What is Commercial Composting? Industrial Methods Explained
Collectively, individuals can make a huge impact by composting on a regular basis. However, with the sheer amount of waste that humanity produces, we increasingly require the help of commercial composting technology. This demand for industrial scale composting has expanded considerably since becoming popular in the 1980s. Today, it is a growing destination for residential, commercial and industrial organic waste streams.
This growing industry typically gets several common questions about the process of commercial or industrial composting. Most importantly, what is commercial composting? How does it differ from small-scale composting methods? Finally, how can I find commercial composting facilities near me?
We will answer these questions and more, but first, let’s look at the basics of commercial and industrial composting:
What is Commercial Composting?
Commercial composting uses the same biological processes of home composting food scraps and yard waste. However it magnifies them on a much larger industrial scale. Using the latest technologies, companies can also turn a wider range of organic materials into fertile soil than backyard composting. Items like compostable food packaging often require temperatures that can usually only be reached by these methods.
Regardless of the scale, there are numerous environmental benefits of composting. Industrial methods help slow the growth of landfills, cut down on greenhouse gases, and reduce waste at a much faster rate.
4 Kinds of Commercial Composting Methods
Industrial composting companies often collect compostable materials directly from consumers with trucks, similar to curbside trash pick up. Some companies allow people to directly deliver large amounts of organic matter like leaves, grass clippings and kitchen scraps. Either way, once the organic matter reaches a composting facility, there are various ways that it can undergo the composting process.
Though vermicomposting is more common for individuals and smaller organizations, the process can be scaled to meet commercial demands. Vermicomposting involves using compost bins filled with organic matter like food waste or yard trimmings. Worms are then added to the composition. Over time, these worms break down food and other materials into soil that is rich in plant-healthy microbes and nutrients.
While vermicomposting is a relatively fast option, it’s not easy to manage at scale. From start to finish, the process can take as little as two months to produce high-quality soil. However, when it comes to commercial composting, it’s not always the most cost-efficient method.
Windrow composting is one of the most common processes for high-volume commercial operations. This composting method requires organic material to be collected and arranged into long rows known as “windrows.” Windrows are generally 4 to 8 feet high and around 15 feet wide and various lengths. Though the size of compost piles can vary, these specifications help maintain the proper temperature for biodegradation while allowing air to reach the core.
Windrow composting does come with a few drawbacks. First, it requires a lot of ground space to produce compost in large quantities. Moreover, commercial composting companies cannot just let the piles of matter sit untouched.
They must be also be regularly mixed by machine to ensure that all material gets access to heat, moisture and oxygen. While this composting method does produce fertile soil in bulk, it usually takes around 4 months to complete the process.
Static Pile Composting
Static pile composting is a relatively efficient method for commercial composting companies. In as little as 3 months, an organization can produce compost at a large scale without excessive overhead costs.
Static pile composting works by collecting large piles of organic matter mixed with larger debris like wood chips or paper. Larger debris creates air pockets, allowing oxygen to reach every part of the pile. Piles are then occasionally turned or mixed with machinery like tractors or excavators.
Composters can also opt to aerate these piles using air pipes to regularly pump oxygen to different layers of the pile. This ensures that every part of the pile decomposes as it should by feeding micro-organisms the oxygen they need.
Unfortunately, the aerated static pile method does not work well with all types of organic matter. For example, animal byproducts and grease cannot decompose at the same rate as other materials. As a result, companies have to spend additional time sifting through their organic collections before sending them to the pile.
In-Vessel Composting (IVC)
While every composting method has its pros and cons, in-vessel composting is considered the most cost-effective way to compost commercially. In-vessel composting does not have the biological limitations as aerated static piles or require as much space as windrow composting.
With this method, organic materials are first shredded and mixed, then deposited into a commercial composting machine. The machine controls temperatures, hydration, and aeration. Additionally, the machine can rotate or churn the composition to make sure that every part decomposes at the same rate.
With the temperature controlled and monitored, the hot compost is sanitized by high temperatures that kill off harmful bacteria and weed seeds. Once complete, the compost is left to mature in an enclosure to stabilize before screening if not already screened.
Naturally, the size of the machine will determine how much compost can be processed. That said, it can take less than a month to go from unused organic waste to fertile soil. While an industrial composting machine and IVC infrastructure requires a greater investment upfront, it can yield the best results for commercial composting companies.
Find an Industrial Composting Facility Near You
If you regularly produce organic waste, you have a few options. In many areas, local or state agencies can help individuals or businesses process compostables. If your local municipality does not offer a program for collecting compost, you can likely find a private company that can. For more help finding commercial composting facilities near you, be sure to check out the Find a Composter tool!