanson.

Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Ninja Food Scraps Collection Service

Compost Ninja, an Iowa-based organics collection business founded by Aaron Hanson, started service on November 1, 2015. The Compost Ninja provides customers a 5-gallon bucket, which are set out weekly. The business currently has 39 residential and small business accounts in Iowa County, Linn County and Johnson County, Iowa. Each residential account generates about 9.2 pounds/week of organics. Interested customers can start with a free 30-day trial, and pay $25/month or a $250/year afterwards. Hanson’s goal is to accept 100 new accounts per year, but if the current trend continues, that may be closer to 175 to 200 new customers annually. Cargo bikes are used for most residential pick ups; a truck and trailer are used in winter months. Hanson would like to convert a diesel engine to run on vegetable oil to reduce the service’s carbon footprint and overhead. He plans to collect vegetable oil from small companies at no cost. Currently, composting is done in a static pile in Hanson’s backyard.

All organic material, including meat, bones, dairy, soiled paper and certified bioplastics, are accepted. The Compost Ninja’s point system sets the service apart from similar programs in other communities, he explains: “Buckets are weighed when they are collected. Customers receive one point per pound of organics. During the summer, they can redeem their points for fresh compost or fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs grown with compost they helped generate.”

Arthur, Ontario: Transition At All-Treat Farms

One of Canada’s oldest composting companies has been purchased by another with an even longer operating history. Walker Industries, based in Niagara Falls, Ontario, bought All-Treat Farms, a major supplier of bagged compost products and soil amendments (see “Ontario Composter Expands With Digestate Processing,” August 2015). The acquisition is a good fit for Walker from both a business and values perspective, explains Mike Watt, executive vice-president of Walker Environment Group, one of the company’s three corporate divisions, which will include All-Treat. He adds that Walker’s composting operation was entirely devoted to bulk sales to farms and soil blenders. The company wanted to get involved in retail sales of higher value bagged products, which have been All-Treat’s mainstay. In addition, both operations use Gore Cover composting technology.

Farmers LaVerne and Freda White started All-Treat about 60 years ago in the village of Arthur, initially selling dehydrated and bagged manure. With their son George and his wife Lynda (who have retired), it gradually expanded into a composting operation that processed an ever-increasing range of feedstocks, marketing and producing a wide variety of soil amendments. The Walker family began its business five generations ago, in 1887, as stonecutters. Walker Environmental Group is involved in both waste management and composting, operating a landfill in Thorold, Ontario, near Niagara Falls, where one of its 8 composting sites is located. With the acquisition of All-Treat, Walker’s composting facilities will process more than 330,000 tons of feedstock annually, according to Watt, who adds that All-Treat’s 70 employees will bring Walker’s total to about 700. Operations will continue largely unchanged, but plans call for eventually expanding the facility. All-Treat “wanted to do a lot of improvements,” says Watt, such as more automation of the bagging process. Walker views composting as a production, rather than waste management, business. “I think the industry suffers from viewing it the other way around,” notes Watt. “You need to start with a quality product, and then work backwards through optimizing the feedstock and how it’s processed.”

Buffalo, New York: Farmer Pirates Sharing Its Bounty

Farmer Pirates Cooperative is a worker cooperative of urban farmers that started in 2012 out of a need to access and retain land for community farming and a desire to work together and share resources. It began a residential food scraps collection service to provide the necessary fertility and organic matter to grow healthy food, according to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s report, Growing Local Fertility. Currently, Farmer Pirates collects food scraps from around 90 households in Buffalo. It also services businesses and institutions, including Buffalo State College and several restaurants.

After a few years of producing compost for its own urban farms, the Farmer Pirates composting crew is planning to sell some of its bounty to local backyard farmers. “We want to sell it back at a good rate to the backyard gardeners in the city,” Farmer Pirates member, Terra Dumas, told Buffalo Rising News, adding the cooperative is still working out a delivery system.

Chapel Hill, Tennessee: Grant Supports Composting In State Park

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation awarded a grant of $99,624 to the Friends of Henry Horton State Park for con struction of the park’s composting operations. The grant is part of a larger investment of nearly $2.5 million for FY 2016 projects to help reduce waste landfilled in Tennessee. The park will use the funds to build a large greenhouse, and purchase a tractor with an auger, a Green Mountain Technology Earth Tub composting unit, and organics collection bins for its restaurant.

Recycling equipment, waste reduction and composting grants were authorized by the Solid Waste Management Act of 1991 and are supported by the Tennessee Solid Waste Management Fund, which is administered by the Department of Environment and Conservation. The fund receives revenues from a state surcharge on each ton of solid waste disposed in landfills and a fee on new tires sold in the state.

Marin, California: Sudden Oak Death Vector Survival

Researchers at the University of California (UC) Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources have found the pathogen that causes Sudden Oak Death (Phytophtora ramorum) will survive if reintroduced into finished compost. Sudden Oak Death was discovered in California in 1995 and while it has only been found there to date, large swaths of U.S. Eastern and Southern forests are also at risk. P. ramorum has killed millions of tanoak trees and several other oak tree species (coast live oak, California black oak, Shreve oak, and canyon live oak), and caused  twig and foliar diseases in additional plant species. The composting process can eradicate even the toughest resting propagules commonly produced by P. ramorum if the process is conducted according to U.S. EPA’s Process To Further Reduce Pathogen (PFRP) guidelines.

Reporting in the Oct.-Dec. 2015 issue of California Agriculture, Steve Swain, an Environmental Horticulture Advisor at Marin County Cooperative Extension, and Matteo Garbelotto, an Extension Specialist in Forest Pathology at UC Berkeley, introduced zoospores (a type of infectious propagule) into six composts of varying origins and maturities. The compost samples represented three production facilities, two production techniques (turned windrow and aerated static pile) and two levels of maturity (fresh, defined as aged for less than 1 week; and mature, aged for more than 4 weeks). Positive reisolations, which indicate pathogen survival, were obtained from all composts. There was no significant difference in reisolation rate between composts produced by either method. Reisolation rates were greater in mature composts than fresh.

The results show that P. ramorum may be present and infectious if introduced into finished compost from inhospitable substrates including tires and sneaker soles; variations in compost characteristics appear to influence survival rates. Overall, fresh compost was less favorable to P. ramorum recovery than mature compost, suggesting that well cured compost may represent a greater risk for spreading P. ramorum if it is infected. The lower suppressive action of older compost is expected, due to changes in microbial communities and in particular due to a lower representation of highly suppressive thermophilic fungi in older composts. These findings suggest that for composting facilities shipping material out of their immediate area, measures should be taken to ensure that finished compost is not contaminated by infected green waste. Best management practices for composting facilities should minimize the potential for infected surface water or windblown rain from fresh materials to contaminate mature compost.

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