Soil Food Composting beyond the backyard
Thursday, October 4, 2007
Road kill composting
SUBTITLE: Will road kill gourmets be forced to embrace geophagy?

Road kill composting ... now there's an area of organic waste management that doesn't get a lot of press, even within the composting community. Road Kill Composting Workshops are being offered this fall by Cornell University, and as hunting season approaches, it's a good time to uphold composting as the better alternative for carcass disposal when compared to burial, landfilling, and incineration.

Thanks to the prevalence of large livestock operations in North Carolina, a number of composting methods have been shown to be appropriate, effective, and environmentally sound management strategies for poultry and swine mortality (farm animals that die while still in a production setting). So why not dogs, deer, and raccoons?

A quick sampling of Internet stats indicates road kill numbers in the tens of thousands annually per state, most of those being deer. Using 100 pounds as an average weight for deer (a very rough number, since the range is 70-140 pounds or so for deer one year old and older), at only 10,000 deer per year per state, the total weight of annual road kill would be 25,000 tons in the U.S. In truth, the real numbers are probably much higher. In New York, for example, the actual deer road kill count is closer to 75,000.

Cornell says its road kill composting system costs about $25 per deer using a passive aeration method, which, according to Scott Capps, a maintenance operations engineer with the NCDOT, is about the same as the Wake County (NC) landfill changed per carcass in 2004, when Capps responded to a Maryland survey of road kill disposal methods in the U.S. and Canada.

The conclusion of the Maryland study? "Of the methods available, composting appears the most cost effective and environmentally responsible method if the proper health and safety issues are addressed."

Nuf said.

Follow these links to info on road kill composting projects in Montana and Wisconsin, and to a general article on dead animal composting by researchers at the Ohio State University Agricultural Research and Development Center.

No matter how far you have gone down the wrong road, turn back. -- Proverb
Posted by Lynn Lucas at 12:25 AM 0 comments
Labels: carcass, composting, dead animal, deer, DOT, landfill, livestock, mortality, road kill
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Of forests and trees
SUBTITLE: Are you standing back far enough to view the entire elephant or can you only see its (you supply the body part)?

I'm a big picture person. That means I see the forest first, not the trees. As a project developer, my inherent POV has always been a strength and, now that I think about it, is probably one of the reasons I do what I do. But as I sat on my deck this morning, looking out across a stand of much-abused loblollies (they line fairways heavily trod by golfers with bad swings), I was reminded how much trouble conflicting forest vs. trees viewpoints can cause.

Think about lawmakers and regulators as forest rangers, composting facilities as trees, and the composting industry as the forest. Consider how, if not carefully and thoughtfully planned, culling diseased and fallen timber can set-off fires that wipe out acres and acres of trees, exacerbate erosion, contribute to flooding, and lead to other undesirable outcomes. Fixing one trouble spot, without taking in the big picture, can result in a myriad of problems far worse than the original difficulty. (Example: kudzu)

Forest rangers, even if they are naturally myopic viewers, must be able change their perspective to evaluate, design, and execute solutions that won't damage the forest. That means before rangers set a fire or break out an axe they must --

* Spend some time in the forest
* Get to know the lay of the land
* Develop the ability to recognize the many different species of plants growing there
* Understand how each reacts to extreme heat
* Know how the denuded soils will change water absorbtion and run-off
* Prepare for a wind shift

Yet, for all of their poking and stomping about, rangers are only stewards. Trees make the forest and determine its health and vitality. But their view is fundamentally myopic, as well, so a tree must always remember:

* On any given day, someone may be looking at it as a "typical" example of what's wrong with the entire forest and making decisions based on that view.
* A mess under its own canopy almost always makes the surrounding trees look bad, too.
* If a tree doesn't grow, it will languish in the shade of taller trees and, eventually, become a target for culling.

None of us can change how we're wired, but there are times when one must intentionally overcome his/her natural inclinations to see the whole and the parts, understand how a single action on one will impact the other, and make decisions based on those impacts. And that's true of everyone, whether that idyllic woodland view is of the forest or the trees.

May you live long, decay slowly, and leave a nice layer of humus to nourish the saplings.
Posted by Lynn Lucas at 12:54 PM 0 comments
Labels: big picture, composting, forest, laws, organics recycling, regulations, trees
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Temperatures and home composting
For most folks, the word composting means the backyard variety, and no wonder. Governmental bodies around the world, from the federal level to the local parish, have invested big bucks in touting the methods and benefits of composting at home. They've done a splendid job of spreading the word.

But home composting is as different from modern commercial composting as the home kitchen is from a mammoth food processing plant. One of those differences has to do with what you should and should not compost at home.

Notice, I used the word should. In truth, anything biodegradable will compost. Some other materials, gypsum board being a good example, can also be added to compostable materials to enhance the value of the resulting compost product. But many compost feedstocks require the use of management methods designed to reduce vectors (flies, rodents, dogs, etc.) and pathogens.

That's why it's never a good idea to add dairy products, meats, grease, or animal doo-doo (of any type) to the home compost pile. With few exceptions, the size of the composting mass is too small and management too lax to insure the temperature attainment and consistency required to meet EPA VAR (vector) and PFRP (pathogen) requirements.

However, some large commercial and municipal composting operations are designed and engineered to do just that and are permitted to accept a wide variety of feedstocks ... including meat and fats and other residuals and by-products that are difficult to manage in the backyard.
Posted by Lynn Lucas at 12:37 PM 2 comments
Labels: backyard, commercial, composting, municipal, pathogens, temperatures, vectors
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
Feed people. Feed animals. Feed the soil (through composting). Food diversion is all about keeping edible food out of the landfill and putting it to good use. The North Carolina Food Diversion Task Force has established a blog to facilitate discussion. Follow along at Find out more about food diversion and view the EPA food diversion hierarchy on the EPA food scraps website.
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