One Man’s Trash…
James Lacey Gets Serious About Composting
By Hannah Stacy
James Lacey, a former environmental studies student at Goodwin College who graduated in August of 2012, became interested in composting after the devastating storm that occurred in October 2011. Trees covered roads and destroyed roofs, cars, and telephone lines. After the State of Connecticut initiated a program of clearing trees, mountains of woodchips formed at processing facilities, sometimes several stories high. Smoke could be seen rising from these piles, especially when it rained.
Seeking to study the decomposition process up close, he bought several five gallon buckets. He began compositing fruits, vegetables, coffee grounds and sawdust on a smaller scale. “I was astonished and mesmerized by the heat produced in the buckets and the heat produced depended on the ratio of quantities in the buckets,” he said. “The heat generated in these little buckets convinced me to work this process on a larger scale.”
James approached Environmental Studies Director Bruce Morton, his advisor, to discuss his idea of composting. Bruce put James in contact with many others people such as Dan Larson, Goodwin Facilities Manager, who donated an indoor garage for James to mix all the materials, and Gino Pacito, owner of Shop Rite in East Hartford, who donated discarded fruits and vegetables. He also approached Don Moore, owner and operator of Don’s Sawmill in Bloomfield, Connecticut, who donated his saw dust.
His pilot composting project demonstrates the potential benefit of reducing or removing these items from the waste stream that enters landfills and to reduce methane emissions, therefore making the environment healthier. The resulting compost was made available for use in Goodwin’s community garden.
Composting on a smaller scale for households has potential benefits of lower waste-disposal costs. It is a convenient way to handle wastes and provides a free and excellent soil amendment that can be used to increase the health and productivity of plants. Rotting food produces a greenhouse gas called methane with 21 times the global warming potential than carbon dioxide emitted from vehicles, James said.
“American households throw away 55 billion dollars’ worth of food per year. The top two food wastes are fruits and vegetables that have gone past their ‘good until’ dates. In addition, supermarkets discard up to 300 pounds of fruits and vegetables every day of the week,” James said. “Composting is a way to help the environment and reuse food wastes to create nutrient rich soil.”
How Composting Works:
Composting is a process that uses natural or manmade microorganisms to convert leaves, paper, manure, and food wastes into a soil-like material called compost. The material to be composted falls into two categories called “browns” or carbon rich ingredients (leaves, straw, wood chips, mixed paper, shredded cardboard, bark or sawdust) and ”greens” or nitrogen rich ingredients (vegetables, fruits, grass clippings, manures, eggshells, or seaweed).
James composted the “brown” carbon rich saw dust and the “green” nitrogen rich food wastes such as fruits, vegetables and coffee grounds. “Much literature exists stating blending mixtures of carbon to nitrogen ratios (C:N ratio) in the range of 25:1 to 50:1 to obtain a desired compost product. This is for the serious composter.” He chose to combine these materials together in a ratio of 1 part carbon saw dust to 1.5 part green fruits, vegetables and coffee grounds.
In three days the pile heats up and goes through three temperature stages. In the first stage, psychrophilic bacteria produce heat in the range of 55oF (13oC) to 70oF (21oC). In the second stage, mesophilic bacteria produce heat in the range of 70oF (21oC) to 113oF (45oC). In the third stage, thermophilic bacteria produce heat in the range of 113oF (45oC) to 160oF (71oC). James used a 48” composting temperature probe to monitor the temperature, making sure it was between 131oF to 160oF. Anything above 160oF produces a situation where the heat starts to kill the “good” decomposing microbes that thrive in the 131oF to 160oF range. There is also a possibility that the composting pile will catch fire if the temperature is above 160oF.