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EPA Composting Unit

EPA Composting Unit

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Published by Kevin Camm

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Published by: Kevin Camm on Feb 01, 2013
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 What Is Composting?
C
om
p
ostin
gis the controlled
t
 
he
r
m
o
p
hilic
(130º-150ºF)dec
om
p
osition
of organic materials suchas leaves, grass, and food scraps by variousorganisms. Composting can be divided into threetypes: backyard, or home, composting; vermi-composting; and heat-based composting.Home composting is the natural degradation of yard trimmings, food scraps, wood ashes, shred-ded paper, coffee grounds, and other householdorganic waste by naturally occurring microscopicorganisms.
V
e
rmi
c
om
p
osti
ngis the naturaldegradation of similar household organic wasteusing naturally occurring microscopic organismsand the digestive process of earthworms. Heat-based composting is performed by municipal or commercial facilities that increase the rate of degradation using high temperatures. Varying amounts of heat, water, air, and foodproduce different qualities of compost as a finalproduct. Heat-based compost differs from com-post produced at ambient temperatures (e.g., aforest floor or home com-posting) because hightemperatures destroy bothweed seeds and pathogens.Composts produced by allthree systems are crumbly,earthy-smelling, soil-likematerials with a variety of beneficial organisms.
Composting
 
Key Poin
t
s
Composting is the controlled decompo-sition of organic materials.There are three methods of composting:home or backyard composting, vermi-composting, and heat-basedcomposting.Invertebrates and microorganisms incompost are key to the breakdown ofthe organic materials into a rich soil-likeproduct.Quality compost is the result of the prop-er mixture of carbon and nitrogensources and adequate amounts of mois-ture, oxygen, and time. Certain food itemsshould be avoided when home composting.More than 67 percent of the wasteproduced in the United States (includingpaper) is compostable material.Compost is a valuable product that canbe used as a soil amendment, mulch, oreven to decontaminate natural habitats,storm water, and brownfields.Composting helps divert a large portionof America’s organic trash from landfillsand combustion facilities.
 
 Worms—A Composter’s Best Friend
 Vermicomposting is a method of composting using a special kind of earthworm known as a red wig-gler (
Elsenia fetida
), which eats its weight in organic matter each day. Vermicomposting is typicallydone in a covered container with a bedding of dirt, newspaper, or leaves. Food scraps (withoutadded fats) can then be added as food for the worms. Over time, the food will be replaced withworm droppings, a rich brown matter that is an excellent natural plant food. Vermicompostingrequires less space than normal composting methods, and is therefore ideal for classrooms, apart-ments, and those in high-density urban areas.
EPA: The Quest for Less
 
How Does Composting Work?
Compost contains both carbon and nitrogensources, which can be simplified as browns(e.g., leaves, straw, woody materials) andgreens (e.g., grass and food scraps), respective-ly. Adequate sources of carbon and nitrogen areimportant for microorganism growth and energy.The ideal ratio is 30 parts brown to 1 partgreen. Odor and other problems can occur if the ratio or any of the factors discussed beloware not right.The browns and greens can be mixed together to form compost in a backyard bin or in amunicipal compost facility. Whether the com-posting is done on a small scale or large, thecomposting process is the same. To encouragedecomposition throughout the pile, the compostshould be kept moist and turned periodically.The decomposition of organic materials in com-posting involves both physical and chemicalprocesses. During decomposition, organicmaterials are broken down through the activitiesand appetites of bacteria, fungi, and variousinvertebrates that will naturally appear in com-post, such as mites, millipedes, beetles,sowbugs, earwigs, earthworms, slugs, andsnails. These microorganisms and insects foundin decomposing matter need adequate moistureand oxygen to degrade the organic materials inthe most efficient manner.
 What Are the Benefits ofComposting?
 As a method of handling the large amount of organic waste created in the United States eachday, composting makes good environmentalsense. Instead of throwing organic materialsaway, they can be turned into a useful resource.In addition, many organic wastes are not ideallysuited for disposal in combustion facilities or landfills. Food scraps and yard trimmings tend tomake inferior fuel for combustors because of their high moisture content. Decomposition of organicwastes in landfills can create methane, a green-house gas that is environmentally harmfulbecause it destroys atmospheric ozone.Because yard trimmings and food scraps makeup about 24 percent of the waste U.S. house-holds generate (EPA, 2003), backyard or homecomposting can greatly reduce the amount of 
Composting in Action
 An easy way to understand all the factors thatgo into composting is with a hands-on demon-stration. A school can provide the perfectmedium for these demonstrations. Classescould start a composting bin using food scrapsfrom the cafeteria and yard trimmings fromground maintenance. Depending on the scopeof the project, the compost could then be soldto the community in addition to being used onthe school campus. Tour a local compostingfacility, if composting cannot be done atschool. For more information on how tostart a school composting project, go to theCornell University composting Web site at<http://compost.css.cornell.edu/compostinghomepage.html> or use thesesuggested activities to get you started:Start a compost pile or bin in the school oas a class experiment.Try using compost in place of chemical fer-tilizers, pesticides, and fungicides. Usecompost made by the school or buy it frommunicipalities or private companies.
EPA: The Quest for Less
 
waste that ends up in landfills or combustors. Inaddition, compost is a valuable product that canbe used as a soil additive for backyard gardensand farm lands or in highway beautification andother landscape projects.The benefits don’t end there—composting alsomakes good economic sense. Composting canreduce a community’s solid waste transporta-tion, disposal, and processing costs. In manycommunities, residents pay for each bag or canof trash they put out for pickup. If a householdis composting, it will most likely put less in trashcans and will pay a smaller trash bill.In backyards and on the community level, inter-est in composting has increased rapidly over thepast several years. Yard trimmings programsconstitute the large majority of compostingoperations in the United States. In these pro-grams, community members place their yardtrimmings in a separate bag or container at thecurb, which is collected and taken to a munici-pal composting facility. These facilities createlarge amounts of compost, which, in manycases, is sold back to community members.People can also purchase compost created byprivate composting companies.
 What Are theChallenges Associated With Composting?
Creating quality compostrequires the right mix of mate-rials and attention to moisture,particle size, and temperature.Too little moisture will slow thedecomposition, but too muchcan create odor problems. Toavoid attracting pests androdents, composters shouldmonitor the food scraps put inthe compost pile. Meat scraps,fats, and oils are difficult itemsto compost, attract pests, andshould be kept away from thecompost pile, and thrown awayinstead.While composting increases the rate of naturalorganic decomposition, it still takes months for compost to mature. If compost is used while it isstill “cooking,” the high temperatures could killthe plant life on which it is spread. In addition,using compost before it is ready can encourageweed growth because the high temperatures of the pile have not had a chance to kill anypotential weed seeds.
 What Are Some Emerging Trendsin Composting?
 A large amount of organic waste is created byinstitutions, restaurants, and grocery stores—perfect for compost. Across the country, many of 
 What Can Go Into a Composting Bin?
This list is not meant to be all inclusive. Some food products should not be included because they can attract pests or compromise the quality of the compost.
M
at
e
ri
a
ls
 
to
 
In
c
l
udeMa
teri
a
ls
 
to
 
E
xc
lu
deFruit and vegetable scraps MeatsTea bags Dairy foodsWool and cotton rags BonesCoffee grounds with filters FatsGrass/Yard clippingsPet excrementLeavesDiseased plantsEgg shellsGreaseSawdustOils (including peanutFireplace ashbutter and mayonnaise)Nonrecyclable paper  Vacuum cleaner lintFish scraps
EPA: The Quest for Less

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