August 20, 2006 | General

Editorial: How Composting Got Its Place In The Sun

BioCycle August 2006, Vol. 47, No. 8, p. 4
Jerome Goldstein

It was my pleasure to recently receive a letter from Prof. Werner Bidlingmaier of the University of Weimar in Germany. He writes that approximately 35 years ago, biological waste treatment was only a fragile sprout in waste management, but it now has claimed a very important place in the industry. “In Germany,” he points out, “more waste is composted, digested or processed in a mechanical biological unit today than is incinerated. You have not only witnessed this entire development, but have also taken part in directing it and, in the process, have gathered a great deal of experience.”
In the letter, Dr. Bidlingmaier invited me to participate in a special session of the Orbit Conference in September, 2006 that would reminisce about the origins of biological waste treatment, the challenges in transferring knowledge from one generation to the next, and difficulties in moving forward with concepts of composting and digestion. Others who will be part of the discussion are A. von Hirschheydt, R. Mach, A. Ernst and W. de Feijter.
In preparation for the Conference, I have been organizing many papers collected since the founding of BioCycle that cover new uses, expanding markets, innovative research, public policies, connections to fields like soil and water quality, reduction of chemical inputs, and renewable energy. In addition, the progress in equipment that can size reduce, screen, sort, transport, aerate, monitor, digest, control odors and add value is manifold. As we explained in Spring, 1960 when this publication was founded, we would cover the entire field of large-scale composting – providing the technical, scientific and practical information that enables composting to achieve its fullest state of development in the conversion of organics into useful products. BioCycle would report on composting operations throughout the world, the biochemistry and bacteriology, and compost marketing and utilization.
As Dr. Clarence G. Golueke of the University of California and our mentor throughout the years of publishing BioCycle so aptly put it: “We need a journal on composting to bring together the available knowledge on the subject. It will help to dispel some of the numerous misrepresentations prevalent and make the right connections.” Articles covered in that initial issue featured: Materials Handling Methods for City Composting; Composting Municipal Garbage in Europe; Mixing Woody Wastes with Other Organic Feedstocks; Organics Recycling Around the World; Composting Manure by Anaerobic Methods; Uses and Abuses of Waste. By the end of our first decade, the Whole Earth Catalog described BioCycle as “The finest, most consistently intelligent journal connecting recycling to restoration.”
We knew from the outset that while we focused on trash, we were not dealing with waste but a feedstock to be managed so that it becomes a resource. We needed the knowledge that covers pretreatment and post-treatment, plus the right tools and policies to support shifts in the status quo to create a sustainable society. There have been tremendous increases in composting facilities – like the jump in yard trimmings sites to more than 3,250 today. The statistics on how MSW went from landfilling to mixed waste composting have been most significant. And the rapid rise in research projects throughout the world continues to amaze us.
We are looking forward greatly to the exchange of recollections and future predictions on the agenda at Weimar – and to a future that relies even more heavily on the quantity and quality of organics recycling.

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