Going Beyond Composting
3 composters who are thinking about the soil as well as better food waste systems.
Each year, Americans throw out 400 pounds of food per person. Here are three composters who are thinking about the soil as well as better food waste systems.
WeRadiate is a Brooklyn, New York-based company with the goal of improving soil health. Started by Sashti Balasundaram, WeRadiate implements its mission through education, technology, and the creation or enhancement of compost systems. Balasundaram has created smart sensors to collect data from composting operations, with the aim of improving the process at different partner sites in New York City, New York state, and California.
The sensors measure the temperatures of compost that is processing to make sure that the pile stays between 131–160 degrees Fahrenheit for 7–11 days to ensure pathogens and bad bacteria are burned off.
Balasundaram also sees composting as an opportunity for job creation. New York City budgets more than $400 million per year for waste removal. Instead of processing garbage locally, landfills located far outside the city are the ultimate destination for that waste.
“We know a third of it is organics,” Balasundaram says. “So let’s think of reallocating a lot of that funding toward local composting programs or funding people to do that work.”
Urban Farmer and Composter
To Jae Lee, composting is at its best when it is a community activity.
In September 2020, she expanded the composting program at Phoenix Community Garden in Brooklyn, New York, from a small, two-hot-box effort to an operation that involves community members and local cafes and bars. Lee and volunteers pick up food scraps and coffee grounds throughout the week from the eateries.
Every Saturday, Phoenix Community Garden hosts a farm stand where people from the neighborhood pick up CSA (community supported agriculture) bags and drop off their food scraps.
Lee also teaches community members how to prepare their food scraps for processing, which doesn’t involve sticking food scraps in the freezer or letting them rot.
“I tell people, ‘Don’t bring me your frozen, rotting food,’” Lee says.
One form of composting involves mixing “browns,” or carbon-based materials like wood shavings, with nitrogen-heavy materials—food scraps, or “greens.”
Lee and the volunteers send customers home with wood shavings to mix with their food scraps in whatever receptacle they have—5-gallon food-grade buckets tend to work best.
“Everyone is a composter at heart,” Lee says.
Environmental Specialist for the state of Vermont
Vermont’s Universal Recycling Law fully took effect in July 2020, when landfills could no longer accept organic waste.
“There are other states that have food scrap laws, but Vermont is unique in that we’re the only state that has a complete landfill ban on food scraps or organic material,” says Anne Bijur, an environmental analyst in the state’s Waste Management and Prevention Division.
Bijur works on a five-person team, along with other government offices, stewarding the implementation of the recycling law, which was passed in 2012 and phased in over eight years. Residents of Vermont have three options to take care of their food scraps: They can compost at home, bring their food scraps to a drop-off site and transfer station, or arrange for private curbside collection.
The law has had some surprisingly positive results, such as increased donations of food to food banks and the creation of jobs in transporting food scraps.
“People are like, ‘Hey, this is a business opportunity. I’ve got a station wagon or I’ve got a pickup truck,’” Bijur says. “To get a hauling permit is pretty inexpensive, so that’s exciting.”