Backyard and Municipal Composting

Backyard composting

You can accelerate and partially contain the home composting process by building a heap, compost bin, or compost tumbler.  Compost cultures, already present in most foods or added from a starter pack, eat away at the waste material and produce heat as a byproduct.  If the material is piled high enough, heat is trapped inside and can raise temperatures significantly.  The heat allows the cultures to work faster and reproduce faster to increase their population, which in turn reduces composting time to a few months or weeks.  You can build a home compost heap with just a pitch fork, or use any one of a number of inexpensive or home made compost bins and compost tumblers and tools to keep things organized.  Many garden centers sell compost bins and compost tumblers and offer courses on how to compost in your backyard. 

But backyard composting has drawbacks.  The heap must be at least three feet (one meter) high to generate sufficient heat.  A typical compost bin or compost tumbler is not big enough and so sufficient heat is never achieved. And if it is too big, oxygen will not penetrate.  The compost must be turned periodically so the cold outer layer has a chance to get inside where it is warm.  This is backbreaking and dirty work.  Moisture level, acidity, and the carbon to nitrogen ratio must be carefully managed.  In most climates, winter temperatures destroy the compost cultures.  Most compost bins and compost tumblers are not attractive.  Certain foods wastes such as meat, fish, and dairy products, have obvious health hazards and are not suitable for a home composting.  You may be surprised to find seeds from a single discarded tomato or apple germinating all over your garden.  Besides, not everyone has space for a compost heap. It is the same thing for worm composting and using a worm compost bin, which will be explained in better detail later on. 

Municipal Composting
Some towns and cities have begun programs to make compost on a massive scale.  Food, paper, and yard waste are collected from homes and restaurants, and hauled to a large field.  The material is sorted, shredded, and arranged in long rows, called windrows.  Each windrow is ten feet high and hundreds of feet long. Industrial fans and ducts blow air through the material to improve oxygen flow.  In some cases, windrows are covered with a plastic sheet to contain moisture and reduce odors.  Specialized tractors turn the material periodically.

A chemist monitors temperature, moisture level, and other indicators to ensure safe and effective composting.  Temperatures inside are so hot that they actually sterilize the compost and render even meat, fish, and dairy products safe for handling.  The finished product is often very valuable, and can be sold to the agricultural industry to offset the cost of running the facility.  Making composting is very cost effective when compared to landfills. 

Windrow composting has drawbacks, namely storing, collecting, hauling, and processing of all that rotting kitchen compost material.  Rats, raccoons, flies, fluid dripping, and odors can be hazardous at collection points as well as on route to the composting facility.  In most cases, an additional fleet of diesel trucks, with all their dirty emissions, is required.  The air ducts and plastic covers are usually discarded after just one or two uses, thus contributing to landfills.  Initial startup expenses can be prohibitive.


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