August 16, 2011 | General

Composting Roundup

BioCycle August 2011, Vol. 52, No. 8, p. 12

Fort Collins, Colorado
Colorado State University’s (CSU) Foothills Campus had been interested in starting a composting operation when its “farm-to-table” food program began on campus. The goal of the students and professors involved in campus sustainability was to bring attention to food waste issues and composting on campus. To facilitate organics diversion, CSU made a vow to turn all disposables in the dining halls into products that could be composted. Then, in April 2011, it decided to install an Earth Flow Composter. “We compost everything in the dining halls from plates to trays to silverware,” says Tonie Miyamoto, Housing and Dining Service’s Director of Communications. After students scrape their plates in collection areas, the postconsumer food waste is gleamed for contaminants, pulped and brought to the composter. The school averages about 2,000 lbs/day of material from its eight dining halls.
The Earth Flow Composter – built by Green Mountain Technologies – has a 30-cubic-yard vessel with the footprint of a single parking space. The system is designed to compost more than 1 ton/day of biodegradable material. Pulped food waste is mixed with straw bedding taken from cow barns on the Land-Grant University campus. The composter mixes, aerates and unloads the compost. Retention time is 10 to 21 days. Finished compost is used primarily for landscaping on campus. “The system is able to handle our volume while the automation keeps the daily maintenance minimal for our staff,” explains Miyamoto. The University employs one full-time staffer to collect the organics and maintain and monitor the composting process. Previously, CSU shipped its waste 50 miles off campus. The project also serves as a working soil and crops laboratory. Recovery of the $140,000 investment is expected in about eight years.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Katie and Tim Bennett, owners of Bennett Compost, didn’t set out to become compost entrepreneurs, but the demand practically found them – starting with themselves. “Beginning in 2009, Tim and I lived in a small row house in South Philadelphia and had no capacity to compost ourselves,” Katie recounts. “We were looking for a solution to reduce our waste and could find none, so we created one.” Now celebrating its two-year anniversary, Bennett Compost is a thriving small business. After finding interest within the community, they began by partnering with a local community garden and trading garden space for the finished compost they made onsite in a 3-bin system they created.
The Bennetts started collecting compostables from homes and businesses by handing out a five-gallon lidded bin to each client. For $15 a month, clients get their buckets of organic waste removed on an assigned weekly pick up day. Many have found that they’ve cut their trash output in half. “We currently have 20 commercial customers including restaurants, supermarkets, coffee shops and even a bowling alley,” says Katie. “Last month, we collected over 100,000 pounds of material.” Commercial waste can be vegetable or animal, which significantly broadens the scope of earth-friendly disposal. Added to the 300 residential customers they serve, the Bennetts have a healthy and steadily growing operation.
Material from its 300 residential customers is now processed at four community garden sites throughout Philadelphia, with leftovers made available to customers. Most of the commercial material is taken to Wilmington Organic Recycling Center in Delaware.
The Bennetts alone have singlehandedly expanded composting in an urban setting with swelling demand but previously scant access. “We are very excited about the growing interest we have seen both locally and nationally in composting,” says Katie. “We expect that 20 years from now composting will be just as commonplace, if not more, as traditional recycling.”
Compost Quips
When GMO behemoth Monsanto presented Vandana Shiva, PhD, with a Bullshit Award – two gold-painted piles of cow dung – at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) for her purported role in sustaining poverty by rejecting genetic engineering of food crops, the India-born environmental activist, scientist and prolific writer did not miss a beat in graciously accepting what was intended as an insult. “In India we worship cow dung as Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth,” Shiva wrote in an essay following the incident. “Gobur-dhan puja is literally the worship of gobur (cowdung) dhan (wealth). Cow dung is worshipped because it is the source of renewal of soil fertility and hence the sustainability of human society. The cow has been made sacred in India because it is a keystone species for agro-ecosystems – it is key to the sustainability of agriculture. When Monsanto and biotech industry spokesmen parading as ‘farmers’ presented me with cow dung at the WSSD in Johannesburg, I accepted their ‘award’ as a tribute to organic farming and sustainable agriculture.”
Columbus, Ohio
If Ohio State University soil scientist Rattan Lal is right, one of the simplest solutions to climate change may be right under our feet. According to a May 2011 article in Discover magazine written by Kristin Ohlson entitled “Could Dirt Help Heal the Climate,” the world’s agricultural soils, if managed well, have the capacity to sequester 13 percent of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today – equal to scrubbing every ounce of CO2 released into the atmosphere since 1980. According to the article, a natural partnership between plants and soil microbes that has helped regulate carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere for millions of years was upset by the advent of agriculture some 10,000 years ago. “When humans started draining and plowing up the natural topsoil for planting, they exposed the buried carbon to oxygen, creating carbon dioxide and releasing it into the air,” writes Ohlson. “Animal husbandry made things worse, as domesticated animals began grazing grasslands down to the earth. In places where the ground is bare – from overgrazing or from the common practice of leaving fields unplanted for part of the year – photosynthesis stops, and so does the storage of carbon in the soil.”
Lal calculated that such management practices have taken 70 billion to 100 billion tons of carbon from the world’s soils and distributed it into the earth’s atmosphere, oceans and lakes since the dawn of agriculture. The prescriptive remedy called for boosting soil fertility and moisture retention through established practices such as applying compost, keeping fields planted year-round, reducing tillage and increasing plant diversity.
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
North Carolina State University’s (NCSU) 12th Vermiculture Conference will be held October 10-11, 2011 in Chapel Hill. The latest information about vermiculture and vermicomposting will be covered, including research into the effects of extracts (tea) on plant growth, disease and pest control. Participants will be provided with the necessary tools to start or expand an earthworm and vermicompost production operation. There will be a field tour of a market that precomposts and vermicomposts food waste (including meat) and cardboard onsite. The conference is sponsored by NCSU’s Department of Biological & Agricultural Engineering and NC Cooperative Extension.Agenda (registration at For information, e-mail Conference Chair Rhonda Sherman of NCSU,
Raleigh, North Carolina
The North Carolina chapter of the U.S Composting Council brings its Compost Operations Training Course to North Carolina State University September 12-16 and includes visits to local composting facilities. Register and find more details at /training or by contacting Cary Oshins,

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