Compost heat recovery spawns aquaponics enterprise

Read the full story at Biocycle.

The need to switch from windrows to aerated static piles to manage odors prompted Michigan landscape supply company to take advantage of the opportunity to recover heat.

ISTC Technical Assistance Program seeks project partner for USDA composting and food waste reduction grant

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production (OUAIP) recently released a funding opportunity announcement for their Composting and Food Waste Reduction (CFWR) cooperative agreements. Applications are due by September 1, 2022.

This program provides financial assistance to municipalities, school districts, counties, local governments, or tribal governments (State-designated Indian Tribes, Federally Recognized Indian Tribal Governments) for composting and food waste reduction pilot programs. While applicants are encouraged to submit proposals that meet more than one of the objectives below (inclusion of multiple objectives will be considered when ranking proposals), OUAIP will accept proposals that address at least one of the following:

  • Generate compost
  • Increase access to compost for agricultural producers
  • Reduce reliance on, and limit the use of, fertilizer
  • Improve soil quality
  • Encourage waste management and permaculture business development
  • Increase rainwater absorption
  • Reduce municipal food waste; and
  • Divert residential and commercial food waste from landfills.

In addition to meeting one or more of the above purposes applicants are encouraged to align their project proposals to address priorities on environmental justice, racial equity, climate, investment in disadvantaged communities, and climate smart agricultural practices. Priority will be given for each of the following elements that are included in a project:

  • Anticipate or demonstrate economic benefits for the targeted community;
  • Incorporate plans to make compost easily accessible to agricultural producers, including community gardeners, school gardens, and producers;
  • Integrate food waste reduction strategies, including innovative food recovery efforts such as, but not limited to, food gleaning, storage, and preservation techniques; and
  • Include a robust plan that describes collaboration with multiple partners.

Eligible entities should collaborate with two or more partner organizations on their CFWR pilot project. Non-eligible entities may be partners on a project.

The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) seeks an eligible organization to be the lead applicant on a collaborative proposal. ISTC’s Technical Assistance Program (TAP) staff will provide support on the cooperative agreement through zero waste technical assistance, education, and outreach. Contact TAP to learn more about this partnership opportunity.

The unlikely ascent of New York’s compost champion

Read the full story in the New York Times.

An ad led to Domingo Morales falling in love with compost. A windfall is helping him spread the word.

A primer on composting cannabis residuals

Read the full story at Biocycle. [Part 1][Part 2]

The rapid legalization of cannabis in the U.S. has created a new urgency to compost cannabis residuals versus disposing of them in landfills and incinerators.

The power of shit

Read the full story at Aeon.

Our excrement is a natural, renewable and sustainable resource – if only we can overcome our visceral disgust of it.

Do you toss biodegradable plastic in the compost bin? Here’s why it might not break down

Shutterstock

by Bronwyn Laycock, The University of Queensland; Paul Lant, The University of Queensland, and Steven Pratt, The University of Queensland

Over one-fifth of all plastic produced worldwide is tossed into uncontrolled dumpsites, burned in open pits or leaked into the environment. In Australia, 1.1 million tonnes of plastic is placed in the market, yet just 16% (179,000 tonnes) is recovered.

To deal with this mounting issue, the Morrison government last week announced A$60 million to fund plastic recycling technologies. The goal is to boost plastic packaging recycling from 16% to 70% by 2025.

It comes after 176 countries, including Australia, last month endorsed a United Nation’s resolution to establish a legally binding treaty by 2024 to end plastic pollution.

This is a good start – more effective recycling and recovery of plastics will go a long way to solve the problem.

But some plastics, particularly agricultural plastics and heavily contaminated packaging, will remain difficult to recycle despite these new efforts. These plastics will end up being burnt or in landfill, or worse, leaking into the environment.

“Biodegradable” plastic is often touted as an environmentally friendly alternative. But depending on the type of plastic, this label can be very misleading and can lead environmentally conscious consumers astray.

Shovelling backyard compost
Don’t expect everything labelled ‘biodegradable plastic’ to break down in your backyard compost bin. Shutterstock

What are biodegradable plastics?

Biodegradable plastics are those that can completely break down in the environment, and are a source of carbon for microbes (such as bacteria).

These microbes degrade plastics into much smaller fragments before consuming them, which makes new biomass (cell growth), and releases water, carbon dioxide and, when oxygen is limited, methane.

However, this blanket description encompasses a wide range of products that biodegrade at very different rates and in different environments.

For example, some – such as the bacterially produced “polyhydroxyalkanoates”, used in, for instance, single-use cutlery – will fully biodegrade in natural environments such as seawater, soil and landfill within a few months to years.

Others, like polylactic acid used in coffee cup lids, require more engineered environments to break down, such as an industrial composting environment which has higher temperatures and is rich in microbes.

Some biodegradable plastics only break down in industrial compost facilities. Shutterstock

So while consumers may expect that “compostable” plastics will degrade quickly in their backyard compost bins, this may not be the case.

To add to this confusion, biodegradable plastics actually don’t have to be “bio-based”. This means they don’t have to be derived from renewable carbon sources such as plants.

Some, such as polycaprolactone used in controlled release drug delivery, are synthesised from petroleum-derived materials.

What’s more, bio-based plastics may not always be biodegradable. One example is polyethylene – the largest family of polymers produced globally, widely used in flexible film packaging such as plastic bags. It can be produced from ethanol that comes from cane sugar.

In all material respects, a plastic like this is identical to petroleum-derived polyethylene, including its inability to break down.

Confusion and greenwashing

In 2018, we conducted a survey of 2,518 Australians, representative of the Australian population, with all demographics collected closely matching census data.

We found while there’s a lot of enthusiasm for biodegradable alternatives, there’s also a great deal of confusion over what constitutes a biodegradable plastic.

Consumers have also become increasingly concerned over the practice of “greenwashing” – marketing a product as biodegradable when, in reality, its rate of degradation and the environment in which it will decompose don’t match what the label implies.

So-called “oxo-degradable plastics” are an excellent example of why the issue is so complex and confusing. These plastics are commonly used in films, such as agricultural mulches, packaging and wrapping materials.

Chemically speaking, oxo-degradable plastics are often made from polyethylene or polypropylene, mixed with molecules that initiate degradation such as “metal stearates”.

These initiators cause these plastics to oxidise and break down under the influence of ultraviolet light, and/or heat and oxygen, eventually fragmenting into smaller pieces.

There is, however, some controversy surrounding their fate. Research indicates they can remain as microplastics for long periods, particularly if they’re buried or otherwise protected from the sun.

Indeed, evidence suggests oxo-degradable plastics aren’t suited for long-term reuse, recycling or even composting. For these reasons, oxo-degradable plastics have now been banned by the European Commission, through the European Single-Use Plastics Directive.

Plastic bags are often made from polyethylene, which can come from cane sugar. Shutterstock

We need better standards and labels

The new government funding for plastic recycling technologies targets waste that’s notoriously difficult to deal with, such as bread bags and chip packets.

However, this still leaves a substantial stream of waste that’s even more challenging to address. This includes agricultural waste dispersed in the environment such as mulch films, which can be difficult to collect for recycling.

Biodegradable and bio-based plastics have great potential to replace such problematic plastics. But, as they continue to gain market share, the confusion and complexity around biodegradable plastics must be addressed.

For starters, a better understanding of how they impact the environment is needed. It’s also crucial to align consumer expectations with those of manufacturers and producers, and to ensure these plastics are appropriately disposed of and managed at the end of their life.

This is what we’re investigating as part of a new training centre for bioplastics and biocomposites. Our goal over the next five years is to improve knowledge for developing better standards and regulations for certifying, labelling and marketing “green” plastic products.

And with that comes greater opportunity for better education so both plastic producers and people who throw them away really understand these materials. We should be familiar with their strengths, weaknesses and how to dispose of them so we can minimise the damage they inflict on the environment.

Bronwyn Laycock, Professor of Chemical Engineering, The University of Queensland; Paul Lant, Professor of Chemical Engineering, The University of Queensland, and Steven Pratt, Associate Professor, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Connections: Diaper déjà vu all over again

Read the full story at Biocycle.

Demand for compostable diapers hasn’t gone away. So are we closer to a solution that successfully closes the loop from a baby’s behind to the compost heap?

As compost volumes grow, policy and research help boost market expansion

Read the full story in Waste Dive.

As organics recycling expands, composters are continuously exploring market options. Transportation projects, carbon sequestration, green roofs and cannabis farming are among many opportunities.

Compost Use Fact Sheets

The Compost Research and Education Foundation (CREF) has released fact sheets on 10 compost end uses. Each sheet describes the application, highlights the key benefits and return on investment (ROI) for the end user, reviews construction and/or application requirements, and includes a “spec sheet” of the compost parameters for that application, e.g., pH, organic matter content, stability, particle size.

Nonprofit makes composting as fun as smashing pumpkins

Read the full story at Yale Climate Connections.

In 2020, ‘pumpkin smash’ events across Illinois and beyond kept more than 150 tons of pumpkins out of landfills.