Have you ever wondered what happens to your food and yard waste after it’s taken away by your local waste management company? Well, chances are it ends up in an industrial composting facility. These large, commercial operations help to divert waste away from landfill and turn organic matter into nutrient rich compost. So, what exactly is industrial composting, and how does the process work? Here, we explore the industrial composting systems so you can learn more about what happens to your waste.
What Is Industrial Composting?
Industrial composting is the large-scale processing of organic waste into compost. This helps to prevent biodegradable organic materials ending up in landfill and allows commercial composting companies to create a valuable product from garden waste and food scraps that would otherwise be thrown away.
It’s based on exactly the same idea as your home compost pile. Essentially, the industrial composting process accelerates the decomposition of organic matter using a variety of techniques. At the end of the process, the compostable materials will have been transformed into nutrient rich soil that can be used to help grow more fruit and veg.
One of the main benefits of industrial composting is that it helps to divert organic waste, like yard trimmings and left-over food, away from landfills. This is important as untreated green waste will rot down and produce methane gas. Methane is a harmful greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.
What Is Compostable?
Industrial composting facilities can process everything you can at home, as well as a variety of other biodegradable products. For example, industrial composting processes can handle a wide variety of food waste including bones and grease. Compostable plastics can also be broken down and turned into soil using industrial methods.
Examples of waste that can be processed in a commercial composting facility include:
- Avocado and mango pits
- Raw mussel shells
- Fish bones
- Chicken bones
- Dairy products
- Baked goods
- Cardboard covered in food residues
- Animal manure
- All food scraps
How Does Industrial Composting Work?
Industrial composting works by creating the optimal conditions for the breakdown of compostable materials. This involves ensuring the temperature, humidity and airflow are just right and, in some methods, turning the compost regularly to aid micro-organisms and accelerate the process.
In many cases, industrial composting companies collect waste from their clients, just like your local curbside recycling scheme. These businesses might process grass clippings from landscaping companies or food waste from restaurants. Some composting facilities also allow customers to drop off waste directly.
The waste is then processed and the finished compost sold to farmers, gardeners and other end users.
Different Methods of Industrial Composting
There are four main industrial composting methods.
If you’re a keen gardener, you may well have used vermiculture in your own home composting process. The method uses worms to break down organic matter into nutrient-rich, high-quality soil and can take as little as two months from start to finish.
However, while the process can be scaled-up to meet commercial demands, it’s not always the most efficient composting system and can be difficult to manage. As a result, it’s one of the lesser-used industrial composting methods.
2. Windrow Composting
Windrow composting is one of the most commonly used industrial composting techniques. The ‘windrows’ are long rows of organic waste around four to eight feet high and 15 feet wide. These piles are turned regularly in order to expose them to optimal amounts of air, heat and moisture. This allows microbes to thrive and the matter to break down quickly. It generally takes around four months for the waste to be turned into compost using this method.
3. Static Pile Composting
In static pile composting, organic matter is mixed with loose, dry materials like wood chips and shredded paper. This allows air to travel through the pile without the need for regular turning. In some cases, the organic matter is placed over pipes to stimulate airflow and ensure every part of the pile is well aerated.
4. In-Vessel Composting (IVC)
In-vessel composting (IVC) is generally considered the most cost-effective industrial composting method. To produce compost through IVC, organic matter is first shredded and mixed before being placed in a commercial composting machine.
The machine controls the temperature, oxygen and water the waste is exposed to. It also automatically rotates the organic matter to ensure it all decomposes at the same rate. During the composting process, the matter is exposed to high temperatures that kill off harmful bacteria, pathogens and weed seeds.
Because a specialist machine is required, this process can be expensive and there’s a limit to the amount of green waste and compostable products you can process at any one time. On the plus side, IVC allows raw organic matter to be turned into compost in just one month, making it the fastest of all composting operations.
Difference Between Industrial Composting and Home Composting?
One of the main differences between industrial and home composting is time. An industrial composting service will create the ideal conditions for the breakdown of organic matter into a saleable product. This accelerates the process and makes their operations more profitable.
Another key difference is in the variety of waste that can be composted. Industrial composters can handle a much wider range of organic matter, including things like bioplastics and bones, that can’t be processed in domestic outdoor or indoor compost bins.
Common Problems that Can Occur During Composting
The most common problem in industrial composting is contamination. There are some products that just won’t break down, no matter the conditions they’re placed in. If this type of non-biodegradable solid waste is mixed in with organic matter, it can be very difficult to separate. This can have an impact on the quality of the finished compost and on the process itself.
Industrial composting is an important part of local and national sustainability policies. The more municipal solid waste that’s composted, the less that will end up in landfill, something that’s great news for the environment as well as for businesses interested in achieving zero waste and reducing their carbon footprint. What’s more, as well as keeping waste out of landfill, industrial composting creates a valuable product that can be used to help grow fruit and veg and improve the quality of gardens everywhere.
Find out more, and learn how Zero Waste can help you to achieve your sustainability goals, by taking a look around or getting in touch with a member of our team.