NH food composting can be boosted now that meat and dairy can join the mix

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There’s something about rot and decay – the organic kind, not the political – that I can’t resist.

It’s not just the celebration of the “circle of life” of microbes transforming yesterday’s lunch into tomorrow’s topsoil. It’s also the satisfaction of keeping things out of landfills that nobody wants to build anymore, plus the opportunity to consider practical organic chemistry. No wonder I’m a fan.

More people in New Hampshire will have the chance to become fans now that the state has instituted new regulations. The rules, which went into effect a month ago, are an update to existing rules that have been in the works for half a dozen years as New Hampshire, still lagging behind on the environment, tries to catch up with neighboring states in terms of food waste management. .

These changes made by the state Department of Environmental Services affect the operation of virtually all composting facilities larger than the rotting piles next to my barn, including New Hampshire’s 11 licensed commercial food composting operations.

“I think there’s a pent-up demand for it. I get phone calls every two weeks: what should I do if I want to start a composting facility? said Michael Nork, supervisor of the state’s Office of Solid Waste Management.

Meat and dairy products

The biggest change to the rules is that meat and dairy can now be composted along with plants and grains on what are known as permit-per-notice sites. This not only increases the amount of food waste that can be composted, but eliminates the hassle of separating leftovers after meals, making it nearly impossible for restaurants to participate.

“If you can’t scrape off a plate after people have eaten, it will go in the trash,” said James Meinecke, co-owner of Lewis Farm in Concord. “Separating him… just isn’t an option for them.

Lewis Farm has a long history of composting the city’s leaves and yard waste, and in the past has occasionally used food scraps to compost it. Meinecke said he appreciates the changes to state regulations, but wishes they had gone further.

“My hope is that we would be able to compost by law, without regulation and all that paperwork,” he said. He pointed to leaf composting, which is not covered by state composting regulations. This gives him the ability to install the huge piles of trash in any orientation he wishes and turn them however he pleases.

Meinecke said he doesn’t think he’ll go back to consuming food scraps, although he and his wife, Rebecca McWilliams, are considering it. “Diesel being what it is, the cost of the machines, even just moving the batteries – the economics just aren’t there yet,” he said.

Everyone does it

New Hampshire’s decision comes as most states encourage food composting, with Vermont leading the way through Law 148, which made composting mandatory for virtually everyone. Places in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine are experimenting with curbside composting pickup.

The benefits of composting are obvious, starting with a reduction in the volume of materials sent to landfills. The longer it takes to fill these locations, the better, as they are expensive to operate and build.

There is also a climate change benefit. The discharges are so compressed that little oxygen reaches the decomposition of food. Thanks to the miracles of chemistry, this anaerobic process produces methane, a brutal greenhouse gas. In a well-aerated compost heap, on the other hand, the decomposition produces carbon dioxide, which is also a greenhouse gas but much less potent.

Finally, unlike a landfill, composting produces an incredibly useful product: soil. Replacing lost topsoil is something humanity needs to do and besides, few things are as satisfying as spreading the soil you created from my own kitchen scraps.

The new rules bring a number of changes. create exemptions to certain regulations for community composting, such as might take place in a community garden, as well as for food waste drop-off sites. The latter could reduce costs for a business that wants to do commercial composting of household food scraps.

“They don’t want to go to every home. This allows them to create a distributed network of drop sites,” said Michael Nork, supervisor at the state Office of Solid Waste Management. “We’re trying to have rules that look at composting at different scales.”

The regulations also reduce some location requirements for commercial composting facilities, which currently must meet the same criteria as a landfill – and we know how easy it is to install one.

Temperature is key

Compost piles aren’t perfect, of course. They can attract bugs and critters and, worst of all, smell.

“The No. 1 problem with most composting facilities is odor production. It not only attracts animals, but drives your neighbors crazy,” said Michael Nork, supervisor of the state Office of Solid Waste Management. “That’s why the issue of best management practices…is one of the things we’re trying to build into the new rules.”

“Baking in” is an apt metaphor since the key to composting, like making bread, is maintaining the right temperature for the right amount of time.

“It needs to be in the thermophilic range, above 115-120 degrees. It’s the most efficient decomposition, things happen faster, you can decompose harder-to-decompose things like eggshells, avocado peels, and even bones,” he said. “The best thing to do is watch the temperatures. This gives the best indication whether the process is working or not.

(Alas, even the right temperature won’t break down those blank plastic stickers affixed to supermarket fruit, which are the bane of compost bins everywhere. But that’s another story.)

Whether the new rules will make much of a difference, of course, remains to be seen. Nork is hopeful.

“It’s a significant improvement over the old rules, although there’s always room for improvement in the future,” he said. “We’re hoping the changes we’ve made to the rules will help encourage more composting infrastructure in the state, that people will come to us with proposals and applications to do just that.”

If you’re itching for large-scale food composting, contact Nork at (603) 271-2906 or [email protected]

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