Commercial vs. industrial composting: are they the same?
Commercial vs. industrial composting — no, they are not the same, though the terms may be used interchangeably on the web. But one word has to do with the money trail and the type of organization that owns the facility. The other is linked to operational scale and/or manufacturing approach.
A government-owned operation is not commercial, but it could be industrial in scale. It could also be operated like a commercial facility with a similar structure and profitability goals.
A privately-owned facility would be commercial but might not have any claim to industrial. A small facility owned by a nonprofit may be neither. Big, modern compost manufacturing plants may be both.
What makes a composting operation commercial?
A “commercial” facility infers ownership by an individual, partnership or corporation, with profits accruing to the benefit of the owners’/shareholders’ bank accounts. “Commercial” doesn’t have anything to do with the processing method in use, facility design, throughput, technologies, or manufacturing systems.
Composting operations owned by municipalities, counties, nonprofit organizations and the like are not commercial, because any profits realized go back into communal coffers to subsidize operations or fund other projects related to their respective missions.
Government-owned plants are “public-sector” operations, while commercial facilities are “private-sector” operations. Generally, nonprofits or not-for-profit entities are citizen groups and may also be referred to as non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Sometimes, an NGO may be established by individuals representing governments or agencies. Like public-sector projects, composting facilities owned by NGOs could look very much like a commercial operation, complete with a revenue stream.
How big is industrial scale?
“Industrial” is a relative term, most often associated with factories and manufacturing. In the 21st century, manufacturing infers mass production, big equipment, automation, systems, and uniformity. Ergo, industrial scale infers a facility size that would require these things to improve efficiencies and revenues.
When it comes to commercial and industrial composting, how big does the operation have to be to earn the designation of industrial scale? How big is big?
Again, it’s a relative term. When doing research for this post, one of the findings was this article written in the mid-1990s that classified a 100-tons-per-year operation as industrial.
Compared to the backyard compost pile, 100 tons is a big number. But the average throughput of a composting operation in the U.S. is now approaching 4,500 tons per year. There are 194 facilities processing more than 30,000 tons per year, some in the 100,000-plus category.
It may be time to add one or two more zeros to the “industrial scale” definition of 1996.
Still, size is only one indicator of an industrial facility. But other adjectives that might be used to provide clarity are also quite subjective.
Commercial vs. industrial composting — is “manufacturing” the key?
The original definition of manufacturing (manu factum in Latin) literally translates to “made by hand.” Today’s dictionaries typically describe manufacturing as making something manually or using machines. But for most folks, the word conjures images of big buildings, lots of machinery, and cookie cutter output.
Yet, no matter the variations in definition, one thing is clear — when applied to the manufacture of goods in the modern era, making something in an industrial setting requires production through a system that typically includes assembly lines, division of labor, a quality control program, and a sales network to move products out into the marketplace.
Does it really matter whether a composting facility is commercial or not? Industrial or not?
The important thing is for composting operations of every description to make good compost. How they do it or where the money goes is secondary and may not even be on a customer’s radar.
A “commercial” facility may still imply private-sector ownership, but if public-sector owners are serious about their responsibilities to taxpayers, they’ll design, operate, and generate revenue from compost sales like the privately-owned.
Protecting the integrity of the process and quality of the finished compost matters. Hiring experienced, qualified compost facility operators matters. Practicing preemption when it comes to the environment and preventing deterioration of the quality of life for the host community matters. Providing stellar service to both intake and compost sales customers matters.
These are the indicators of a successful composting operation, whether commercial or not, industrial scale or not. At the end of the day, professional and profitable are among the most important descriptors for any composting facility.