Zero Waste Tour to Rio Grande Compost Facility

By Marlene Brown

On October 16, 2019 a group from the Sierra Club toured the Rio Grande Compost Facility located on the west side of Albuquerque near the Volcano Day Use area and Double Eagle Airport. Our tour guides were Joe Bailey and Edmund Cianchetti. They showed us the entire facility and patiently answered all of our questions, of which there were many.

The facility is separate from but staffed and run by the Water Authority. They are the largest composter in New Mexico. There are different types of compost depending on the application. Most of the compost used from the facility goes to the Department of Transportation. They need coverage that will not erode quickly and help return disturbed land to its original state.

Every day, 9-12 truckloads of biosolids are delivered to the compost facility from the Water Authority’s main reclamation plant. They process 300,000 lbs of biosolids a day, which is equal to 12,000 tons per year. 30% of this is turned into compost. The rest is processed, tested, and spread on a dedicated area that is part of the complex.

The compost is made up of horse bedding, woodchips, green waste (mostly tree mulch) and biosolids. It is mixed to promote the growth of organisms, which organically processes the mix. The mix is put into “winrows” (long rows of material approximately 8 feet high). Very quickly the organisms decompose the material. Water, naturally in the material, dehydrates and the winrows are reduced to half their original size. These are quarantined for 2-3 weeks and tested for bacteria concentration. Temperatures can reach as high as 142 °F and eventually settle to 105 to 110 °F, which is safe for use. After the material settles, it is screened. The result is wonderful compost that can be used on lawns, gardens, and golf courses.

The facility stays in sync with the need of the community. They can make an entire winrow in a day, and the facility can produce up to 9,000 cubic yards of material per month.

Fall is a perfect time to buy compost, Joe says. It’s good to mix it with the soil several months before planting so the compost won’t burn the seeds or plants. They sell compost in as little or large amounts as a customer wants and it’s cheap. If you want to get some compost, call them (505-289-3600) to check on availability beforehand.

Photos by Cecilia Chávez Beltrán

Zero Waste Tour to Rio Grande Compost Facility