April 27, 2009 | General

Compost Science Journal Of Advocacy And Foresight

BioCycle April 2009
Launch of the magazine in Spring 1960 provided a venue to report on the growing interest in composting as a solid waste management alternative, as well as a forum to highlight the ongoing practice of sewage sludge and manure utilization on farms. Part I
Nora Goldstein

In January of 2009, I started on a journey through the pages of Compost Science, beginning with the Spring, 1960 inaugural issue. I was confident that I could whip through the articles and news items in the several hundred issues of the magazine between 1960 and 2009, and be prepared to write this article for BioCycle’s 50th Anniversary Commemorative Edition.
Suffice it to say, I had set my goal too high. I got sidetracked by the evolution of our own ads for advertisers and subscriptions (Figures 1-4), by equipment advertisements using words like “leaf mold” instead of compost, by the totally awesome historical photographs and the “Compost News” briefs. But what completely blew me away was the reality that so much of what we consider emerging and early stage today — or what we are just beginning to see adopted on a wider scale — have roots going back 40 or 50 years, and even longer.
A few times during this journey through the early years I felt that with so much knowledge in hand so many years ago, that we have not made much progress. In reality, however, it is actually quite remarkable that we have come as far as we have. Why? Like today, the forces — political, economic and human nature — prefer the simpler route of disposal. Why take the time to handle waste materials to recover resources when they can just be thrown away? It is simpler for households, municipal programs and to a certain extent, the regulators.
Fortunately, there has been an equally powerful force that has always recognized the value inherent in our municipal, agricultural and industrial waste streams. (Interestingly, much of the early knowledge about the benefits of waste utilization on soils came from experiences with municipal sewage sludge.) At the time he started Compost Science, Jerome Goldstein (then writing under the pen name Jerome Olds) also was Executive Editor of Organic Gardening and Farming magazine, which had always advocated the “return of humus to the soil in order to build and maintain fertility.” He saw a niche to apply the composting principles and practices of organic gardening and farming to a wider array of waste streams and scale of projects.
What I have come to learn over these last several months is that my father not only was an excellent communicator of these principles and practices, but probably their biggest advocate and champion. In his inaugural issue editorial (reprinted in full on page 45), he writes: “Our editorial objective is to set up a central medium – a ‘clearinghouse’ – for valuable information for municipal and industrial officials responsible for the treatment and disposal of organic waste materials … At the outset, we want to make clear that we have no process to sell or product to promote … We are not going to over-dramatize, misrepresent or in any way set composting up as a ‘dream solution’ … But we do propose to honestly report the practical potentials of the composting process.”
Editorial after editorial lauds the researchers and practitioners, goads the politicians to take action, and inspires readers to “just do it.” And “do it” people did: Intricate materials handling and composting systems for refuse in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, Mixed waste composting in Phoenix and Houston; Leaf composting in New Jersey and New York; Land application of sewage sludge in Illinois and Pennsylvania; Newspaper recycling in Wisconsin. The articles go on and on. And all of this was many decades ago.
Compost Science told all the stories — the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly. It gave air time to many views, e.g., sludge recycling proponents and opponents. Dr. Clarence Golueke, Senior Editor for many years, wrote frequently and forcefully about the realities of composting, taking grandiose promises to task and continually reminding readers about respecting the fundamental principles of the biological process of composting.
This article is Part I of several parts that will appear over 2009 as we celebrate BioCycle’s rich history and legacy. I did make it through the November-December, 1979 issue of Compost Science/Land Utilization (the transitional name between Compost Science and BioCycle) before my coworkers read me the riot act about deadlines, etc. What follows are snippets and smatterings from Spring, 1960 through the end of the 1970s.
International Influence, Industrial Organics
On the “refuse” side of the picture, many of the early case study articles (1960s) report on solid waste composting projects in other countries. The first issue describes plants in Israel, Switzerland, Italy, Korea, Japan, Thailand and New Zealand. Other countries covered in early issues were England, Germany, India, The Netherlands, Russia, the British Isles, France, Egypt, China, Austria and the tropics. The lessons learned from composting municipal solid waste – along with a lot of the equipment – influenced development of solid waste composting in North America well into the 1990s.
What is surprising is the number of articles related to “industrial” organics recycling. The Spring, 1960 issue has an article, “Cannery Waste Disposal By Spray Irrigation,” authored by the Civil Engineering Manager at Green Giant Company. The Summer, 1960 issue has an article, “Composting Waste Sludge From Pharmaceutical Manufacturing,” by the director of the Industrial Waste Department at Lederle Laboratories. Subsequent issues in 1960 and 1961 include articles with these titles: “Cannery Waste Disposal By Gerber Products,” “Agriculture Value Of Coffee Grounds,” “Use Of Molasses On The Land,” and “Wastes From Milk Processing Helps Produce More Milk.”
Looking at the article indices from 1960 through 1966, it is abundantly clear that Compost Science was a go-to source of information, not just for articles on international projects and industrial waste utilization, but also on sewage sludge and wastewater effluent recycling. In the first 8 issues alone, there are 15 articles on sludge utilization, 4 on use of effluent for crop irrigation, and others that cover cocomposting of refuse and sludge. Other topics with hefty coverage include the agricultural value of composting and compost, and manure management. Based on the article indices for those first seven years, materials recycling was not a major focus of stand-alone articles (i.e., it was referenced as part of other materials recovery articles). There is one entry under the heading, “Salvage.”
Statistical Backdrop
BioCycle launched its “State of Garbage in America” survey in 1989, reporting on municipal solid waste (MSW) generation, along with tons recycled/composted, landfilled and combusted. The State of Garbage Survey (December, 2008) reports an estimated MSW generation of 413 million tons (2006 data). Per capita estimated generation is 1.38 tons/person/year. After almost 20 State of Garbage surveys (along with annual composting facility surveys), it is obvious that we have a fascination with statistics and trends. This is clearly rooted in our early editorial coverage.
An article, “Solid Waste Problems In Metropolitan Areas” (Summer, 1963), by John Wiley with the U.S. Public Health Service, reports per capita refuse production averaged more than a half a ton/person/year. Wiley also notes that an estimated $1.8 billion/year was spent on refuse collection and disposal (80 percent for collection and 20 percent for disposal). Another article, “Can We Conquer The Solid Waste Mountain?” (Spring, 1968), based on a report by the Food Protection and Toxicology Center at the University of California, Berkeley, notes that per capita production of refuse (defined as “solid wastes usually collected routinely”) in the U.S. “grew from 2.75 lbs/person/day in 1920 to 4.5 lbs/person/day in 1965,” or .82 tons/person/year. Refuse production was believed to be increasing at about 4 percent/year. The problem was projected to get worse. “The 165 million tons of solid waste discarded nationally in 1966 will reach 260 million tons by 1976,” notes the report. Another article in the Spring, 1968 issue reports that solid waste disposal in the U.S. was estimated to represent a $3 billion industry. By comparison, the consumer packaging industry had grown into a $10 billion/year industry by then (1967 data).
One other quick stat of interest, especially to those involved with food waste diversion: A waste characterization study was conducted in Raleigh, North Carolina in 1967, comparing households with incomes >$7,000 (Group 1) to households with incomes And finally on the solid waste statistics front is this report from the March-April, 1971 issue. Compost Science staff editor Maurice Franz had attended “Recycling Day” at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City on February 2, 1971. Recycling in the U.S. has been hampered by depletion allowances granted to lumber companies to encourage development of raw materials, as well as discriminatory freight rates, New York Mayor John Lindsay told the assembled crowd. “It costs an average of $41.20/ton to ship scrap by rail, and only $1.64 to ship an equal amount of virgin ore.” As an aside, the news item also reports that refuse generation per capita in 1971 was 5.3 lbs/person/day, or almost 1 ton/person/year.
The remainder of this article highlights topic areas we continue to cover in BioCycle to this day. In addition to original artwork from the articles mentioned, you will see photos and figures scattered about that represent “snapshots in time,” bits and pieces that contributed to making the process of going through the early issues – page by page – such an enjoyable journey.
History Of Composting In 200 Words
“Composting Perspectives – Progress Since 1950,” by Dr. Golueke was published in July-August, 1972. The article was based on his presentation at Compost Science’s Second National Conference, held in spring 1972 in San Francisco. “To reiterate the time-worn introduction to many a dissertation on composting, it is one of the more ancient of the agricultural arts – and so it remained until the early 1900s when Sir Albert Howard began to systematize traditional compost procedures.” Sir Howard was interested in composting as a hygienic measure (for processing night soil) as well as a conservation measure, with the latter being “an added incentive.” Reduction of fly breeding was used as a parameter of hygienic quality.
The 1940s and early 1950s “marked the beginning of a surge of interest in the use of composting as a means of reclaiming plant nutrients in municipal refuse, and thereby as a solid waste ‘disposal’ process,” he continues. “It was at that time that a need began to be felt for undertaking studies to develop the scientific principles of composting and to bring some order and shed some light upon the welter of folk-lore and superstition that characterized the practice until that time.” Dr. Golueke’s article is loaded with gems that everyone will appreciate, and thus will be reprinted in the next issue of BioCycle.
Windrows, Aerated Piles And Covered Composting, Circa 1962
“New Developments In Windrow Composting,” by Alex Livshutz of Tel Aviv, Israel discusses improvements to advance windrow composting in an effort to develop a low-cost and efficient alternative. “The 5 to 7 turnings which are recommended to produce good compost adds to the expense of the process. While turning helps greatly to aerate the material, it tends to retard the action of the thermophilic organisms by cooling the composting mass … Dr. John R. Snell improved the windrow composting process by introducing forced aeration which reduced the number of turnings necessary to 2 or 3,” and shortened the compost time. The author and his colleagues developed forced aeration equipment that “consists of a portable pressure blower and a set of bayonet coupled pipes.”
Further along in the article, Livshutz describes what seems to be a rudimentary version of the covered composting systems available today. “Turning of windrows may be altogether eliminated by covering them with plastic sheets, the same material as used for covering hot-beds in nurseries. The windrow should not be covered hermetically; exhaust spaces should be left between the sheets … The plastic covered windrows have the following advantages: it prevents the drying out of the upper layers of the composting material by sun and wind, as well as the accumulation of excessive moisture from rain and snow. While evaporation is produced, moisture condenses underneath the cover and drops back into the pile … Turning of the windrow was eliminated and no extra moisture was needed. The air blown in by the pressure blower doesn’t escape immediately, but remains to feed the aerobic bacteria with its oxygen.”
Anaerobic Digestion
Despite the journal’s name, Compost Science, the very first issue included an article by Dr. Golueke, “Composting Manure By Anaerobic Methods.” (A synopsis of this article was included in “Historical Perspectives: Farm Digesters,” February, 2009.) Several other early articles on the subject include, “Sludge Digestion Of Farm Animal Wastes” (Summer, 1963) by faculty at Iowa State University and, “Just How Effective Are Lagoons?” (Autumn, 1963). The sludge digestion article reports on research with swine, dairy and poultry manures (Figure 5), and includes a discussion on adding bedding and crop residuals. “With the addition of crop wastes, such as potato tops, green grasses and other green plants, higher gas yields can be obtained as long as the digester’s contents are mixed well enough to discourage the formation of a hard scum layer and if overfeeding is avoided …”
“A farm with 100 milking cows and 1,000 hogs/year will need a digester with 4,700 ft3 capacity. Gas produced daily will be about 6,300 ft3. If one-third of the gas is used for heating the digester contents, then about 2.4 million BTUs will be available for other uses. At 80 cents/million BTUs, daily gas produced will be worth about $1.90, or approximately $700/year.” Total initial costs for the digester, based on manufactured equipment, “will range between $9,000 and $15,000” – the range was attributed to price differential among various manufacturers and “the large selection of equipment and designs available.” The only farm waste digester in the U.S. that the authors were aware of at that time “is one in San Diego County, California. This plant has a capacity of 800 ft3 and cost $2,000 including labor. The plant was designed to treat the wastes from a unit in which 1,000 hogs/year are reared in confinement. A jeep engine was converted to run on digester gas, and the radiator water of the engine is used to heat the digester contents. A war surplus generator acquired at $800 is run by the jeep engine and generates enough electricity to heat the pig nursery.”
The subtitle of the article on the effectiveness of lagoons reads: “The wild boasts about how lagoons would solve all farm waste problems have been drastically toned down.” The article, excerpted from a report in The Farm Quarterly, provides a fascinating history of the evolution of lagoons. It includes an explanation that in order to serve as storage facilities, lagoons by default have to be anaerobic because of the depth – or else they would take up a tremendous amount of acreage. “An aerobic lagoon to handle manure from roughly 12,000 layers might need to be 10 acres, four feet deep,” explains the article, which then goes into great detail about managing an anaerobic lagoon. Toward the end, it discusses sealing the lagoon to create a digester. “Digesters not only save all the nutrient value, but trap the methane produced, which can be used for heating purposes, or to drive an internal combustion engine.”
Composting Process Control
While it is no surprise that early articles highlight the basic fundamentals of composting (e.g., adequate oxygen, moisture), it is interesting to see the detailed research studies related to process control. “Automatic Temperature And Air Control In Composting” (Winter, 1962) describes a research study at Michigan State University to evaluate automatic temperature control of a compost pile. “Since the heat is produced by respiration which depends on the presence of oxygen, it seemed reasonable to assume that it should be possible to control the temperature not by increasing this air flow but by restricting the air supply to an enclosed mass of decomposing material. This temperature control could then be made automatic by using a thermostat which would close or open a solenoid valve in the air supply line … This on-off cycle should result in an automatic temperature control within a very narrow range. The cycle would repeat itself continuously as long as the microflora in the decomposing material remained active enough to produce sufficient heat.”
Experiments were conducted to ascertain the degree of temperature control obtainable by this method (Figure 6). The research study showed that “a very accurate and reliable automatic temperature and air control is obtained by using the combination of thermostat and solenoid valve. It appears that this type of control may have great practical value especially if it is combined with an oxygen analyzer … that would be set so that the residual oxygen in the exhaust gas is maintained between certain minimum and maximum levels, e.g. between 4 percent and 8 percent by volume.”
Numerous articles reference odor management, but it wasn’t until Spring-Summer, 1966 that a full article was dedicated to the topic. “That Odor!” by a researcher at Cornell University discusses the source, detection and control of odors associated with animal manures. In addition to the author’s insights, the graphics accompanying the article are superb (Figure 7). Characteristics of odors – defined as “that property of a substance which affects the sense of smell” – includes quality (mainly determined on an individual basis), strength and occurrence. The information on how to measure odor strength is not much different than what we understand today: “The strength of an odor is a measurable quantity. It can be defined as the number of parts of odor free air required to dilute the odorous air so that it is just detectable. The point at which the odor is detectable is called the threshold … Strength can best be evaluated by a panel and it is possible to calibrate the members of the panel by using standard odors.”
The discussion on detection illustrates how much more is known today on the subject. “The human odor sensing system is the only detector available for odors. A non-human detector is not available because the mechanism by which the nose detects an odor has not been explained,” (emphasis added). In addition to odor panels, tools to measure strength of an odor existed and included “such methods at vapor dilution, vapor adsorption, liquid dilution and rate of diffusion.” The last section of the article discusses odor control, starting with optimizing the composting process so that odors aren’t generated. Odor treatment methods include ventilation (to provide dilution), combustion, absorption in water or other liquid, e.g., washers and scrubbers, adsorption (attracting gases to a solid surface such as activated carbon), masking, counteraction and chemical reactions. We found several references to use of biofilters (not the name used in the early years) to control odors, but the first article specifically on that topic, “Compost Scrubbers Of Malodorous Air Streams,” didn’t appear until Winter, 1976.
Compost Quality
One of the earlier articles on compost quality, “Methods For The Evaluation Of Composts” (Spring, 1963), presents a soil scientist’s observations “on the need for standardizing compost analysis.” The author begins by discussing two distinct schools of thought on the beneficial impacts of compost on soil: “The old agro-chemical school which denies to compost any beneficial value has been greatly affected by Liebig’s school [reference to 1940 publication] according to which only the mineral minimum factor limits plant growth and that an increase in yield is not possible unless this ‘minimum factor’ has been adjusted in the soil. Organic matter was considered of no importance.'”The other school of thought came from the “organically minded” group which in “their extreme form advocates the use of compost and other natural organic manures as the only source of plant nutrients and condemns the use of mineral fertilizers … ”
The author continues, before detailing analytical methods and tools such as anionic adsorption capacity and dehydrogenase activity method: “Today after a century of intensive research into the chemistry, physics and biochemistry of soils and composts, agronomists are fully aware of the complexities of the nature of soils and compost and the effects of mineral and organic matter on soils, plants and microorganisms. It is accordingly possible to define compost in terms of its chemical, physical, biochemical and physiological properties which individually and collectively have a functional effect on plant growth and soil fertility.”
Composting At Prison
The Oahu Prison in Hawaii began a composting program in 1953 as “an additional work project to employ more inmates gainfully and intelligently,” says the opening sentence of the article, “Waste Treatment At Hawaii’s Oahu Prison” (Winter, 1961). The Production Unit Chief also explains they were looking “for a public relations angle to improve ties between the prison and the community, as our inmates go directly back into our island population upon release.” That outreach led to many companies hauling their wastes to the prison, as dumping at the Honolulu open burning pit meant an additional expense. “We received the following materials: tree limbs, leaves, fronds, coconuts and trimmings from city departments and tree trimming firms. From industrial food processors came many fruit and vegetable wastes; this year, our three leading canneries brought in over 6,000 cubic yards of pineapple waste. Other wastes received in quantity include eggshells, poultry feathers, coffee grounds and sawdust.”
Most materials were shredded and windrowed. A Model 25 Royer shredder/aerator was used for “rapid breaking up of mixed composts.” The finished compost was sold as “a fine lawn dressing, a coarse tree planting compost, a garden potting compost and a loosely shredded mixture for use as mulch.” The prison also packaged the compost in one and two cubic foot paper bags (Figure 8). “We are proud that Oahu Prison is the only prison in the U.S. that sponsors a full-scale composting activity.”
Bin Composting
The Director of Horticulture at the Ida Cason Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia wrote an article, “Concrete Bins Solve A Problem,” in the Winter, 1961 issue. “Until recently, we faced the common problem of space, odors and flies in the storage of organic materials for use in the extensive planting necessary at the 2,500 acre gardens … Hundreds of thousands of people visit the gardens during the summer months and the health authorities were much concerned by the possibility of swarms of flies being bred in the vicinity.” After composting in open fields in both open windrows and black polyethylene-covered piles, the Gardens switched to concrete bins (Figure 9), “built on the order of horizontal silos.” Plans were adapted from information available from the Portland Cement Association. “We built four bins, each five feet high by 20 feet wide and 40 feet long. Each holds approximately 100 tons of grass and weed clippings, leaves and chicken manure, all well mixed. As soon as each bin is filled and the material thoroughly wet, it is covered with a black plastic sheet.” The floor of the bins was sloped so that liquids could drain to a 500-gallon tank. “This ‘liquid manure’ is also pumped onto new compost piles before covering.”
Another type of composting bin was developed by the National Canners Association in Berkeley, California. “Windrow Composting Of Fruit Waste Solids” (Autumn, 1968), describes trials with windrows and several types of bins, including “closed wall windrows” with a turning device mounted on top (Figure 10). The authors, who were with the Canners Association, summarize: “With stationary walls, the windrow height of rice hulls could be extended to 5 to 6 feet, resulting in higher internal temperatures. Continuous composting at thermophilic temperatures was shown to be a feasible method for disposal of fruit wastes … Air injection into the compost mixture was necessary to maintain aerobic conditions…. An automated system was developed to handle the waste, grind and transport the material to the windrow, to add the waste and to turn the windrow.”
Home Composting
Having residents compost at home was recognized early on as a means to reduce strains on solid waste collection and disposal systems. A Summer, 1962 article, “Solid Wastes Research And Environmental Health,” summarizes an American Public Works Association (APWA) commentary titled, “Refuse Disposal At The Point Of Origin.” The purpose of “Research Project B-3” was “to dispose of domestic refuse in a convenient, nuisance-free manner and produce a compost that could be stored and used as needed.” The article notes: “An on-site refuse composting unit would consist of a small loading bin, a grinder and a small holding unit. Home refuse, except cans, bottles and other ungrindable objects, would be fed into the unit, which would grind, digest and store the resulting compost for use as needed. Many families could easily use the compost in their own yards; however, any excess could be collected and used as fill material in new subdivisions or in marshy areas.”
The next year (Winter, 1963), there was an article on home composting units by a professor at Michigan State. The professor mentions the APWA article above and then describes an intricate pilot unit he and his associates developed (Figure 11). The article provides design details and a lot of data from trials of the unit and concludes as follows: “It is difficult to say whether such an ‘on-site’ composting unit could become a practical reality. In a way, the operation of the unit would resemble that of a coal furnace, with intermittent feeding of fuel, with temperature control by regulating the air supply and with the removal of ashes. Just as for the coal furnace, a certain amount of time and effort will be required for the operation of the composting device. Furthermore, the price for such a fairly sophisticated unit may well be prohibitive.”
Eight years later, in an article titled, “The Communities Move To Leaf Composting” (November-December, 1971), home composting – more along the lines that we know today – made an appearance. The town of Brookhaven, New York held a “Leaf Compost Demonstration Day” that included examples of home composting bins (Figure 11). Notes the article, “it’s no longer cranky to run a compost pile – it’s good citizenship!”
School Food Waste Diversion
“Digester-Pulper Solves School Waste Disposal Problem” (March-April, 1970), is the title of the first stand-alone article on food waste diversion at schools. Raub Junior High School in Allentown, Pennsylvania had installed a “Conservamatic” pulper-digester unit to handle the “food leavings and paper plates and cups of 1,200 students, chopping and mincing them into a fine aggregate that can be used in composting, in landfill or processed for further use (Figure 12). The actual debris or residue from 1,200 lunches – food and paper combined – does not fill a single 25-gallon container set next to the pulper’s discharge chute. Previously the school wastes filled several such containers.” Pupils put their “leavings” into a stainless steel flume; water conveys the wastes to the mixing chamber. Material gets reduced to a fine shredded pulp. The Conservamatic “reportedly cost $8,000 about eight years ago.”
Biochemical Fuel Cell
The subtitle of a Winter, 1967 article titled, “Organic Wastes – Source Of Electrical Energy,” reads: “In 1961, the research described below was reported in Compost Science and other publications. Perhaps in 1967 it will get the attention it deserves.” The article starts out describing refuse power plants in Europe, but then switches to the biochemical fuel cell. “A much more sophisticated manner of creating electrical energy from organic wastes was described by Dr. Frederick D. Sisler of the U.S. Geological Survey in Washington in 1961 … Scientists have discovered a way to turn corncobs, sawdust and other commonly available organic waste materials into valuable electricity-generating fuel. The objective of the researchers, one might say, is to harness the energy created during the composting process; by chemical reactions, a form of electrical energy is produced …”
“Dr. Sisler, a microbiologist, said the idea of harnessing bacteria to produce electrical energy directly from the decomposition of organic matter created through photosynthesis and biological processes in the sea, had resulted from routine geochemical studies of hydrogen utilization by marine sulfate-reducing bacteria. Bacteria which oxidize hydrogen are widely distributed in marine sediments; under natural conditions, though, the energy produced in this ‘gigantic fuel cell’ in the sea is dissipated as heat.” Dr. Sisler’s prototype fuel cell had two sections containing inert electrodes – an anode section and a cathode section – separated by an ion-diffusion bridge. “A mixture of sea water containing organic matter as fuel and bacterial cells (or enzymes) as a catalyst is placed in the anode section. The cathode section contains sea water and oxygen. Essentially the energy released comes from bacteria ‘burning’ the organic matter, but the cell design is such that the energy is released as electricity instead of heat.”
Defense Installations As Utilization Models
BioCycle has been peppered over the last 15 years or so with articles on composting and recycling initiatives at military bases. The seeds for these initiatives may have been planted by a one-page article almost 40 years ago (September-October, 1971) titled, “Use Defense Installations As Models For Waste Utilization.” Suggested actions to undertake at these “environmental control experiment stations” include: Make available only biodegradable products for resale at Exchange and Commissary facilities; Establish a compost-recycling waste disposal system; Separate garbage from eating facilities – mess halls, cafeterias, snack bars and on-base housing – into bio- and nonbiodegradable containers. Compost biodegradable materials; Compost all other organic wastes including grass clippings, leaves, prunings, stable litter; Do not use commercial fertilizer for base beautification – instead use base compost for turf management and other applications; Establish collection points for newspapers, magazines, aluminum cans, bottle or other materials; and Use recycled paper.
Legwork For Recycling Programs
“How To Succeed In A Municipal Recycling Program – After A Helluva Lot of Work” is the headline of Jerome Goldstein’s editorial in September-October, 1971. It is amazing how much the words of that time apply to efforts to build participation in recycling and composting programs today. Thankfully we are, if nothing else, a persistent bunch. Here is our final excerpt for Part I of BioCycle’s history:
“There are four reasons to start a recycling program early. First, the economic ones: Recycling demands that a USER exist! This is an obvious point, but one that is most often ignored and the prime cause of failure. A private group does an excellent job collecting materials that can be recycled only to find that the waste dealer can only accept a portion … Municipalities must have a firm contract with secondary materials dealers [for recyclables] or with fertilizer dealers or the city’s own parks department, state highway department, or local farmers or distributors in the case of compost.
“Second, the public education ones: Recycling demands more cooperation from the public than the alternative schemes of landfill or incineration … Education campaigns take time … Third, a commitment to make the recycling project a success from at least one and preferably several of the following: mayor, council member(s), public works director, city manager, etc. Recycling at this stage of the game is a very vulnerable project. To succeed, it needs the same kind of nurturing that a brainstorm of a company president usually gets … Fourth, the recycling system and machinery demand a trial-and-error approach. The on-paper plan always needs some adjusting when put to the test. Such refinement is better when done in the early stages instead of when in the crisis stage of ‘it must work or else.”
“By its very nature, recycling demands interaction between segments of society that have grown accustomed to ignoring each other. A landfill that satisfies state pollution control laws can conceivably be developed largely within the confines of a City Council chamber. The same is true of an incinerator … But recycling projects have a completely different set of rules and a far different timetable. If you want recycling to be done in your area in 3 to 5 years, you must begin now to bring the various elements together – local government, local industry and the public. Recycling is a hell of a lot of work when you have all the elements aware of each other. Recycling is just a hell of a lot of talk otherwise.”
Editor’s Note: Separate 50th Anniversary articles in upcoming 2009 issues will summarize the early years of research and projects related to municipal solid waste composting, yard trimmings composting, and biosolids land application and composting, along with compost marketing. There was no manageable way to capture the amazing evolution and progress with only two paragraphs on each!

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