Last week the 2017 Rhode Island Compost Conference & Trade Show was held at Rhode Island College in Providence organized by Greg Gerritt of the Environmental Council of Rhode Island and Jim Murphy, the Director of Sustainability at the college. I suspect that when most people think of composting, they think about that pile in the backyard or perhaps a larger bin at the community garden or school year. Some of the workshops and exhibitors at the conference did focus on small scale composting but the takeaway theme was the need for a larger and more regionalized compost infrastructure.

ri envir council

Sponsors of 2017 RI Compost Conference & Trade Show along with RI College Office of Sustainability

That does not necessarily mean larger composting operations but rather a larger network for moving compostable items to places where they can be composted and either used by the composter or distributed in some other manner.

Greg Gerritt

Greg Geritt welcoming folks to the conference

According to Rhode Island Food Strategy, about 35% of waste in that state consists of food and other compostables. Similar numbers have been cited nationwide. If not diverted from the waste stream, these items will end up in landfills or incinerators. Compostable trash not directly buried, may be incinerated first but then the ash is landfilled. Since the cost of hauling trash away depends on weight and food wastes are especially heavy, we as individuals or as a society are spending a lot of money burning and burying what really is the basis for an excellent soil amendment. Plus many landfills in New England are reaching capacity and the problems associated with them often makes them unwelcome neighbors. To this end, New England states including Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island have all passed legislation in an attempt to divert organic materials from landfills to composting facilities.

Our two morning plenary speakers were from SCS Engineers, a national environmental consulting firm. They gave us an overview of some compost technologies from open windrow to aerated static pile to in-vessel. Depending on the technology used, composting can be quite controlled and operations can be successfully sited in more urban locations. A most engaging concept promoted by this company was sharing. Expensive equipment like windrow turners and mixers were purchased by SCS and contracted out to multiple mid-sized compost operations which greatly benefited by using this equipment but would not have the funds to purchase them.

aeration system

Aerated static compost bins. Covered bins keep pests out and odors contained.

One version of community composting was covered by Michael Bradlee of Earth Appliance who set up a Compost Depot at Frey Gardens. Using those large (65 gallons I think) lidded trash bins, he set up a composting system in a small community garden designing a pipe system to aerate the bins so they could stay closed. As part of an urban initiative, folks were encourage to bring their food scraps to the compost site in covered 5 gallon buckets. They could exchange their full one for an empty one. Michael mixed the food wastes with leaves and would aerate the bins with either a hand aerator or power auger on a weekly basis. He kept records of the temperatures and adjusted his aeration system to keep the composting process active year round.

Karen Franczyk, the Green Mission Coordinator for the North Atlantic Region gave a presentation on how Whole Foods manages food scraps and I must say I was quite impressed and wished there was a store in my area. First, they work with other agencies in the community and donate any leftover food items pretty much on a daily basis. I don’t know what the numbers are in other states but in Rhode Island, 12% of the population is food insecure which means that these people do not know where there next meal will come from.

whole foods grind2energycollection tank

Whole Foods Grind2Energy holding tanks.

All discarded items are sorted according to whether they can be recycled, composted or put into the trash stream. Employees are educated about their disposal systems and the company has been participating in a zero waste day each year.

Some of the more urban stores have limited areas for storing compostables until they can be picked up so a Grind2Energy system is employed instead. All compostable food items are put through a large grinder, water is added when necessary and the slurry is stored in tanks outside the building. The slurry gets picked up and trucked to a dairy farm in Rutland, MA which uses it to produce methane to heat their operation and also as fertilizer.

The closing speaker was Lorenzo Macaluso from the Center for EcoTechnology. This private, nonprofit provides free assistance to help businesses and institutions implement programs to divert waste food from disposal. He noted that for food waste diversion programs to be successful they depend on policy, infrastructure, education, technical assistance and regulation. All these pieces need to be on the same page and working towards that goal.

If you are interested in learning more about food waste in America, check out the UConn Science Salon’s offering on April 6 at the Spotlight Theater in Hartford. The topic is ‘Throwing it All Away: America’s Food Waste Epidemic’. Find out how the excessive amount of food waste from production to consumer affects food security, resource conservation, climate change and more. Find out more at: http://sciencesalon.uconn.edu/upcoming-events/

Those interested in spreading the word about composting might want to consider enrolling in the UConn Master Composter Program held each fall. Information about program location, instructors and registration will be available in July at www.ladybug.uconn.edu.

Compost rules!

Dawn

I was invited to an interesting meeting this week where people’s perceptions
about composting were examined and various barriers to, as well as reasons for
composting, were discussed. Being an enthusiastic composter for years and more
recently, initiating the Master Composter Program at the University of
Connecticut, I am aware that composting is not for everyone. It might be
difficult to convince an apartment dweller, for instance, that composting would
make sense since they typically would not have an outdoor area to apply the
finished compost to.

While most people think of making compost so that they can apply it as an amendment
to their yards and gardens, a more universal reason is to reduce the amount of
solid waste that either goes into landfills or gets incinerated. Solid waste
disposal uses land that could be repurposed, requires payments by individuals and municipalities, and can add to air
pollution when incinerated. Many households can successfully compost about 25%
of their solid waste.

One concern was the cost of compost bins and tools, which can actually vary from
practically no cost to several hundred dollars, depending on the composter’s
desire. This custom built, 3-bin unit was made by two Master Composters at our
Fall Compost and Garden Fair in Norwich on September 24, 2011. The cost was
approximately $260.

3-bin composter built by UConn Master Composters in Norwich

UConn Master Composters also staffed a composting and worm composting exhibit and
held informational sessions on general composting and vermicomposting.  UConn Master Gardeners were at the Fair as well offering free soil pH tests, tours of the rain garden, horticultural advice and presentations, children’s activities, and hosting a perennial plant sale. But I digress! Fancy, expensive compost units are not necessary.

Another potential stumbling block was the perceived need to bring collected kitchen wastes
out to the compost pile on a daily, or at least regular, basis even during the
winter months. Not everyone shovels a path to their compost pile. Some people
freeze their wastes during times when they are not able to get to the compost
pile. Others start worm bins in their cellars. Since our chicken coop is near
the compost bin and we have to water and feed the chickens, I must admit, I had
not given this problem much thought.

The feeling that compost bins will attract unwanted, four-legged varmints was also
listed as a reason why some people would not want to compost. While I have
found occasional evidence of some critter nosing around the compost bin, for
the most part in more suburban and rural areas this is not a huge issue –
unless you count the bear that one of our clients called to complain about!
Generally, if the compost pile just contains plant materials (eggshells are
also acceptable), any new food wastes are placed inside the pile and covered
with leaves or shredded paper, the pile is turned regularly, and somehow
contained, it will not attract very much unwanted wildlife. This may be more
problematic in urban areas and a more secure bin system may be needed. Keeping
items like meats and fats and grease out of the compost pile also makes it less
likely to attract undesirable creatures.

A barrel composter may be a good solution if animal visitors are a problem.

Probably the reason for not composting that surprised me the most was that it takes too
long to make compost! I do realize we live in a society where the desire for
instant gratification is quite pervasive. But, whatever happened to the old adage
that the best things in life are worth waiting for? I am not quite sure what
would be the best way to convince folks that finished compost is such a
marvelous addition to gardens that the few months it takes for the organic
materials to decompose can be compensated by years of improved garden
performance.

This time of year is a marvelous time to start a compost pile if you have ever
thought about doing so. There is no dearth of carbonaceous ‘brown’ material, in
the form of leaves and if there are too many to use in the compost pile they
can be stockpiled in a separate holding unit, fenced in area, or even in leaf
bags. A few handfuls can be used to cover food waste additions throughout the
winter months when you can make it out to the pile. Check out our backyard
composting fact sheet for basic information to get you started. Or, feel free
to give us a call at the UConn Home & Garden Education Center for answers
to your composting questions.

Composting……Because a rind is a terrible thing to waste!  (Anonymous bumper sticker)

Dawn