Big Apple takes big leap toward composting
Starting next year, approximately 10 percent of New York City's residential food waste will be turned into compost. Banana peels, coffee grinds, eggshells, orange peels, tea leaves, corncobs, and yes, apple cores, will no longer be taken out with the rest of the trash and headed for a landfill. Instead, these food scraps will be taken to a composting plant that will handle roughly 100,000 tons of food scraps a year. The waste will then be used as fertilizer and/or converted into biogas, a gas that is produced by the breakdown of organic materials, which would then be used to generate electricity.The program is currently set for voluntary use for residential areas and schools. Commercial businesses will likely get on board with the new program once the new legislation for their sector is passed. While implementing a program like this would cost money due to the costs of the curbside bins and pickup trucks, and the storage and personnel costs, the savings could be well worth the effort. In fact, New York is expecting to save $100 million a year, simply because less waste is going to the landfill. Should a plan like this ever be employed in our area, other factors, along with costs, would have to be taken into consideration: What to do with the finished product? Would the product be available to the public for use as fertilizer? Might the product be converted into something else, such as biogas? Even without a current county curbside compost program, it still makes sense for us to turn our own table scraps into backyard compost. "Recycle yard waste is the 7th principle of Florida-Friendly Landscaping and composting is the major component of that principle," said David Austin, Highlands County Urban Horticultural Agent, UF/IFAS - Highlands County Extension. There are nine principles in all and further information can be found at: http://www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/yards/ When it comes to composting, it's important to remember that the materials used are broken down into two categories: brown and green. "Brown materials are rich in carbon like leaves and small sticks, cardboard, paper towels, tea bags, shredded newspaper, and coffee grounds," said Austin who is also a UF Master Gardener Coordinator. Green materials are rich in nitrogen. Examples are kitchen scraps such as vegetable and fruit scraps, and egg shells. "Also included in green materials are farm animal manures, grass clippings, and tender green plant material," said Austin, who added that meats, foods with oils, dressings, or fats should not used in composting due to pests and odors, and weed seed should also be avoided. "All of these different types of matter should be layered in, kept moist, and covered, "said Austin who explained that composters need a combination of the two types-greens and browns-and the ratio of each is important. The ratio, 30:1, is roughly equal parts green (carbon) materials and brown (nitrogen) materials. The materials should be layered by alternating them in three- to four-inch tiers up to a height of about three feet. Lastly, the materials should be turned and mixed together every four to seven days. The pile or unit used should be a minimum of 3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet in size. Once the composting is complete, it can be utilized in many ways. Used as a soil amendment, this material will improve the health and structure of both sandy and clay soils. Applied on top of soil, it can be used as mulch. Mixed with other components, it can be used as potting soil. Brewed with water, it can be made into compost "tea" for plants. Compost can be produced in as little as six weeks. More information on composting, including how to create a compost bin, can be found at: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep323. New York has nearly 20 million residents, and the city buries about 1.2 million tons of food waste in landfills every year. The cost is nearly $80 per ton. Although the numbers in Florida would likely be less, doing our part to backyard compost would help keep the costs of materials pickup down and make for less landfill. Plus, we would also get to enjoy the many benefits of compost, also referred to as "Black Gold".