On January 27-29, I attended the US Composting Council’s annual conference, which was conveniently hosted in Oakland, California—right in my new backyard. The conference sessions were packed with experts in various composting technologies and techniques; municipal and state leaders seeking to meet their constituents' demands for more food scrap recovery; and purveyors and purchasers of soil products that integrate nutritious processed food scraps to rebuild organic soil and nutrient content.
One presentation that had everyone talking was given by Scott Dowlan of the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans). CalTrans is a major purchaser of soil for use in roadway construction and maintenance projects, and they have found that spreading compost over disturbed soil greatly decreases erosion. If they and other departments of transportation start using compost regularly for all roadway projects, the demand could fuel an expansion of the composting industry that could, in turn, help mitigate the 33 million tons of food scraps that are currently landfilled every year. Burying food scraps in landfills produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Composting transforms these food scraps into rich dirt that can support native species and keep our roads and ecosystems safe and healthy.
On the last day of the conference, we all piled into busses and headed up to Novato for an exhibition of grinders, machines that chop up the incoming food scraps and yard wastes so they will break down more easily, and screeners that separate the finished compost from contaminants and from larger chunks of material that need to be further ground and processed. It was exciting to see and hear (and smell!) these gigantic machines in action—and get a real sense of how our food scraps can be transformed into much needed soil nutrients.
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