Composting food waste — Helpful tips you need to know
One of the most conventional productive ways to tackle the issues of food waste is composting. Now we’ll consider why waste reduction is more valuable and how it works.
There is a rising case of food waste in the US with about 40 million tons of food waste estimated to be taken to land refill each year contributes up to 15% of the total municipal solid waste (MSW) generated. Regardless of the growing calls to reduce food waste, as the quantity wasted each year increases, the large number of foods bought, cooked and discarded during the holidays plays its own role in this matter.
Despite the fact there will always be some form of waste product associated with the food we make and eat, to ensure reduction in food waste at all phases of progression — from farm to plate — should be on top of the scale of preference. Luckily, with composting, we can reduce, reuse and recycle food waste to our benefit.
Composting food waste —The fundamentals
Simply put, the composting process is the recycling of organic matters into a hummus-like composite that can serve as a soil conditioner or fertilizer. Nearly every one is acquainted with compost one way or another — it could be a sack of potting materials for potted plants or the compost stack at the lowest part of the garden. It is worthy to understand the primary procedures involved in compost production, through food waste, as they are not well known.
Composting an aerobic process (full exposure to air) which is entirely the opposite of anaerobic fermentation (less air exposure) are both methods that are useful in converting food waste and other organic matters like garden waste into compost. For standard composting to work properly, four elements are needed; oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, and water. Basically, food waste (greens are nitrogen-rich) balanced with products like woody debris or dry leaves (browns are carbon-rich) will constantly yield a maximum quality compost.
The presence of these elements makes microorganisms get to the work of breaking down the waste and making it inactive, eliminating pathogens that could pose a threat to humans. Actinobacteria, Bacteria, fungi, molds, protozoa, rotifers, and yeast are these microorganisms and each of them plays an important role in the conversion of food waste into compost.
While composting goes a long way in removing food waste disposed of in landfill, the foremost action must always be waste reduction. The most effective way to minimize food waste at all phases of the production chain is reduction, not just reducing waste at the last phase of the chain but also preserving resources at production level, which includes water, land and the carbon trail linked to farming.
Composting is one of the most inexpensive and efficient ways of recycling what may be called “ideal food waste” like the uneatable parts of plants or animals.
Composting food waste at home
There are several ways you can compost at home with or without a garden. Generally, the following are ways composting and fermentation methods can be classified:
This is simply piling up the waste in layers, destroying harmful pathogens, and letting them slowly decompose naturally. Dairy products, meat, fish, and oils are challenging to compost at home and other wastes like citrus and onion peels may also be an issue. This is because the temperatures generated may not be enough to cause these wastes to breakdown into smaller piles, and the possibility of attracting rodents and other pests could also pose a threat. Nonetheless, this method is easier to maintain and costs little to set up in a garden or any outdoor environment.
This method uses different types of worms to help decompose food waste. This is usually done in confined spaces using dedicated vermicomposting bins. Although animal-based matters like meat and dairy can attract rodents, vermicomposting can handle small quantities of these wastes and keep pests away as long as the bin is isolated and the lid is kept shut.
Bokashi is an anaerobic composting process that ferments wastes with specific microorganisms inside a container. This method can compost all types of food waste, which later can be utilized in a soil factory or heaped together with the rest to decompose much quicker than the standard method. In addition, it’s easier to practice this method indoors, as the containers are tightly sealed and do not discharge unpleasant odors or attract pests.
Composting food waste commercially
Commercial composting is simply like the usual home or farm composting but in a large-scale version of it. The methods used here are also in line with the same aerobic process as in the standard composting. The only difference here compared to smaller piles is that the heat generated is enough to decompose any kind of food waste that includes dairy products and meat.
Methods like aerated static pile composting, in-vessel composting, vermicomposting, and windrow composting are mostly used in commercial composting and factors like available space and the number of wastes to be composted determine which method is best fit to use. Commercial composting generates a large amount of compost, which can eventually be sold to farmers or back to consumers.
Managing the apparent difficulties of composting food waste
Inasmuch as composting is presently the most proficient way of dealing with true food waste, sorting out unused food into a separate container or organics container can be a difficulty especially when there are no appropriate disposal options.
Waste stream contamination is the major factor hindering effective organics recycling, and even though theoretically, commercial-composting facilities can handle all kinds of food waste, in reality, this is not always the case. If non-organic things find their way in organics bins, they need to be removed manually by hand before being moved to the compost pile. In addition, meat, fish, or dairy products can also be included. The only other alternative is to simply assume the waste as landfill. One brilliant way to ease cleaner waste streams and to set up an effective composting program is by providing suitable training and education courses for operations staff, like kitchen and janitorial services.