Composting: It's Not About If but When and How (Part 1)

farmerjay_phot Paul Misciagno.jpg
Paul Misciagno

Food scraps are being wasted and filling up our landfills when they could be going to building soil and growing our food. Plants thrive on compost, and we have the technology to make composting easy and efficient, yet we choose not to.

In my next two articles, I will explore composting, the latest technology, and how we can get it done.

What is compost?

Compost is basically the byproduct of anything that is biodegradable. Composting is a digestive process not much different from the digestion in our stomachs. Basically organic matter is consumed by microscopic organisms, just like in our guts, and the byproduct is compost.

The main focus of compost for agriculture is composted animal and food waste. I am going to focus mainly on food waste in these articles. Food waste can be divided into two categories, pre- and postconsumer waste. Preconsumer waste is prep scraps from the kitchen before the consumer touches it, and post- would be leftovers after a meal has been served.

For the home gardener and novice composter, you will deal only in preconsumer vegetable scraps, leaving out any meat, dairy, and oils. The reason for this is that with postconsumer waste, temperatures need to be closely monitored and raised to kill pathogens that could be transferred to our crops.

Most people think that the heat from the compost pile comes from the pile sitting in the sun, but it is from acids that organisms release to break down scraps. This is accomplished only by having a composter with an inside volume of at least three cubic feet.

Farmer Jay
Preconsumer food scraps from local restaurants heading to be turned into plant food.

Waste Stream Analyzed

While working at the Breakers Resort in Palm Beach, we did an analysis of the waste stream from the main trash collection for the hotel, which included the banquet kitchen. This day was disgusting but a necessary exercise for the greater good. The average annual waste from this site is 1.2 million tons.

In this study, we separated waste into three categories: landfill, recycle, and compostable. All day, we dumped out all trash cans onto tarps, separated, measured volume, weighed, and recorded the data, of course with clothespins on our noses. It was shocking what we discovered! We found that 54 percent of the total waste could have been composted and turned into fertility to grow our food. These are big numbers but just a drop in the bucket with regard to our total waste stream.

While on a research trip, sponsored by the Breakers, to Napa and Sonoma Valley, California, I was amazed to see by the curb on trash day four cans at each house. The cans were color-coded and lined up: landfill waste, recyclable paper and plastic, yard waste, and food scraps. The smallest can was the landfill waste. California sets the standard; why we are not composting already is crazy to me.

Farmer Jay
Collection can in Berkeley, California, for food waste, one of four cans by curb for each house.

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All of this amongst the backdrop of Broward's cities finally having a choice between burning trash like rednecks, or recycling: 

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