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274 Int. J. Environmental Technology and Management, Vol. 7, Nos.

3/4, 2007

Confirming decentralised composting as a definite
option in urban waste management

Manfred Fehr
The Federal University at Uberlândia,
P.O. Box 811, 38400974 Uberlândia, Brazil
Fax: +55 34 3239 4159 E-mail: prosec22@yahoo.com
Website: http://www.manfred.triang.net

Abstract: As unrestricted landfilling of Municipal Solid Waste is being
progressively abandoned, separation and processing of biodegradable material
is becoming a basic component of urban waste management. The principal
processing technology available is composting in its two basic forms and
applications, namely centralised and decentralised composting. The centralised
scheme targets biological stabilisation prior to landfilling. The decentralised
scheme targets the preparation of a useful product. Experimental results
obtained by the author are presented and discussed that confirm decentralised
composting as a definite future option in urban waste management. Educational
and technical aspects of the corresponding management problem are described.

Keywords: biodegradable waste; composting; environmental education;
environmental management; landfill diversion; solid waste; waste management.

Reference to this paper should be made as follows: Fehr, M. (2007)
‘Confirming decentralised composting as a definite option in urban waste
management’, Int. J. Environmental Technology and Management, Vol. 7,
Nos. 3/4, pp.274–285.

Biographical notes: Manfred Fehr is a Chemical Engineer with Accumulated
Professional experience in 26 countries on five continents. He is engaged in
environmental management, solid waste management and urban sustainability.
He is the founder of two local chapters of the Brazilian Chemical Engineering
Society and also the President of the Total Environment Foundation. He is a
Registered Professional Engineer in Canada and Brazil. He speaks five
languages, has to his credit 290 papers and appears in 65 international
biographical encyclopaedias. His PhD is from Laval University, Canada.

1 Introduction

Composting of biodegradable solid waste has acquired a status in recent years. The times
of unrestricted landfilling appear to have come to a close. The European Union has taken
the initiative with its diversion directive for biodegradable matter. The reasons are lack of
space, methane emissions and groundwater pollution. Other countries are likely to follow
suite, for those very reasons in addition to sustainability considerations. In a previous
publication, the author’s research team coined the designation Trash Planet for the sum
total of solid waste landfills (Fehr, 1999). This name transmits the concept of fatality.
Landfills are eternal receivers of waste and simply grow. A society that is unable to

Copyright © 2007 Inderscience Enterprises Ltd.
Confirming decentralised composting as a definite option 275

control or reduce the size of its landfills is not sustainable. As the population increases,
the useful land mass shrinks and in relative terms the ecological footprint keeps growing
(Rees and Wackernagel, 1996). What does composting achieve in terms of material
diversion from landfills? According to Fehr (2002), the answer depends on geographical
location, which is indicative of MSW composition. The author developed the basic
70/30 Rule (Fehr, 2002). It states that in industrialised countries, roughly 70% of MSW is
inert and roughly 30% is biodegradable material, and that in developing countries, the
opposite is true. This rule naturally leads to different waste management models in
different parts of the world.
Returning to compost, European countries nowadays use Mechanical-Biological
Treatment (MBT) procedures to prepare solid waste for the landfill. The biodegradable
portion is composted aerobically in windrows in order to be biologically stabilised before
tipping. There is no intention to recycle the compost as soil conditioner, simply because it
is not clean enough. This is a typical example of centralised composting. The material is
collected in bulk by city crews and taken to a central composting facility from where it
continues to the landfill after stabilisation.
Decentralised composting is quite a different option. Done in private gardens in small
quantities for use as soil conditioner, it used to be common the world over in the first half
of the past century. With increased urbanisation, this practice was progressively
abandoned in favour of centralised waste processing. In recent years it has become
fashionable again, mainly as a result of increasing environmental consciousness. Due to
the fatality of the 70/30 Rule combined with local waste related idiosyncrasies, MBT
models have so far not penetrated developing countries. The biodegradable part is very
big, and separation procedures constitute an educational problem of major proportions.
Different ways of waste management, more in line with local situations, are in order.
This basic argument induced the development of proactive thinking models for the
management of MSW in Brazil. Many existing management models were analysed, but
none evidenced a landfill diversion potential above the present value of 15% for selective
collection of inert material. A sharp paradigm shift was required to raise this potential to
values above 70% and thus create the prospect of sustainable situations. The research
pointed to the Divided Waste Processing (DWP) Model as a means to meet the challenge
(Fehr and Calçado, 2001). This model differentiates between humid and dry material in
the waste stream, or in biological terms, between biodegradable and inert material. At the
source the model requires the use of only two recipients, one for each portion, and the
collection and processing operations maintain them separated all the way to their
respective destinations. Once the management model had been elaborated, tests of its
functionality were initiated that to date produced promising results.
What can be expected from decentralised processing? The classical household waste
management model observed in Brazilian cities consisted of bulk collection with bulk
sorting. This means that all waste is collected by compacting vehicles and taken to a
sorting facility at the landfill site where a manual retrieval of recyclable items is
attempted. Whatever is left over after the picking operation is piled up in windrows for
composting. This model of centralised composting has failed in Brazil. Environmental
government agencies have decreed the closure of these types of facilities, mainly for
three reasons. The picking operation with mixed compacted waste is a sub-human
activity. The compost produced, as well as the retrieved inert items, are of poor quality
and do not find takers, which invalidates the effort of sorting. After the decreed closure of
the sorting facilities, the municipal administrations had to find a new management model.
276 M. Fehr

So far, selective collection of inert items has been the only solution envisaged. It has
several shortcomings. Apart from requiring considerable capital expenditures for
implementation, its landfill diversion potential is low as stated above. The concept of
decentralisation displaces the sorting operation from the landfill to the sources of the
waste. The effort migrates from technical to educational aspects. Although the quantity of
sorted material is less than it was at the deactivated facilities, excellent compost is
produced and retrieved recyclable items are attractive to waste retailers. In this line of
reasoning, waste sorting and composting is expected to be integrated slowly into
community activities and, with time, will reach a landfill diversion that the centralised
scheme was unable to provide. The interests involved are controversial. Municipal
collection crews will reduce their activities as much as residents and waste retailers will
increase theirs. A completely new concept of waste disposal is in the making. It is in line
with the passage from the industrial to the service sector society. Individual initiatives are
at a premium.
As the key to success is the correct source separation, the challenge of this research
was clearly educational and was faced and met as such. It started in apartment buildings,
was then extrapolated to a street, and recently arrived at the stage of using schools as
multipliers of the model. In all those communities the model confirmed its consistency
as it pointed to the same diversion potential of 85%, even if to date this level has not been
reached. This communication relates the experience gained, the arguments used with the
communities and the results obtained with the proactive environmental education
procedure. Specifically, experimental results with composting operations inside
apartment buildings are presented as an original decentralised contribution to municipal
waste management challenges of the future.

2 Centralised vs. decentralised composting: a difference of objectives

The composting operation degrades organic components into carbon dioxide and water
through organic combustion. There is a considerable mass loss in this process, the degree
of which depends on the final humidity of the compost. Mass reductions in the range of
40–80% have been reported. The upper limit of 80% has been reached in this author’s
own experimentation, to be described shortly, where the final humidity was in the order
of 9%. This impressive mass reduction together with the guarantee of biological
stabilisation is the basic driving force behind centralised composting operations like those
practiced in Europe that pursue the objective of tipping reduced quantities of biologically
stable material. The author has witnessed the failure of the same operation in Brazil
carried out with the wrong objective of marketing the compost. The installation and the
management model were not designed for it, and consequently did not produce the
desired product. The practice was abandoned after several years of operation. Literature
originating from other countries reports on various positive experiences with centralised
composting. Probert et al. (2005) performed market studies for green waste compost
produced from gardening residue in Wales. They reached the conclusion that specific
customer preferences in terms of appearance and quality could be satisfied and
consequently, the composting operation could be run by the city administration as a profit
oriented enterprise. Experiments with pilot scale windrow composting of unsorted MSW
were reported by Norbu et al. (2005) from Thailand. Their objective was to reduce the
mass and volume of waste prior to landfilling. They reported an experimental mass
Confirming decentralised composting as a definite option 277

reduction of 40% in this centralised operation, but did not specify the final humidity.
Bockreis and Steinberg (2005) worked with waste in Germany that had passed the MBT
operation, in order to determine its long-range emission potential. They concluded that
MBT was indeed effective in reducing to a minimum, the long-term emissions from
landfills fed with treated waste. Mason and Milke (2005) reported on tests with pilot
scale reactors in New Zealand where they monitored the composting process in the
laboratory. Their main interest was to establish the temperature profile of windrows as a
function of time. In another study from Germany, Fricke et al. (2005) compared process
data for aerobic and anaerobic treatment of biodegradable wastes in order to determine
the method that would produce the most appropriate product for landfilling in an MBT
facility. They concluded that anaerobic treatment alone was insufficient to stabilise the
waste, and recommended final aerobic treatment to finish the process. Castaldi et al.
(2005) reported from Italy on sample analyses of compost from MBT facilities. Their
objective was to establish indicators of the organic matter transformation, mainly
concentrations of water-soluble carbon and humic acid.
The effervescent research activity all over the world with respect to centralised
composting models witnesses the general acceptation of this method as an option for
landfill reduction and stabilisation of biodegradable material. Nevertheless, centralised
composting does not eliminate the need for landfills. According to the 70/30 Rule, if
average mass reduction were admitted as 60%, tipped biowaste from MBT stations in
industrialised countries would still be 0.40 × 30 = 12% of collected MSW. In addition,
industrialised countries need windrows for only 30% of their waste, in contrast to
developing countries, where this requirement jumps to 70%. Here lies the basic argument
for decentralised composting that targets 100% landfill diversion of biodegradable MSW
and will be described now.

3 Experimental reports from various communities on decentralised
composting

In contrast to centralised processes, decentralised composting not only reduces
and stabilises the biodegradable material, but it also totally diverts it from the landfill.
This, of course, can only be achieved by source separation and as such is normally
restricted to small communities. In addition, source separated kitchen residue can also
find immediate application as animal feed without any further processing. Both compost
and animal feed are the targeted destinations of source separated biodegradable matter.
Especially in developing countries, according to the 70/30 rule, successful source
separation alone can divert from the landfill, 70% of all MSW. In terms of urban
sustainability, this practice appears to be largely superior to bulk windrow composting
followed by tipping. This argument seems to motivate research and practical applications
of decentralised composting in various parts of the world at this time.
García et al. (2005) reported from Spain on investigations of the suitability of source
separated biodegradable matter as animal feed. They used material collected from
five sources, namely meat waste, fish waste, fruit and vegetable waste, restaurant waste
and household waste. Samples from each source were analysed to determine whether the
material would be appropriate to be used in the formulation of animal feed. Meat waste,
fish waste and fruit and vegetable waste were collected directly from retailers, were clean
and all qualified for use in the formulation of animal feed. Household and restaurant
278 M. Fehr

waste were collected from MBT stations, were mixed with toxic material and thus did not
qualify. Lima et al. (2004) reported from Brazil on the effect of compost produced from
urban waste on the growth of corn. They used fresh compost prepared from source
separated material and compost taken from a 15-year-old landfill in their experiments,
and concluded that corn plants progressed better when grown in environments of
fresh compost. A community-based decentralised composting project in Bangladesh
was described by Zurbrugg et al. (2005). It used the windrow technique with a
non-mechanical aerobic and thermophile method. The project was successful because
large fertiliser producers were found who bought the compost to integrate it into their
formulations and thus made the operation lucrative. No details on collection and sorting
were reported. Bench et al. (2005) described an individual household composting
procedure in the UK using ‘green cone food digesters’ in residential gardens. Mainly,
cooked food was digested, and as a result the amount of waste put out for collection was
halved. The compost was used as soil conditioner in the same garden. Seo et al. (2004)
from the Republic of Korea studied the effect of additives on compost production from
domestic food waste. They reported a 70% mass reduction during the composting
operation, which was made up of 41% from moisture loss and 29% from dry food
transformation. The study was performed in the laboratory on collected samples.
The present article presents an extension of the experimental evidence reported in the
literature by tackling educational as well as technical problems of decentralised
composting in Brazil. The high diversion potential suggested by the 70/30 rule motivated
the development of source separation and composting procedures for biodegradable
household waste and its application in various test communities.
The first communities chosen to test the model were apartment buildings. The general
procedure was iterative. The starting points were ascertained through visits to the
residents. The team obtained the cooperation of the building administration and of
the employees responsible for waste handling. After observing the preliminary
results, necessary adjustments were made. Some of the visits were repeated, and the
instructions to personnel were improved. The model was functional in 60 apartments
after four person-months of dedicated effort (Fehr, 2003). The humid and dry fractions of
waste stabilised at 68% and 32% respectively. The humid fraction was put at the disposal
of farmers who used it as animal feed. The dry fraction was handed to waste retailers for
recycling. Both clienteles appeared to be spontaneously attracted by the quality of the
source-separated material. One of the buildings maintained the procedure by its own
initiative after the research team considered the tests complete and pulled out. To this day
it continues to divert more than 60% of its waste from the landfill. The effective
participation rate of residents stands at about 80% now. This level is considered
excellent in a context where a completely new model with voluntary participation was
applied. The behaviour model of the participating families at present is as follows.
In the apartments, all waste is rigorously separated into humid and dry parts. Each family
uses a pail furnished by the administration to collect biodegradable waste for a day.
At predetermined hours the employees collect this pail. All inert waste is left at the
collection point on each floor at any time of day and in any form of packaging.
The employees transfer the contents of the pails to a barrel, which is taken away daily by
the farmer. All inert material from the floors is transferred to a collection cart, which then
is left at the disposal of selected waste retailers who take away approximately half of this
material for their recycling businesses. What remains each day represents approximately
40% of all waste and is left at the curbside for official collection by the municipal
Confirming decentralised composting as a definite option 279

vehicles that take it to the landfill. The new thinking model penetrated this community
and the word garbage lost its sense. As a specific test of decentralised processing, during
a period of eight months, once a week the biodegradable material was taken to the service
floor of the building and composted. This procedure produced impressive results in terms
of feedback to the residents. The compost was available for use in their flower cages.
The second test community consisted of four blocks of a street with individual
residences and apartment buildings. In this community the adhesion was less than in the
apartment buildings mentioned earlier. Only 40% of residents effectively participated in
the separation effort against 80% in the previous case. As a consequence, the research
team had to complete the separation at the point of destination of the material. Once again
it became clear that a change of thinking model is slow and requires the sustained
insistence of model administrators for a long time. In the case of the street community no
farmers were contacted. The biodegradable material was composted by the research team
in one of the backyards and thus provided a visible destination that could be appreciated
by the residents.
The next step of the research pretended to increase the universe of demonstration
communities and the visibility of the decentralised model. Some grade schools were
selected to this end. At the time of writing experiments are in progress in two grade
schools. Students collect biodegradable material in the school kitchen and lunchroom,
in their homes and in their neighbourhood and take the message to the entire section of
town. The responsibility of attending to the composting operation has been turned over to
the students. The research team and the science teachers provide guidance and incentives.
The practice turned out to be a powerful learning tool. Even students who the science
teacher considered slow learners in the classroom have found stimulation in the practical
work with the compost and renewed interest in the school. Participating students leave
grade school with the baggage of practical experience of fabricating a useful product and
with the conviction, as evidenced by interrogation, of having contributed their share to
the reduction of the landfill. The compost is introduced to the community as a product of
what only a short time ago they used to call garbage.

4 Decentralised processing in general

The experiment described here is original in the sense that it is an entirely private
initiative that takes the message of its results from the bottom upwards into the municipal
administrative hierarchy. Traditional models follow the opposite direction. The work with
people leads to the perception that the spirit of citizenship is latent in their minds and may
be awakened with an honest, convincing and insistent effort. A positive manifestation in
response to the stimulus appears rapidly in some people and slowly in others. Patience
and insistence are required to succeed, and continued collaboration is secured by
providing feedback on the results achieved. With time, the new thinking model displaces
the old one from people’s minds. The lesson learned from the research was that the
success of education is measured by conscious patterns of behaviour and not by discourse
or memorised theory.
280 M. Fehr

The team was surprised with the high level of apprenticeship on logistics and
recycling that originated from the tests. There was no need to research markets or
theories of administration for directing the products away from the landfill. Residents, in
general, do not intend to profit with their separation effort. The target presented at the
start was the reduction of the landfill. The market for waste items obeys the same rules as
that for other products. If the utility, the quality and the price of a product are attractive,
customers appear rapidly. There was no need for the building administrations, for the
research team, for the school principal or for the municipal administration to find
customers for the inert items separated from the waste stream. There was, and still is, a
lineup of interested people. Residents or parents of students who have storage space
available can take on the role of waste retailers in the recycling market where the
separated inert material can be sold. This is a byproduct of the research with composting
biodegradable waste components that was not expected but contributed its share to the
target of landfill reduction.

5 Decentralised composting in particular

As an example of a successful decentralised composting operation without the
intervention of the municipal administration, in what follows, the experience in
the apartment building mentioned earlier will be described. Residents were instructed to
present their biodegradable kitchen residue once a day for collection. This instruction, of
course, did not show immediate results. Several weeks of dedication and insistence were
required to attain a reasonable level of participation. The material was taken to the
service floor under the roof of the building where it was sorted once more by the research
team. Fresh fruit and vegetable scraps together with eggshells and some winter garden
trimmings were composted. Cooked residues were separated and handed over to the
farmer client for use as animal feed. The separation of material for composting proceeded
once a week. On the other days, the entire biodegradable lot was handed to the farmer.
Composting bins were constructed with loose perforated bricks to allow for easy aeration.
There were 13 bins. The material was moved on from bin to bin each week to provide for
additional contact with air. Fresh material entered the first bin, and matured material was
removed from the last bin every week. The average amount of fresh material input per
week was 22.641 kg, and the average maturation time was 91 days. The weekly lots were
grouped by the month in order to reduce the effect of random fluctuations and
measurement inaccuracies. The results are reported in Table 1.
Each of the seven runs displayed in Table 1 corresponds to four weekly batches.
The execution periods given in Table 1 represent the total periods from the initiation of
the first weekly batch until the termination of the last one. Using run 3 as an example, the
first weekly batch was initiated on August 14 and terminated on November 13 for a total
of 13 weeks or 91 days. The second weekly batch was initiated on August 21 and
terminated on November 20, again for a total of 13 weeks. The third weekly batch was
initiated on August 28 and terminated on December 1 for a total of 13.5 weeks.
The fourth weekly batch was initiated on September 4 and terminated on December 8 for
a total of 13.5 weeks. Thus the execution period for that batch ran from August 14 to
December 8 as indicated in Table 1.
Confirming decentralised composting as a definite option 281

Table 1 Material balances of experimental runs, compost production in the condominium
complex CELT, Uberlândia, 2004–2005. Units are in grams

Runs 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Execution period Jun. 19– July 17– Aug. 14– Sep. 11– Oct. 9– Nov. 6– Dec. 4–
Aug. 28 Nov. 1 Dec. 8 Jan. 1 Jan. 26 Feb. 17 Feb. 27
Material processed
Vegetable scraps 93560 97400 110500 91150 107700 81850 51800
Saw dust 7125 6525 7400 4500 6550 3300 2850
Dry tree leaves 6270 9625 12600 15550 10700 9250 7150
Dry manure 4545 4050 3400 2350 2200 2200 600
Matured compost 3200 2600 750 1800 850 800 0
Water 10200 13250 24500 27100 15000 3000 1500
Total 124900 133450 159150 142450 143000 100400 63900
Material recovered
Sieved compost 11200 12950 14250 13900 13550 8850 6950
Residue on sieve 12775 13950 17750 15650 13550 12200 6650
Total yields 23975 26900 32000 29550 27100 21050 13600
Yields
Output/Input 0.192 0.202 0.201 0.217 0.190 0.210 0.213
Compost/Scraps 0.120 0.133 0.129 0.152 0.126 0.108 0.134
Compost/Input 0.090 0.097 0.090 0.102 0.095 0.088 0.109
Compost/Output 0.467 0.481 0.445 0.470 0.500 0.420 0.511

The humidity was maintained low in order to prevent odour and insects to appear in the
building. Kitchen scraps, upon collection, show humidity of the order of 70%. In order to
avoid the formation of leachate on the concrete floor during the initial days of digestion,
the fresh lot was always mixed with sawdust and dry tree leaves. From the sixth week
onwards, water had to be added to the bins to maintain the humidity. At the end of the
13th week when the lots were considered matured, the residual humidity was in the order
of 9%. At this stage the material was sieved. The fine compost was passed on to residents
for use in their winter gardens, and the coarse parts were used in the first bin to replace
the tree leaves. This dry material served to keep the lots porous for air access.
The whole operation was carried out in the period from June 2004 to February 2005
on the well-ventilated service floor under the roof. It was considered a success in
as much as all biodegradable material from the building was used up and thus diverted
from the landfill. In addition, the matured compost was made available to residents and
other interested parties as feedback of the separation effort. In terms of material balancing
the mass reduction during the composting period of 91 days was 80%. The complete
maturation of the product was verified by the fact that it was biologically inert. It was
stored in open pails and in closed plastic bags, and no alteration whatever was observed
several months later.
The analysis of the compost evidenced normally expected quality. The results are
displayed in Table 2.
282 M. Fehr

Table 2 Analyses of compost prepared from biodegradable material collected in three different
communities, 2004–2005

Condominium complex Residences on Antonio nunes de
Analysis CELT afonso pena street carvalho school
pH 7.4 8.0 8.1
Density 0.40 0.41 0.69
Total humidity 8.3% 26.9% 32.4%
Total organic matter 46.5% 40.4% 15.0%
Total carbon 25.8% 22.4% 8.3%
Organic carbon 22.0% 15.7% 7.1%
Total mineral residue 44.4% 32.5% 52.9%
Total nitrogen 1.2% 1.4% 0.5%
Total phosphorus (P2O5) 0.6% 3.6% 0.4%
Total potassium (K2O) 2.3% 2.4% 1.5%
Total calcium 1.0% 0.3% 1.0%
Total magnesium 0.18% 0.3% 0.13%
Total sulphur 0.18% 0.1% 0.13%
C/N ratio 20/1 16/1 17/1

With this series of experiments the workability of decentralised composting has been
demonstrated. The execution faced two distinct challenges, namely the management
challenge to induce the desired behaviour of dwellers, and the technology challenge to
operate inside apartment buildings. Both challenges were met successfully in this case.
The key success factor was decentralisation. The collection team had direct contact with
the dwellers and could act immediately on any problem perceived in the separation
procedure. This ensured excellent quality of all processed material. Centralised
processing lacks this type of advantage and therefore, its poor quality compost has to be
tipped as in any MBT facility. Obviously, the decentralised scheme cannot be extended to
the whole municipal community on short notice, but in the absence of better options it
represents one possible management model to be considered.

6 Results and discussion

The available information in the literature and from personal observations of the author in
various countries points to two distinct composting procedures for biodegradable
household waste. Centralised processing targets mass reduction and stabilisation of waste
prior to landfilling. The idea is to make the landfill smaller and innocuous in terms of
ground and air pollution through leachate and methane. There is no intention to market
the compost. Decentralised composting, on the other hand, pursues the prime target of
preparing a useful product and thus completely diverting biodegradable waste from the
landfill. Although more complex in terms of large scale implementation, it displaces the
cost and most of the effort from public to private instances, stimulates the participation of
citizens and produces impressive effects on the size of the landfills. The research reported
from various countries testifies to the fact that decentralised composting has become an
Confirming decentralised composting as a definite option 283

option to be considered in urban waste management. In particular, the experiment
described here is original in the sense that it is an entirely private initiative that takes the
message of its results from the bottom upwards into the municipal administrative
hierarchy. Traditional models follow the inverse direction.
The research team developed and successfully applied the DWP model in test
communities. To reach its target of more than 70% of household waste diverted from the
landfill, the model requires rigorous source separation of waste into humid and dry
material. The two fractions are never mixed in their path from source to destination.
This concept represents a new thinking model that is assimilated by the selected
test communities as a result of convincing efforts. It is not reasonable to expect the
spontaneous adhesion of the whole community. Approximately 80% of the families in
the community change their behaviour, some faster, others more slowly, and thus
guarantee the success of the model. The precedents created and the results returned
awaken the curiosity of the remaining families and increase the participation rate, but
without reaching 100%. There will always be people who, for reasons of their own, never
cooperate with anything. The model administrators have to cope with this fact.
The numbers testify to the basic household waste characteristics in Brazil. More
than 70% by mass is biodegradable material, here denominated humid portion. Any
management model aspiring to reasonable landfill diversion rates, of necessity, has to
address this portion. In the case at hand, the model with its rigorous source separation
into humid and dry material attained a diversion level of 62%. The remaining 38%, dry as
much as humid material, represents the portion that was not separated at the source and
thus did not attract retailers. It was, and still is, displayed for collection by the city crew
and taken to the landfill.
In apartment buildings the employees responsible for collection may complement the
sorting procedure of the residents. The same is true for the schools. Students can sort the
collected material a second time before handing it over to composting or recycle.
Complex models of selective collection with heavy investments in infrastructure
divert from landfill, at best, half of the dry portion of household waste. In the case of the
apartment building studied this means 12% of total waste produced. The maximum
values for entire cities may reach 15%, but oral information from people involved with
selective collection point to values between 5% and 10%. The model implemented in the
test buildings reached and maintains to this day a diversion level of 62% without special
infrastructure and without support from the municipal administration. The change of
paradigm is evident.
The compost prepared from the biodegradable material collected shows the
characteristics normally expected in terms of humidity and carbon-to-nitrogen ratio,
as may be conferred in Table 2. It contains the macro-nutrients N, P, K and the
micro-nutrients Ca, Mg, S in expected proportions. The compost represents the visible
result of the DWP model and of the source separation effort of the residents.
The residents, as well as the students, perceive the compost and the immediately
collected dry material as direct consequence of their new thinking model. They will act as
multipliers of the idea, and the universe of participants will grow. Several other
apartment buildings and schools, and even institutions have already contacted the
research team in order to discuss the application of the model.
The research has provided ways and means to solve the educational problem related
to MSW through intense interaction with people, adults as much as children, in buildings,
individual residences and schools. It has opened up the prospect of using the precedents
284 M. Fehr

in the process of extrapolating the model to more communities and thus makes a visible
impact on the size of the landfills. The diversion potential lies at the mark of 85% of
MSW, comprising 70% of humid material and half of 30% of dry material. By strictly
private initiatives this research demonstrated how to reach the level of 62%. This result
when compared to the 15% potential of selective collection models represents a new
paradigm.

7 Conclusion

At present, composting of biodegradable urban waste follows one of two distinct
management procedures: centralised or decentralised. Centralised composting aims at
reducing and stabilising the quantity tipped at the landfill. Decentralised composting aims
at preparing a useful product and at diverting all biodegradable waste from the landfill.
Centralised composting is at present a well-established practice in MBT facilities.
Decentralised composting is still in its infancy and has to meet educational as well as
technical barriers. The composting operation reduces the mass of biodegradable matter by
40–80% depending on final humidity. The experimental results are presented here on
decentralised composting in apartment buildings, street blocks and schools that indicate a
future for this method in urban waste management.

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