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COMPOSTING

COMPOSTING

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Published by Apparatchiki310

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Published by: Apparatchiki310 on Nov 24, 2010
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11/21/2012

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Organic Materials Composting
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LARGE-
SCALE
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Just a decade ago, most public officials and business owners thought ofwaste materials such as grass clippings, food scraps, and sludge as aproblem they had to dispose of. But more and more often, public agenciesand entrepreneurs are turning this former problem into a profit with environ-mental benefits.Once they’re converted into compost, organic wastes—which are thecompostable portions of the solid waste stream—can be used to mulchlandscaping, enhance crop growth, enrich topsoil, and provide otherbenefits.The change in outlook about municipal organic wastes stems from manyfactors:(1)municipal officials have realized that composting is an effectivestrategy for managing waste (up to 70 percent may be organic);(2)states have banned certain organic materials such as cardboard andyard waste from landfills;(3)backyard composting has been readily accepted;(4)composting has been heavily promoted in the agricultural sector; and(5) more markets for compost have opened up.The key to starting a successful composting enterprise is to understandthe basics, including how composting works, what types of facilities canhandle this process, which raw materials work best, how to manage odor,and how to produce and market high-quality products.Composting is the aerobic decomposition of organic materials by micro-organisms under controlled conditions into a soil-like substance calledcompost. During composting, microorganisms such as bacteria and fungibreak down complex organic compounds into simpler substances andproduce carbon dioxide, water, minerals, and stabilized organic matter(compost). The process produces heat, which can destroy pathogens(disease-causing microorganisms) and weed seeds.Raw materials are composted fastest when conditions that encouragethe growth of the microorganisms are established and maintained. Themost important conditions include the following.Organic materials blended to provide the nutrients that support micro-bial activity and growth, including a balanced supply of carbon andnitrogen (C:N ratio)Sufficient oxygen to support aerobic organismsMoisture levels that uphold biological activity without hindering aerationTemperatures needed by microorganisms that grow best in a warmenvironment.As soon as appropriate materials are mixed into a pile, the microorgan-isms set to work and the composting process begins. During this activestage, oxygen consumption and heat generation are at their highest levels.Then a curing period follows, in which materials compost much more slowly.Decomposition of organic material will continue until all of the nutrients are
IntroductionCompostingBasics
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consumed by microorgan-isms and most of the carbonis converted to carbondioxide. Before it reachesthis point, however, compostis judged to be finishedaccording to its intended useand factors such as C:Nratio, oxygen demand,temperature, and odor.Factors affecting thecomposting process includenutrient ratio, moisturecontent, oxygen concentra-tion, pH, surface area,temperature, and retention time. Table 1 displays the desirable conditionsfor the composting process.
Nutrients.
Carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) are important nutrients neededby microorganisms in the composting process. Carbon supplies energy andgrowth, and nitrogen is used for protein and reproduction. Since nitrogen isalso a major nutrient required for plants, its concentration affects the valueof the compost. In general, about 25 times more carbon than nitrogen isneeded by biological organisms, so it is important to provide the right ratio.Although good results can be achieved with C:N ratios from 20:1 to 40:1,the ideal ratio is 25:1 to 30:1 for active composting. Table 2 displays theaverage carbon-to-nitrogen ratios of certain raw materials.
Moisture.
Microorganismsneed water to support theirmetabolic processes and tohelp them move about. Amoisture content range of 40to 60 percent is recom-mended for most materials.Below 40 percent, microbialactivity slows. It ceasesbelow 15 percent. Whenmoisture levels exceed 65percent, air in the porespaces of the raw materialsis displaced by water, whichleads to anaerobic condi-tions, odors, and slowerdecomposition.
Oxygen.
The compostingprocess consumes largeamounts of oxygen. If thereis not enough oxygen, theprocess slows, and odors
Table 1. Desired Characteristics for the Composting Process
CharacteristicReasonable rangePreferred rang
Carbon-to-nitrogen20:1 - 40:125:1 - 30:1(C:N) ratioMoisture content40 - 65%50 - 60%Oxygen content>6%~16 - 18.5%pH5.5 - 9.06.5 - 8.5Bulk density<40 lbs per cubic footTemperature110 - 140° F130 - 140° FParticle size1/8 - 2 inches diameterVaries**Depends on raw materials, pile size, and/or weather conditions.
Table 2. Average Carbon-to-Nitrogen Ratios of Selected MaterialsHigh Nitrogen Materials
Horse manure......................30:1Swine manure......................30:1Cattle manure.......................19:1Grass clippings.....................19:1Turkey litter...........................16:1
High Carbon Materials
Newsprint..................398 - 852:1Corrugated cardboard........563:1Sawdust, wood chips..........442:1Bark...........................100 - 130:1Source: Rynk, R.
et 
 
al. On-Farm Composting Handbook 
, NortheastRegional Agricultural Engineering Service, NRAES-54, Appendix A,Table A.1, 1992.Sewage sludge..................6-16:1Food scraps..........................15:1Broiler litter...........................14:1Vegetable wastes.................12:1Paper pulp............................90:1Leaves...........................40 - 80:1Fruit wastes..........................35:1

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