Attract professional composters to your city’s waste management table
Composting high volumes of source-separated organics (SSO) is not for the faint of heart. It takes skill, experience, and science to recycle one of the messiest urban waste streams. But while composting done right doesn’t come cheap, it is possible to build modern composting infrastructure without public financing.
Instead of bemoaning a lack of composting infrastructure and doing nothing about it, municipalities and regional authorities can set the stage for organics diversion.
The result? Some of the biggest and most experienced composting companies will compete for that business. This delivers a big win for the host community:
- No well-intentioned but flawed “solutions” from designers and technology providers with no knowledge of biochemistry and no hands-on experience in the day-to-day operation of industrial composting facilities.
- No major issues with regulatory permitting when other facilities of the same type are running successfully elsewhere.
- … and here’s the biggie – no public financing required if the population base within 40-60 miles is large enough and the local landfill tipping fees are at or above national averages. A community/region of around 50,000 could generate a sufficient volume of organic waste to make commercial, high-rate composting economically viable. (View: Estimating volumes for composting) Private ownership means private financing. Public/private ownership can also result in private financing if the public entity brings enough to the table to make joint ownership attractive to the private entity.
But what about –
- Facility failure? Structure the contract to include an option for public takeover should the owner fail to make a success of the project.
- Odors? No matter the technology choice, most climates will require an indoor operation with a good biofiltration system — combined with preventive/preemptive management practices — to solve the odor problems associated with composting putrescibles. Consider containment, collection, and treatment of air from all active work zones — off-loading to curing. Typically, if the product has been properly composted and cured, it can be stored outdoors. However, to preserve product quality, some manufacturers may opt for covered storage here, as well.
- Leachate? Correct blending and indoor processing all but eliminate leachate as a management headache. But do require RFP respondents to address the issue in their respective proposals.
- Product stockpiles? Make sure the successful respondent has a proven track record in marketing compost in similar markets. Just remember the sale of soil products tends to be seasonal. Suitable acreage for large stockpiles must be included in the site plan. Those stockpiles should dwindle significantly during the planting season(s). But as a safety net, require a provision for distribution of volumes exceeding market demand after a reasonable market development period.
Foster and promote compost use
Composting is efficient, cost-effective, and the only technology offering true sustainability for biodegradable waste. Returning organic matter to the soil to complete the recycling loop is what makes composting and compost use a sustainable system.
But policymakers tend to get so caught up in the diversion of organics that they neglect correlating mandates for compost use.
Compost isn’t just for farmers. A quality compost can be used by anyone, anywhere – even urban/suburban areas:
- Lawns, gardens, and greenspace
- Parks, sports fields, and other recreation areas
- Roadside and rest stops
- Utility easements and rights-of-way
- Rainwater catchment zones and pathways
Parallel to composting infrastructure development, craft internal and external guidelines, policies, and programs to encourage regionwide compost use. This will not only help build a product market, but also reap financial benefits to the municipality in the form of reduced costs related to stormwater management, synthetic fertilizer use, etc.