January 19, 2007 | General

BioCycle World

BioCycle January 2007, Vol. 48, No. 1, p. 6

In its State of the World 2007, the Worldwatch Institute reports that in Nigeria, 25 percent of the fertilizer needs of Kano farmers are met with municipal wastes. In settings where organic waste is easily separated, transformation into fertilizer can be a lucrative business, particularly for poor urbanites.
A University of Rosario professor in Argentina is training residents in composting techniques. Participants – 65 to 70 percent of whom are women – report more food for household consumption and income from selling surplus food and compost.
Continues Worldwatch: “Projects from around the world have demonstrated the feasibility of collecting waste from an array of settings – supermarkets, restaurants, schools, hospitals – for composting on farms and spreading as a fertilizer. In California, the Vons Companies Inc. and Ralph’s Grocery Company supermarket chains, with more than 585 stores between them, have been able to reduce their waste stream by 85 percent and turn their scraps into profitable products sold back to customers.”
The Nov-Dec., 2006 issue of the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation reports on the role of compost blankets used for erosion control in construction activities. The authors note that soil erosion is one of the biggest contributors to nonpoint source pollution in the U.S., with soil loss rates 10 to 20 times that of agricultural lands. Use of surface applied amendments such as compost has reduced runoff and erosion. The objective of this reported study was to evaluate vegetation growth and soil quality effects from compost blankets, where four types of compost were applied to plots. Results showed that compost provided an average of 2.75 times more vegetative cover than hydroseed after three months. “Some compost erosion control blankets have the ability to increase soil quality characteristics relative to hydroseed applications within 18 months of application,” researchers reported. “However, composts with relatively high ammonia N and nitrate N contents and low C:N ratios may not provide as great a benefit for weed control.”
The 23rd Annual BioCycle West Coast Conference 2007 will be held in San Diego, California April 16, 17 and 18 at the Town & Country Resort. Fifty technical sessions plus field trips and exhibits will discuss topics as: Best tools for composters to comply with state and regional air and water quality rules; How large-scale digesters are serving special needs of food processors and farmers; Meeting renewable power, biofuel mandates and greenhouse gas reduction solutions; Evaluating conversion technology options; and Compost use for storm water management, water conservation and sustainable agriculture. Log on to or call (610) 967-4135 ext. 21 for details.
Innovative Environmental Technologies Symposium is the title for a Feb. 22, 2007 event at the Rockingham County Fairgrounds in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Major themes are cost-effective nutrient solutions, optimum agronomic use, and the future of agriculture. Contact Bobby Clark of Virginia Cooperative Extension at (540) 459-6140 or Eric Bendfeldt at (540) 432-6029.
National Biodiesel Conference & Expo – February 4-7, 2007 in San Antonio, Texas – will discuss production, technologies, fuel distribution, policies, markets and users. Topics will cover building production facilities, feedstock availability, research, distribution and emerging markets. Contact the National Biodiesel Board at 1-800-648-4462 or visit:
A Sustainable Biodiesel Summit (SBS) is being held on Sunday, February 4th to coincide with the National Biodiesel Conference. One of the goals of the SBS is to foster the environmental sustainability of the biodiesel industry. Initiatives include supporting smaller, local production using regional feedstocks, encouraging local ownership of production and distribution, increasing energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy in production, and diversifying feedstocks. The summit is a chance for everyone from the grassroots activist to the small corporation to access technical information, learn from case studies of different models, share experiences from different regions of the country, and build an alliance of professionals dedicated to increasing the sustainability of the industry, says Rachel Burton of Piedmont Biofuels in North Carolina, an organizer of the SBS. For more information:
Chevron Corp. is providing up to $25 million over five years to accelerate the conversion of biomass waste into transportation fuels. Working with the University of California, Davis, the study will work with the California Biomass Collaborative to promote reuse of renewable resources. A federal requirement that energy companies increase their output of renewable energy to about five percent by 2012 is one of the motivations.
The $25 million commitment has also led Honda Motor Co. to support the concept. Honda has jointly developed a technology with the Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth (RITE) to create ethanol from “soft biomass.” Honda reports it has “basic technology” that creates ethanol from cellulose and hemicellulose – both found in leaves and plant stalks. The process by Honda and RITE reduces influence of fermentation inhibitors – allowing residues to more efficiently convert into alcohol.
A study reported in the Journal of Environmental Quality (Nov-Dec. 2006) provides data on USDA Extension recommendations for organic amendments. “Specifically, our objectives were to: Measure decomposition and N released from fresh composted amendments; and Evaluate performance of N mineralization/immobilization model as predictors of N availability,” note researchers E.S. Gale, D.M. Sullivan and coauthors. Well-composted materials had a single decomposition rate, averaging 0.003 d-1. Much of the PAN (plant-available nitrogen) released from amendments was recovered in the first 30 days. “Based on our findings, we recommend that guidance publications for manure and compost utilization include short-term 28 day decomposition and PAN estimates that can be useful to both modelers and growers,” they conclude.
At its Annual Awards dinner in December, The Composting Association in the United Kingdom announced the winners of its competition to recognize the work of compost producers throughout Britain. The 2006 Awards were judged by the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management, Waste and Resources Action Programme, the Open University, Community Composting Network and The Composting Association. Its purpose is to actively promote the use of biological treatment techniques. The winners were: Partnership Award – London Community Recycling Network for promoting home and community composting with London boroughs; Jim Balance Compost Marketing Award – Natural World Products for its promotion of Rosy Lee compost; Best Community Initiative – Teesdale Conservation Volunteers for improving the natural environment through training and education; Local Authority Initiative Award – Perth & Kinross Council for its multifaceted approach to recovering and composting green waste; Innovation in Composting Technology – Covered Systems for developing the odor-combating Mistral Aeration System.
Summed up Jane Gilbert, Chief Executive of The Composting Association: “We believe the winners reflect the vibrancy of composting in the UK and should inspire other composters to push on for next year. The recognition these awards bring will help winners achieve their goals.”
Asphalt roofing shingles are being recycled into roadway products by companies such as Snohomish, Washington-based American Roofing Recyclers, reports the November 2006 issue of Eco-Structure. According to the Metal Construction Association based in Glenview, Illinois, the approximate recycled content of roofing materials by weight is: Steel – 25 percent; Aluminum -85 percent; Copper – 75 percent; and Zinc – 9 percent. Tom Hutchinson with a design group in Barrington, Illinois says that new projects show how much of a roof can be recycled. “Green guidelines and municipal mandates show ways to recycle. Chicago, for example, requires 25 percent of C&D waste to be recycled. So we’re closer to having zero waste.” Hutchinson also reports that regional grinders will be used to create a national recycling network. The equipment allows large-scale recycling of postconsumer vinyl roofs back into roofing products, including walkway pads, protection membranes, plus roofing and waterproofing membranes.
Wales has achieved a 21.9 percent household recycling rate with a “massive increase” of 18.1 percent over the previous year, reports Growing Heap, published by Britain’s Community Composting Network. In Scotland, the figure for MSW recycled or composted from April 2005-March 2006 is 24.4 percent. England’s efforts show a household recycling rate of 27 percent, a 4 percent increase over last year. The next target of 40 percent by 2009-2011 will require collection of food residuals, which make up around 20 percent of waste stream.
With salmon and wildlife dwindling in Washington State’s Skagit River Delta, some environmentalists had argued since the 1980s that local farms should be turned back into wetlands, says a recent New York Times article. “But this year, the standoff ended – at least for three longtime farmers who began collaborating with their former enemies to preserve wildlife and their livelihoods.” The Nature Conservancy is renting land from the farmers on behalf of migrating Western sandpipers, black-bellied plovers, marbled godwits and other shorebirds – with the farmers receiving up to $350,000 for three years of labor and use of 210 acres. Each farm has allocated about 70 acres to the project, called Farming for Wildlife, where a third will be flooded with fresh water to attract thousands of birds.
“The stewardship ethic in this valley is incredibly strong, but it doesn’t trump the bank,” says David Hedlin, one of the participating farmers who grows farmer’s market produce with his wife on their 400-acre farm. Scientists will be analyzing soil samples to assess whether shallow flooding might improve soil fertility as much as cow manure and compost. “If 100 years from now,” observes Hedlin, “there are healthy viable family farms in this valley and waterfowl and wildlife and salmon in the river, then everyone wins.”
On the island of Borneo in Indonesia, writes The Wall Street Journal, a thick haze often encloses this city of 500,000 where sometimes forest fires are set to clear land to produce palm oil – a key ingredient in biodiesel. “It’s a troubling dark side of the world’s alternative energy boom,” writes the Journal. In places like Indonesia, Malaysia and Canada, forests are being cut for new energy-yielding crops; water tables are dropping in India as farmers grow more ethanol-yielding sugar. Proponents of alternative energy say the dangers are exaggerated and are outweighed by the benefits that new fuels promise. The alternative energy field is almost like the Internet in terms of the pace of how fast all this is changing, says Chris Flavin, president of Worldwatch Institute. He thinks that new technologies could resolve the damages currently caused. One of the hottest is cellulosic ethanol which uses different kinds of waste – such as MSW – to create fuel.
Back in Borneo, an official says he still believes biodiesel derived from palm oil will play a big role in solving the world’s energy problems, saying: “It’s a renewable energy; it’s our future.”
Chicken feathers and rice straw are being studied at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as replacements for fabrics usually made from petroleum, notes the Jan-Feb. 2007 issue of Audubon. Textile scientist Yiqi Yang, whose team has developed a prototype of attractive material, says the only money you pay is for collection. “Like linen, it’s biodegradable and can withstand dyeing and, based on preliminary studies, normal washing,” explains Audubon.
Brian Halweil, researcher at Worldwatch Institute and author of Eat Here, writes a column in What’s New in Organic that opens with a comment that only “delusional hippies and hysterical moms” think organic farming can feed the world but then explains in the next sentence that a fair number of agribusiness executives and international experts believe that a large-scale shift to organic farming might be the only way to eradicate hunger. Last year, continues Halweil, a team of scientists from the University of Michigan estimated how much food could be raised following a global shift to organic farming. Based on 293 examples, they concluded that while organic methods yielded less than conventional farming in the developed world, studies from the developing world showed organic agriculture boosting yields. Growing areas as diverse as India, Guatemala and Kenya found that the “sophisticated combination” of old wisdom and modern ecological innovations boosted effects of compost, manure, cover crops, etc. – particularly useful in dry areas with poor soils.
Concludes Halweil: “So, the myth of low-yielding organic farming may be fading, but without a massive change of conscience from the world’s agricultural researchers and officials, we still won’t be pointed in the organic direction. And that could be the real problem for the world’s poor and hungry.”

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