Composting Roundup

Applying Compost To Sequester Carbon

A thin layer of compost was applied on a 10-acre sloped section of rangeland in early December in the Altamont Hills east of Livermore, California, kicking off a carbon farming study. The land is part of a 1,600-acre property owned by StopWaste (the Alameda County Waste Management Authority) in the East Bay. The research project is a collaboration between the Alameda County Resource Conservation District (RCD), the University of California (UC) Merced, and StopWaste to engage agricultural producers in “carbon farming,” practices that help capture greenhouses gases such as carbon dioxide, bolster groundwater recharge, reduce erosion, and increase plant productivity. The researchers chose the sloping land to measure results and compare them to tests already conducted on flatter areas.

Compost for carbon sequestration

Photo by David Fenton, courtesy of StopWaste

“Most grasslands in California occur in places with highly varied terrain,” explains Rebecca Ryals with UC Merced. “If the results of our study are positive, planners and landowners should feel more confident about applying compost to a wider array of locations, including hillsides, which would greatly expand the applicability of the practice throughout the state.” Ryals’ Agroecology Lab studies ecosystem-based climate solutions and researches the effects of organic matter amendments to agricultural soils. Over the next three years, the research team will measure changes in the amount of carbon stored in the soil and greenhouse gases that are emitted from the soil, as well as measure the co-benefits provided by higher levels of soil carbon, including better water infiltration and forage production.

“The goal of our project is to demonstrate to ranchers that they can adopt new practices or adapt existing practices to sequester carbon,” notes Alameda County RCD biologist Hillary Sardiñas. The RCD recently developed a Carbon Farm Plan for StopWaste’s property that outlines practices — from compost application to riparian restoration — to sequester carbon while supporting the grazing operation and enhancing wildlife habitat. Spreading compost is viewed as the first phase in several designed to capture carbon. “This is just the first step,” adds Kelly Schoonmaker of StopWaste. “Carbon farming shows a lot of promise in helping to reverse climate change impacts while returning organic matter back to the soil.” The project is funded by a California Department of Food and Agriculture Healthy Soils Demonstration grant.

Collecting, Composting Food Waste On Martha’s Vineyard

Island Grown Initiative food waste collection truck (composting)

Photo by Randi Baird

Island Grown Initiative (IGI), a nonprofit that works to support regenerative food systems on Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts, has spent the last four years collecting food waste in 32- to 48-gallon totes from restaurants, caterers, camps, and residential food waste drop-off sites at 6 transfer stations, 4 of which are operated by the Martha’s Vineyard Refuse Disposal District (MVRDD). All food waste, including meat, bones, etc. are accepted, along with paper towels and napkins.

By summer of 2019, IGI’s list of clients grew to 43. It collected 336 tons of food waste (not including December) — almost double the 180 tons collected in 2018. The base cost for the service is $90/month for weekly collection, and goes up in $30 increments depending on number of toters and frequency of collection, which ranges from weekly to 4 times/week for larger generators in summer.

To manage the increasing tons, IGI purchased a 1997 Ford F-Superduty food waste collection truck from The Compost Plant in Rhode Island that is equipped with a hydraulic lift on the back, and a power washing system for on-site cleanup of the toters. Contamination in collected organics is minimal. When issues arise, pictures are taken and IGI communicates directly with its clients — a benefit of having a smaller program. Contamination is screened out of finished compost.

Composting food waste on Martha’s Vineyard is no small feat due to large increases in food waste generated in the summer months. IGI also has to contend with pests — primarily rats, skunks and seagulls — and there are no predator species like coyotes or foxes on the Island, thus they tend to multiply rapidly. A local biodiversity group was worried about the food waste providing a food subsidy for these pests, which in turn eat the eggs of endangered bird species like piping plovers.

Island Grown Initiative, in vessel composting

Photo by Randi Baird

To address the challenge, IGI sought a solution that would reduce the amount of whole food waste sitting in outdoor windrows. The opportunity came up to buy a used BW Organics rotary drum from Rocky Hill Farm, in Saugus, MA. With help from a generous donor, the rotary drum was purchased and installed in June 2019, and has been successfully operating, breaking down food scraps in approximately 3 days in the drum, so they are no longer a good raw food source for pests. The partially composted material is built into outdoor windrows. This initial processing phase has eliminated the seagull problem but the rats are attracted to the warmth in the windrows. IGI is working to mitigate that situation.

To date, over 425 yards of material have gone through the machine, at an average of 4.5 tons/day, 6 days/week. Another objective of installing the rotary drum was to demonstrate in-vessel composting at a small scale in anticipation of an island-wide project through the MVRDD. As a result of the successful demonstration, MVRRD is moving forward to design and permit a larger rotary drum facility at its transfer station in Edgartown.

Island Grown Initiative finished compost

Photo by Nevette Previd

About 360 cubic yards of finished compost produced in 2018 were screened in March 2019. About half was sold to the community, and the other half used for IGI’s other programs including school gardens, a community garden, and a regenerative agriculture program. The same will be done in 2020 with material from 2019.

Authors of this update are Sophie Abrams Mazza, IGI Food Equity And Recovery Director, and Bob Spencer, BioCycle Contributor

2019 USCC Awardees

US Composting CouncilThe US Composting Council released the people and projects receiving its annual awards:

Composter of the Year-Large Scale: Prince George’s County Compost Facility, processing 70,000 tons of yard trimmings and food scraps each year in aerated static pile systems to produce LeafGro and LeafGro Gold.

Clark Gregory Award (grassroots): Jodie Colon of the NYC Compost Project at the NY Botanical Garden in New York City who has educated hundreds of Master Composters and thousands of Bronx residents about composting, supporting 55 community compost sites and working with hundreds of volunteers.

Organics Diversion Program of the Year: Finger Lakes Compost for its education and outreach that has led to hauling commercially and residentially generated organics to a nearby facility and reuse of grain bags to sell finished compost.

Composter of the Year-Small Scale: Rust Belt Riders, which began with bike-powered collection routes that grew to a fleet of four trucks hauling food scraps from 160 locations in the Cleveland region — and processes 35,000 lbs/month of material on a 500-sq.ft. permitted area.

Hi Kellogg Award (service): Jack Hoeck, who has been producing compost for 43 years for Rexius, Inc. in Oregon, and was a founding member of the Composting Council of Oregon, and currently serves on the USCC Certification Commission.

Rufus Chaney Award (research): Dr. Robert Miller, instrumental in creation of the Test Methods for the Evaluation of Composting and Compost protocol and the Compost Analysis Proficiency Program that underpin the USCC’s Seal of Testing Assurance Certified Compost program.

Persistent Herbicide Use Is Persisting

Persistent herbicides at very low parts per billion level can impact sensitive garden plants such as fava beans.

Persistent herbicides at very low parts per billion level can impact sensitive garden plants such as fava beans.

Dan Goossen, Director of Composting at Chittenden Solid Waste District (CSWD) in Williston, Vermont, and General Manager of Green Mountain Compost, recently posted an update about the continuing risk of compost contamination from persistent herbicides on the US Composting Council’s (USCC) Soilbuilder Blog. The following is excerpted from Goossen’s post: “In 2012, Green Mountain Compost suffered significant losses following the discovery of Aminopyralid (one of the more potent persistent herbicides widely used for agriculture) in the compost sold to its customers. CSWD incurred close to a million dollars in losses responding to and compensating more than 500 customers whose gardens were affected. Some improvements have been made since the incident seven years ago, however, usage of these compounds has not slowed down and the risk of contamination at composting facilities is very real and likely to get worse. Aminopyralid is not currently marketed in the Northeast, but it can still be purchased through online platforms and will be going off patent in January 2021 (meaning greater availability to consumers and likely less product stewardship from producers). The options for lab testing compost and manures for persistent herbicides are more limited than they were even a few years ago. Incidents continue to occur nationwide, but they are underreported due to the potential stigma associated with the compost products.”

Composting facilities need to report incidents whenever they occur, emphasizes Goossen. “If you suspect you have had an incident involving persistent herbicides in your compost contact the USCC and your state pesticide control officials. Many of the persistent herbicides of greatest concern are also up for reregistration and review at the EPA in 2020.”

Coping With Persistent Herbicides In Composting Feedstocks
Testing For Persistent Herbicides In Feedstocks And Compost
Composters Defend Against Persistent Herbicides
Unraveling The Maze Of Persistent Herbicides In Compost
USCC Persistent Herbicide Reporting Form and Factsheets 

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