Composting in a Zero Carbon Footprint
Production System: Executive Summary
The MU Bradford Research and Extension Center (BREC) 6.5 miles east of Columbia Missouri has a substantial Research, Extension and Education mission involving many disciplines within and outside of the College of Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR). Each year vegetables are grown at BREC for research and extension activities and then sold to MU's Campus Dining who also has an interest in utilizing their food wastes to produce compost. Each day campus dining serves approximately 8500 meals/day generating approx. 4.5 oz of waste per meal. When calculated over the entire year this is approximately 270 tons of food waste per year that winds up in the Columbia landfill.
This proposed system, located at BREC, will use a 'low-tech, low-input' approach to composting such as the Aerated Static Pile (ASP) system to compost the waste material aerobically. Several systems will be examined which can be easily adopted by similar institutions and large enough to handle at least 2-tons of waste material per day and can be continually added to. The approximately 175 tons of compost produced annually, can be applied to vegetable and field crops at BREC to meet most, if not all, of the nutritional needs of the crop. This is important in the total carbon budget since nitrogen fertilizer is the largest carbon source in a production system.
Food waste has a C:N ratio of approximately 20:1. In order to achieve a final ratio of 30:1, animal bedding and manure from the MU Horse Farm would need to be mixed in at least a 1:1 ratio (animal bedding:food waste) to achieve optimum compost consistency. Composting 270 tons of food waste with an additional 270 tons of animal wastes would be a first step in a long-term project to compost a campus-wide waste stream of paper products, animal wastes and yard wastes. MU does an excellent job recycling as much paper products possible however, MU still spends over $350,000 each year hauling unwanted materials to the land fill including 1500 tons of manure and bedding material produced each year by Animal Sciences and Veterinary Medicine When composted, these materials are extremely valuable and can be utilized by a growing market for locally sustainably grown produce.
This cycle can be further strengthened by converting the Waste Vegetable Oil (WVO) collected from Campus Dining (3,000 gallons) into biodiesel. This fuel will be used to power the trucks required to transport the compostable materials to BREC and deliver the vegetables back to campus as well as power the tractors and equipment used for vegetable production. Biodiesel powered generators can be used to provide the power to run fans used in the composting process. In essence, this system will have a zero carbon footprint is not negative carbon footprint since carbon will be stored in the soil. Having an ASP composting system in place is the first and essential step to getting the entire process started.
This project is an important step in developing strategies for creating value-added products from materials that would otherwise end up being dumped into landfills. There is a growing interest in locally produced food by the general public and in our school systems. This proposed system is the essence of Community Development, and can serve as a model of how food waste from any type of cafeteria (school, hospital, business, institutional) can be utilized to produce a valuable commodity. Vegetables produced in similar systems could be used to provide schools with a healthy source of locally grown food, and provide vegetable producers with a creative way to convert so called waste materials into assets to sell at local farmers markets and to the general public. The cost/benefits realized from not sending materials to the landfill could be substantial.
This systematic approach will be highlighted at the many field days and workshops that BREC has each year. In 2010, over 7,000 people utilized BREC's facilities for educational purposes. The total input and output of materials, time, and product will be recorded and shared at the field days and workshops. Undergraduate students will receive research and educational opportunities in a wide range of disciplines including Horticulture, Biological Engineering, and Economics. Entrepreneurial opportunities for students will be available for marketing vegetable and compost products. This project will perpetually fund itself through vegetable and compost sales and compliment MU's Sustainable Agriculture program. Once this initial program is started other campus waste streams will be composted including the MU animal science farms and can be marketed by student entrepreneurs.
BREC has a history of innovative projects and demonstrations and utilizing them for public education. For example, BREC has led the way in getting Conservation, Wildlife, and Modern Agriculture on the same page and working together. This is highlighted each year with an annual Field Day “Integrating Bobwhite Quail Habitat Management in Modern Agriculture” that attracts over 150 from across Missouri to learn about the management practices that BREC has initiated that increased the Northern Bobwhite Quail population from two to 25 coveys in six years. BREC has also successfully stirred statewide interest with its work with fresh water prawns. Reaching out to the community is important and to help gain focus on BREC's vegetable research and education projects it has hosted an annual Tomato Festival for the past six years that attracted 600 persons in 2010. BREC also utilizes multiple facets of communication including: WEB Site, Facebook, Newspaper, and Television. This composting project would have similar exposure to the general public on a local and statewide platform and bring a consciousness to the public about how they can compost many household items that typically wind up in the landfill.
BREC and MU is committed to this project by the initial 25% matching funds for labor and machinery but will also supply the diesel trucks, tractors, and generators to haul materials and grow vegetables and operate the compost aerators. MU Campus Dining has demonstrated its commitment to this project through the investment by already installing one pulper ($25,000) with another to be installed this spring ($20,000). Food pulpers make food wastes much easier to handle and compost. BREC will also work closely with Steven Burdick, MU's Sustainability Coordinator in developing composting systems and identifying waste streams.