While most people attempt to recycle, at least their paper and plastic waste, recycling organic matter is still not common practice even though it’s just as easy. However, as the need for further diversion of material from landfill increases, some of the large generators of food waste are looking to organic composting programs as an answer to this growing concern.
Unlike other components of waste such as metal, cardboard and paper, organic waste is considered low value and is rarely separated for financial gain. This dense material (predominantly composed of water) has other barriers such as handling cost, difficulty of transportation, land required for processing and the relatively low value of resultant products. As well, organic waste tends to begin decomposing quickly – within a day or so. Rotting organic waste is often responsible for the foul smell in bins, vehicles and disposal facilities. The products of decomposition are corrosive, so containers and vehicles need to be designed with this in mind and cleaned frequently to reduce this problem.
Recycling organic waste
Approximately 50 per cent of landfill waste could be composted but, instead, the buried organic waste, which cannot rot properly in a landfill site, turns to black slime that produces methane – a gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. It can pollute water and the natural habitat of many animals if it escapes.
By composting domestic waste, much needed nutrients are reintroduced into the land and, in turn, the life of many animals and plants, including humans.
There are three main ways to deal with the organic portion of municipal waste:
- Feed for animals. This must be certified as containing no meat or meat byproducts and limited primarily to manufacturing or processing pre-consumer sources.
- Feedstock for anaerobic digestions (for example, biogas plants).
- Aerobic composting, which is currently the most common method used for organic waste recycling.
Compost is a product of controlled aerobic decomposition of organic matter made using aerobic microorganisms, insects and worms. Microorganisms thrive in a moist, warm environment with an abundance of organic matter and air. The activity of the microorganisms generates heat, which can act to kill pathogens and denature seeds.
The composting process can take as little as two months. Ideally, compost is matured for three to four months before use. The finished product is a stable, dark brown, soil-like material that can hold moisture, air and nutrients. Contrary to popular belief, compost does not smell rotten; rather, it will often smell as fresh as a forest floor.