January 25, 2011 | General

Composting Roundup

BioCycle January 2011, Vol. 52, No. 1, p. 12

Hennepin County, Minnesota
A new report by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) entitled “Digging Deep Through School Trash: A Waste Composition Analysis Of Trash, Recycling And Organic Material Discarded At Public Schools In Minnesota,” details findings of a comprehensive school waste composition study conducted by the MPCA, Hennepin County and the city of Minneapolis. The study found that more than 78 percent of all the waste generated by area schools could be managed through a combination of recycling and composting. It also identified food waste and recyclable paper as two of the most common materials thrown away by schools. For the study, researchers collected, sorted and analyzed all the waste generated by six participating schools ranging from elementary to high school during a two-day period, including everything that was in trash cans, recycling bins or collected for organics recycling. The schools are among the more than 100 schools in Hennepin County that have implemented an organics recycling program to divert food waste, paper towels and other organic materials for composting.
Other school districts across Minnesota are implementing similar programs and are finding peer leadership to be an effective tool for success. The Proctor School District, which includes Duluth, rolled out a successful food waste collection program for grades 6 through 12. The “Green Bandits” headed up a pep assembly promoting the program, put posters up throughout the school and talked to their peers about proper separation. In the nine-week pilot test, the program diverted 3 cubic yards (cy) of food waste from the trash. The school expects more than 13 cy of wet, heavy food waste will be kept from the landfill and turned into useful compost for gardens and lawns in the 2010/2011 school year. The full report can be reviewed at
Montpelier, Vermont
The Central Vermont Solid Waste Management District (CVSWMD) announced in November that well over 100 businesses, schools and institutions are participating in composting programs across the region. A full 97 percent of students within the district – 9,013 out of 9,284 – will be enrolled in a composting program by January 15. Since 2004, the CVSWMD has been working to develop programs that divert food waste from the landfill and recycle it via composting. To date, according to program administrators, more than 5.2 million pounds of food scraps have been rescued from the landfill, providing enough feed for 4,500 chickens or feedstock to produce enough compost to fertilize 350 acres of mixed vegetables.
The program is a cooperative partnership between CVSWMD and several regional composters. Participants separate food scraps into plastic 32-gallon or 48-gallon toters and store them either outside or inside to await collection. Two programs provide routine food scrap collection services, picking up all types of food waste including, meat, seafood, bones, dairy products, fruits, vegetables, fats, oils, coffee grounds and coffee filters as well as other organic residuals. The largest program, operated by the CVSWMD, currently serves 91 customers – 70 businesses and 21 schools. Food scraps are taken to either the Vermont Compost Company, GROW Compost or the Highfields Center for Composting’s facility. The Bradford program, established by the CVSWMD, the Highfields Center and the Bradford Conservation Commission in 2006, is operated by Robert Sandberg of Cookeville Composting in Corinth and serves approximately 21 customers. For more information, contact CVSWMD ( or the Highfields Institute (
St. Louis, Missouri
According to the USDA, Americans throw out more than 96 billion pounds of prepared food annually. Responding to this crisis, St. Louis Composting, Inc., has launched the region’s first commercial food and organics composting program, teaming up with Washington University, Frito-Lay, the National Guard, Walmart and the Missouri Botanical Garden. St. Louis Composting, with two composting operations and a transfer facility in St. Louis and a third facility in Illinois, processes more than 100 tons/week of out-of-date food and food processing by-products. “Just as environmentally conscious St. Louis restaurants have embraced menu selections that emphasize locally grown produce and meats, we are committed to extending the process full circle,” says Patrick Geraty, president of St. Louis Composting. “By composting spent waste from restaurants, grocery stores and businesses and then supplying the compost to local farmers to incorporate into their fields to improve their soil, we help increase produce yields. The locally grown food finds its way back to the restaurants and onto diners’ plates – helping us to take the process even further than from garden to table and back again. We hope to process even more organics and food waste in the future as we recruit more businesses that generate volumes of food waste.”
Jonathan Harley, facilities operation manager at Frito-Lay, says the partnership is helping to significantly reduce the amount of waste it landfills. “Since partnering with St. Louis Composting, we have diverted more than 10,000 pounds of food waste from area landfills,” he notes. “Composting, along with other recycling programs, has helped reduce Frito-Lay’s landfilled waste from 60 percent in 2009 to about 2 percent by year end 2010.” The the Missouri Botanical Garden is diverting food scraps and compostable serviceware. “The program allows us to enlist nature’s process of decomposition to transform what was previously a landfill-bound waste product into usable nutrient rich soils,” adds Deborah Frank, vice president of sustainability at the Botanical Garden. “We are very hopeful that this will result in a long-term solution for further reducing the Garden’s waste stream.” Find out more at
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Following a 9-2 vote in early December 2010 by the Ann Arbor City Council, a Jordan, New York-based organic residuals management company will now handle the community’s composting. While the city estimates an annual $400,000 in savings – compost operations reportedly cost it $683,000 in 2009 – detractors of the move to outsource to WeCare Organics, say the loss was largely due to poor or no management. One of two dissenting council members expressed concern that while taxpayers will be paying for the new contract and subsidizing the operation in other ways – for instance, it will continue on public land – communities in outlying areas will likely end up paying lower net tipping fees for generated organics than the city of Ann Arbor. Under the contract, the city will pay WeCare a $19/ton tipping fee the first year – estimated to be around $171,000 in 2011 – with that fee declining incrementally over the next few years to settle at $17.50/ton in 2015. The city is to receive $1/ton for materials coming into the facility from area business and 50 cents/ton for finished compost going out.
Some citizens pointed out that the facility is still going to be operating at a loss to the city. “Even though the profits would be sent out of state, the responsibility for major repairs and capital improvement would reside here in Ann Arbor,” city resident Lou Glory said during a public comment period before the vote. Ann Arbor Solid Waste Coordinator Tom McMurtrie clarified to BioCycle that WeCare will be responsible for repairs to equipment leased from the city under a six-month lease, after which all equipment would be furnished and maintained by WeCare. With regards to site improvements, no plan exists for Ann Arbor to fund capital improvements to the site. Under the new arrangement, city employees who currently help run the facility will be shifted to other positions within the city, curbside pick-up of residential organics residuals will continue and residents will have the same access to compost as before. WeCare Organics has promised to hire locally.
Will County, Illinois
On November 15, 2010, in honor of America Recycles Day, Will County (southwest of Chicago) launched a comprehensive website to teach residents, businesses and schools about recycling and resource conservation. The website,, contains more that 150 pages filled with waste reduction, recycling, water conservation and energy efficiency information. “One of the most unique features of the website is its games,” says Marta Keane, Will County Recycling Specialist and project manager for the new website. Four games were designed for the site. The first is for the youngest computer users and teaches which items are recyclable, which are garbage and which can be easily composted. “The second game is a classic memory match with three levels, but the trick is to take the pairs of items and place them in the proper recycling or reuse area,” explains Keane. “This game teaches about electronics recycling, composting, curbside recycling, donation and retail take-back. The third game is a trivia challenge that changes daily and asks players to fill in the blank in a limited time with a conservation word.” The fourth game, she says, requires users to find the differences as they tour a home and yard and discover new ways to save energy and conserve water. “It depicts a backyard compost and native plantings among other things,” she adds. “Will County created this site primarily for its residents and businesses, but it is also meant to be useful and inspiring beyond our borders.”
Los Angeles and Chino Counties, California
Two compost-related fires in the greater Los Angeles area inside of a month – one occurring indoors and one outdoors – had the fire department responding (with the indoor incident also attracting the attention of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office). Authorities responding to a fire in a single-story home in November found that a living room compost pile had ignited, torching a sophisticated marijuana growing operation that included 1,700 plants. Sheriff officials said such intensive indoor growing operations are commonplace and primarily run by gangs who sell the high-potency cannabis to medical marijuana dispensaries. The homes are typically gutted to make room for the plants – and, in this case, the compost. And in mid-December, the Chino Valley Fire Department responded to a fire involving two 30-foot stacks of green waste at a local recycling center. Heavy machinery was used to break up the burning piles containing grass, weeds, palm fronds, manure and other organics so densely packed together that water, even under high pressure, could not penetrate, according to a fire district spokesperson. The fire burned for 42 hours before it was extinguished, with smoke from the blaze covering the skies above the Chino Valley and western Riverside County for three days.

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