Zero Waste compost tour

By Joseph Eigner, Zero Waste co-chair

On September, 14 the Northern New Mexico Group’s Zero Waste Committee led a tour of five large composting sites in Santa Fe County.

A dozen veteran backyard composters visited the commercial-scale facilities and talked to the owners and operators about their processes and the organic materials they use.

The addition of new private-sector sites to existing government operations provides the opportunity to compost a much wider range of organic wastes and on a larger scale.

Among the wastes we saw being used were food scraps, compostable cups and utensils, wood chips, livestock manure, brewery waste, crop residues and wastewater treatment biosolids.

The composts produced are used in flower and vegetable gardens, orchards, landscaping, along highways, and in general for soil improvement. Our hosts were more than generous with their time and in sharing their deep knowledge and love of composting.

All the composting systems we visited operate at the high temperatures and timeframes needed to convert “compostable” plates, cups, etc. into a usable compost.

Backyard composting cannot break down these items satisfactorily. The availability of these systems locally now makes zero-waste public events possible.

We were all inspired by the growth of large-scale composting in Santa Fe County, and we see that expansion of composting is the best way to reduce the large volume of organic wastes going to landfills..

Residents who want to compost now must do it at their homes or back yards or at community gardens. The Santa Fe Master Gardeners Association has a SCAT (Santa Fe Compost Action Team) group that promotes composting.

Eldorado/285 Recycles has installed 133 backyard straw-bale worm composting systems in our area (part of Santa Fe County 12 miles southeast of the city off of Interstate 25).

One of the commercial sites we visited on the tour, Reunity Resources, collects food waste from about a dozen restaurants and two dozen local schools.

One of the other tour sites (Payne’s Nursery) collects all of the food waste from our Whole Foods grocery store.

Reunity Resources accepts food waste (including compostable serving items) at no charge from groups like ours that put on zero-waste events as long as we deliver the wastes to its compost site. If they have to provide carts and pick them up, they of course have to charge for the service.

Santa Fe County does not provide any curbside collection, but recently mandated that private haulers who do provide weekly curbside trash service must also provide biweekly curbside recycling to customers living in the urbanizing area around the city. Rates for the combined service range from $26 to $54 a month depending on the hauler and location. Curbside compost is a long way down the road.

Featured image from Reunity Resources.

Zero Waste compost tour