Composting done right is not one size fits all

Environmental footprints are as varied in size and weight as the people and entities who leave the impressions.  

Companies like McGill recycle compostables for some of the largest waste generators in the country.  So why do we support community-scale and backyard composting?  Because composting done right is not one size fits all.  No single composting option is right for all organic waste streams.

In an ideal world, every business, institution, and household would have a composting operation of some description on the property.  The resulting compost would be reused nearby – on site, local urban garden, public greenspace, etc.

But while some folks would do a stellar job of converting that waste into a beautiful soil amendment, others would not.  Just imagine the resulting mountain of nuisance complaints and serious public health issues.

There is no cookie-cutter for composting done right 

The next best thing seems to be our present system of allowing property owners and communities with the ability and inclination to compost to do so, trusting the management of the remainder to big, professional outfits like McGill.

It’s a system that matches the size and type of the waste stream to the capabilities of the processor.  

Everyone gets to wear shoes that fit while making their footsteps on Planet Earth just little bit lighter.

But it’s important for the developers of these facilities – from backyard to industrial – to match facility design and process to the waste stream and site location.

Without ruffling a single neighborhood feather, a suburban homestead sitting on a couple of acres might build a simple slat/pallet enclosure. Folks could throw up a ring of wire mesh in the corner of the property and compost there.

But the same household, composting in a more congested setting, could trigger an avalanche of community complaints about mice, flies, and smells.  Here, a fully-enclosed gizmo like a tumbler might make more sense.

An urban food waste collection service composting well beyond city limits may do just fine with an outdoor windrow operation.  But placing that facility on an urban farm, surrounded by homes and/or businesses, could be a mistake.

For an industrial-sized plant sited in a manufacturing park, full enclosure and high-rate systems are probably mandatory.  But at a far-off landfill, that same waste stream might be successfully processed using a well-managed windrow.

Numbers don’t guarantee a good fit

Most are aware of the problems associated with buying shoes and other wearables strictly by a number.

One manufacturer’s size 8 could mirror another’s size 12 measurements.  A size 10 boot might be fine in length, but chafe at the calf.

So it is impossible to use numbers like processing tonnages or acreage as sole determinants when wrestling with a composting system match-up.

A general location might look good on paper, but when the only available sites in the area are public relations and regulatory disasters waiting to happen, the fit is all wrong. 

Outdoor windrows are cheap.  But urban waste streams demand tighter environmental control and facilities that don’t require large swaths of expensive real estate.

Obviously, composting done right is not one size fits all or even one size fits most.

Contemplating a backyard composting effort?  Urban farm project?  Municipal facility?  Choose a site, design, and process that matches the waste stream.

Wetter waste streams (like food waste) require more sophisticated processes and tighter environmental control than dry feedstocks.  High-volume composters need indoor facilities and/or lots of acres with well-vegetated buffers to provide out of sight, out of mind assurance.

Composting done right is always a better fit for everyone than composting done wrong.