February 25, 2008 | General

BioCycle World

BioCycle February 2008, Vol. 49, No. 2, p. 6

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection is hostings its 8th Massachusetts Organics Recycling Summit: “The Changing Climate of Composting,” March 4, 2008 in Marlborough, Massachusetts. A compost operator training workshop will take place the following day. Scheduled sessions include composting and climate change, current trends with biodegradable products use, and innovations in composting technologies. Roundtable discussions will cover the regulatory process for adding food waste to leaf and yard waste composting sites and funding opportunities for organics diversion projects. For more information, contact Morgan Harriman at
On April 1, 2008, the Composting Association of Vermont is holding its annual summit at the Vermont Technical College in the Randolph Center, called Compost, Community and the Carbon Cycle. Topics include mapping, agricultural nutrient management, anaerobic digestion and policy. More information is available from Katherine Sims, Composting Association of Vermont,
Being mellow, going green and turning up as a musical activist – describes Jack Johnson of Oahu, Hawaii. He and his wife founded the Kokua Hawaii Foundation, a nonprofit organization devoted to environmental education. Johnson has been announced as a headliner of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, taking place in California the same week in April as his fifth annual Kokua Festival at home. At a moment of increasing ecovigilance among rock bands, Johnson stands out as a longtime beacon. His coming tour will require all involved to buy carbon offsets, encouraged to use biodiesel equipment and guided through many other steps in a tour agreement known as Enviro-Rider.
The Kokua Festival is a fundraising Earth Day concert with Johnson as the headliner and host and is where some of the Enviro-Rider stipulations have been tried out such as vendor composting and refillable water stations. The Kokua Hawaii Foundation recently started an initiative: “AINA in Schools.” The acronym, Hawaiian for Land, stands for Actively Integrating Nutrition and Agriculture – a farm to school program.
If approved by European governments, a new law proposed by the European Union would prohibit importation of fuels from crops grown on certain kinds of land – including forests, wetlands or grasslands. The law would also require that biofuels deliver “a minimum level of greenhouse gas savings.” Currently, most crops for biofuels used in Europe consist of rapeseed (commonly known as canola in the U.S.). The ban would primarily affect palm oil and possibly Latin American imports. Amid rising prices for gasoline and diesel – and worries about climate change – countries have started using more fuels produced from crops or agricultural wastes.
Scientists at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Washington warned that biofuel production can result in environmental destruction, pollution and damage to human health. “We need to be smart and promote the right biofuels,” says a staff scientist. Experts declare that certain types of fuels, especially those made from agricultural wastes, still hold potential to improve the environment, but governments will have to set and enforce standards for how the fuels are produced.
Ash left after burning crop residues for energy can be recycled as fertilizer, especially for its phosphorous and potassium. According to tests at the University of Minnesota’s field station in Benson, ash from biomass reactors will be applied to corn test plots. “One of the criticisms of using biomass for energy is that you remove nutrients along with plant residues,” says Al Doering, scientist with an Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI) lab. But using biomass ash “returns nutrients and micronutrients to the land.”
There’s little experimental evidence demonstrating how field crops respond to biomass ash. “We want to see how available the nutrients are compared to conventional fertilizers,” says Minnesota soil scientist Jeff Vetsch. The ash nutrients vary with feedstock and combustion methods, but generally contain 200 to 300 pounds of P and K per ton. Research trials will evaluate ash produced from turkey litter incineration, wood chip gasification and distiller’s syrup combustion. Soil samples will be taken before, during and after the growing season to assess mineralization – the decomposing of organic nutrients into forms that plants can use.
Carbon dioxide is what economists call an “externality,” something that imposes a cost on somebody other than the manufacturer, writes Matthew Wald of The New York Times. If Congress forces industries to pay such costs – either with a tax or cap-and-trade system, it could start at up to $10 per metric ton or more. “We’re definitely going to be paying a bill for reducing these emissions,” says one industry executive.
At $50/ton, the cost of a kilowatt-hour produced by coal goes from about 5.7 cents to about 10 cents. Wind power becomes competitive when carbon dioxide costs $25/ton. Solar power from photovoltaic cells emits no carbon dioxide, but is expensive at 25 to 30 cents a kilowatt hour. At $20 or $30/ton, the 1.9 pounds of carbon dioxide emitted by a conventional coal plant costs 2 to 3 cents. That cuts into coal’s price advantage and – when coupled with progress in reducing the cost of solar power through manufacturing and economies of scale – gives solar power “a much larger chance to be relevant.”
One company, Range Fuels, plans to open a plant in Georgia this year to make ethanol from pine tree waste. Range has a thermochemical method for turning waste – bark, cones, treetops, needles and small branches – into ethanol. The economics would become better if Range got credit for producing a fuel by using material that was going to turn into a greenhouse gas anyway, writes Wald.
Any plants growing directly under grapevines are nasty weeds that can rob the crops of water and nutrients, explains the January/March, 2008 issue of California Agriculture. In defense, an article suggests we turn to sheep, which see these weeds as tasty and nutritious forage. That would make sheep ideal for controlling vineyard weeds except for one thing – those herbivores like grape leaves just as much. So some managers are using sheep only when grapevines are dormant. Other researchers are training sheep not to eat grape shoots and leaves.
“We got the idea from a workshop on manipulating what animals eat,” says a livestock adviser. The workshop was called BEHAVE (Behavioral Education for Human, Animal, Vegetation and Ecosystem Management). It focuses on how animals decide what to eat, and includes finding ways to encourage herbivores to eat invasive weeds and discourage them from eating desirable plants.
To train sheep, one scientist recommended letting them eat as many grape leaves as they wanted and then giving them a dose of lithium chloride, which is harmless but causes a mild stomach ache. He also recommended training young sheep rather than adults, advising: “You need to mold them at an early age, before they’ve had much dietary experience.”
The sheep aversion training has been remarkably effective. The Hopland sheep still ignored vigorous growth on grapevines right in front of their faces, preferring to munch on the weeds growing beneath the vines. Weed-eating sheep would reduce forage costs and give producers the new market of renting out their flocks’ services.
“On this leaf-shaped island of Taiwan with 23 million people 100 miles off China’s coast, trash matters,” writes Julia Ross, former U.S. Fulbright scholar in that nation. “My Taipei landlady was the first to make that point, when she instructed me on how to dispose of household waste like a local,” she says in an article in the Washington Post.
In Taiwan, recycling trucks follow trash collectors but accept only certain items on certain nights. According to the strictly enforced schedule, plastic bottles must be separated from plastic wrapping and bags; flat recyclables, such as cardboard dumpling boxes, are collected only on Mondays and Fridays. “Show up with bundled newspapers on the wrong night and you’ll get an earful from the sanitation worker,” warns Ross.
“Many evenings I watched food vendors from the night markets, buckets of eggshells in hand, chat up convenience store clerks alongside Filipina nannies who traded kitchen appliances as if they were at a Sunday morning swap meet,” says Ross. “Freelance recyclers showed up to collect cardboard and newspapers, which they would sell back to the city. An alderman with a whistle kept traffic at bay … I even came to feel a peculiar solidarity with the ‘ladies with tongs,’ the city transit and university sanitation workers who spend their days sifting through garbage bins in subway stations and on university campuses in search of aluminum cans.”
Sums up Ross: “Before Taiwan, I was a lazy environmentalist, dutifully recycling wine bottles and newspapers, and opting for paper over plastic, but never going the extra mile if it wasn’t convenient. It’s no longer so easy to make excuses. Living in a place where I was expected to use what I bought and recycle every last yogurt cup and juice box left me with a new appreciation for what clean streets mean in a civil society, and the realization that I’m responsible for everything I consume. That’s as good a Chinese lesson as any.”
Both Iowa State University (ISU) and the University of Maine are offering intensive composter training classes this spring. The Midwest Composting School, a collaboration of several Midwestern universities, will be offered at ISU extension from June 10 to 12, 2008. Each day of the class involves a combination of hands-on training, lecture, discussion and problem solving. The focus of the Maine Compost School, held from June 16 to 20, is on carcass management through composting. It also involves lectures, hands-on training, discussion and field trips. These courses are good examples of the type of training available for professional composters, consultants, government officials, farmers, etc. For more info about the ISU program, call Kapil Arora (515)-382-6551. For the University of Maine, visit
After eight years of R&D on different continents, the BioPod will be ready to use in a process that applies the black soldier fly to break down food scraps quickly. “The real benefit comes from the finished end product,” says Dr. Paul Olivier as he inspects a backyard colony in the suburbs of Dalat, Vietnam. While many compost bins can take 6 to 12 months to break down contents, the pod is said to eliminate most food scraps in as little as 24 to 36 hours. A working unit is marketed to easily handle food scraps generated by a large family – up to 5 pounds per day. Features include two elastic o-rings to fasten lid to top of unit; covered side bucket; angled migration ramps for auto-separation; vent slits along lid rim; and heavy duty construction. For details on the unit, contact ESR International, LLC, 4245 N. Central Expressway, Suite 590, Dallas, Texas 75205. Phone (214) 306-8740.

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