Fun with Composting

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by Casey Furlong, MSW Professional

Put yourself in the shoes of a community administrator about to tackle the goal of increasing waste diversion from the landfill. Food scraps are part of the evaluation. The easy solution – composting!

In your community, you’re already managing landscape waste that way, so the infrastructure is in place to harmlessly turn organics into dirt. (And if it isn’t, building a flat composting pad takes relatively minimal time and capital.) Good. Done.

 As an administrator, you are about to take the first step of a familiar “5 stage” journey in coming to terms with the reality of establishing your food scrap composting program:

Stage 1

Large-scale food waste composting is the way to reach our diversion goals.  Great idea!  Let’s do it!

 Stage 2

Gee, why does it stink so much?   

 Stage 3

OK. I’ll tell the public they need to be patient. 

 Stage 4

Great. The facility is about to try something else to fix the problem. I wish they’d hurry up.   

Stage 5

Yeah, um, it’s been 2 years of this, so we’re going to need to stop taking food waste.   

No doubt, recovery of food scraps for a “higher and better use” is a good thing and successful source-separated collection and composting programs abound. However, significant odors are a common, persistent side effect from composting on the “large scale” you’ve just undertaken. To paraphrase comedian Ron White, “If odor from a compost facility was music, and the whole town could hear it, the police would tell the facility to turn it down.” 

Composters are working to mitigate these nuisances and I do wish them luck. But until the process is improved, maybe the administrator should consider anaerobic digestion as a viable alternative. In many locations the infrastructure is already in place, with trained professionals experienced in managing organics. And the surrounding population accepts the operation, to boot.

But if you’re nonetheless committed to the idea that “compost is king,” you should know that the Washington Organic Recycling Council is holding its Annual Convention in Vancouver, WA on November 19-20, 2013.  The theme of the conference is odors related to composting. Space is limited.

Casey Furlong is an Environmental Specialist for InSinkErator. With an extensive background in landfill engineering, Casey has designed, permitted, constructed and operated municipal solid waste landfills and large-scale food and landscape waste compost facilities. He is a certified landfill manager in Wisconsin and registered professional engineer in the states of WI, IL and IN.

From the news…

Stage 1: New York City; and Austin, TX

Stage 2: Shakopee, MN; Lebanon, OH; and Tuakau, New Zealand 

Stage 3: Marysville, WA; and Richmond, British Columbia

Stage 4: Buxton, UK; and North Plains, WA

Stage 5: Perkiomen Township, PA; Winnipeg, Manitoba; and Park City, IL


4 Replies to “Fun with Composting

  • Eric Martin on said:

    Large-scale composting does smell pretty awful…Especially when a dump truck full of algae sitting in the sun for a few days has been added to it.

  • Kevin Wong on said:

    Smell is one thing, but as Eric points out the carbon footprint of getting the solid organic waste diverted is an ever growing cost with the increasing prices of fuel. Yes most municipalities internalize this as part of the total solid waste collection, but at some point we gotta do the CBA on the conveyance for FWDs vs collected composting.

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