Food Scraps Composting Laboratory

Kean University in Union, New Jersey, the third largest university in the state with a student population of approximately 17,000, has been operating an on-campus food scraps composting project since January 2010. Source separated food scraps — both pre and postconsumer — are collected from the dining halls and composted with wood shavings obtained from local woodworking businesses, typically at no cost. “We process about 1,000 lbs/day of food scraps and about 250 lbs/day of wood shavings,” says Nicholas Smith-Sebasto, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Center for Sustainability Studies at Kean University and supervisor of the program. “The program has virtually eliminated food scraps being hauled off campus.”

The composting facility is located in a 1,000 square foot greenhouse named the Food Scraps Composting Laboratory. Kean University President Dawood Farahi approved appropriation of the entire cost of the project; however, Smith-Sebasto received about $25,000 in grant funds from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to support the project. The system, designed by FOR Solutions, LLC and manufactured by a local fabrication company, cost approximately $80,000. Cost of the greenhouse was about $400,000. “From the outset, the idea was to create a laboratory in which research on using the compost as a soil amendment could be conducted,” notes Smith-Sebasto. “A greenhouse seemed the logical solution. And President Farahi treats the composting system as a positive feature of the campus and wanted it to be visible.”

All food scraps, including proteins, fruits, vegetables, breads, grains and bones, are collected from the dining areas in 10-gallon buckets with lids. Most of the food service areas are within 100 yards of the Food Scraps Composting Laboratory, so the majority of filled buckets are transported from the dining facilities in a wheeled cart. (One dining hall needs to be serviced with a vehicle.) Five-gallon buckets are used to collect scraps from the Starbucks on campus. In all but one of the dining facilities, plates are scraped by food service workers employed by Gourmet Dining, the contracted food service provider on campus. Gourmet employees also collect prep scraps in 10-gallon buckets.

There is very little soiled paper mixed in, and just a small amount of compostable products as those are only used in the food court and the Starbucks. After weighing thousands of buckets, Smith-Sebasto and student assistants have determined that the average weight of a 10-gallon bucket full of a very heterogeneous mixture of food scraps is 35 lbs. The average weight of a 5-gallon bucket is 19 lbs. Both are of a weight that an average person is able to lift, Smith-Sebasto says.

Composting Operation

Food scraps are added to the composting drum daily on weekdays. The composting system is capable of processing 1,000 lbs/day of food scraps. This amount was identified during an audit performed during the summer of 2009. To achieve the desired C:N ratio, 25 lbs of wood shavings are added to every 100 lbs of food scraps. Buckets of food scraps are emptied into a hopper that feeds a shredder, which reduces their volume by about 30 percent. “This increases the surface area, which aids in the biological digestion,” notes Smith-Sebasto. “All food scraps are reduced to roughly the size of a sugar cube.” Shredded food scraps drop into an enclosed screw auger that conveys them to the composting vessel. Wood shavings are also conveyed by the auger but via a separate input that bypasses the shredder. “There is no need to further shred the wood shavings because they are of an acceptable size,” he adds.

The drum, which is insulated and made of stainless steel, is tilted on a slight down angle from the input end to the discharge end. It is programmed to rotate once per hour. Air is blown through the composting material every 15 minutes via a forced aeration system. All operations are maintained via a computerized control panel. OSHA safety standards are met for all operations. The system is continuous feed (versus batch), thus food scraps are loaded and compost is off-loaded every processing day. Minimum retention time in the drum is 5 days, but the composting material may remain longer if necessary, e.g., during the typical campus shutdowns during the winter and spring recesses.

The off-loaded compost, about one cubic yard per processing day, is used on campus in a variety of landscaping projects and on the 6-acre farm that grows food for the university’s upscale, farm-to-table restaurant named Ursino, as well as the other dining areas. It is not composted further prior to use. “The C:N ratio has been found to be in the 10-15:1 range,” explains Smith-Sebasto. “Solvita values have been in the 2 to 4 range. My research is looking at the importance of high microbial activity and nutrient transport in food scraps compost. What I am finding is that so-called unstable or immature compost appears to provide very effective nutrient transport and positive plant response.”

Peter Turso, Executive Chef at Ursino, has observed “vigorous and aggressive growth” in plants grown in plots and containers enriched with the food scraps compost. “The fruits and vegetables cultivated with it have a marked difference in final yield weight and overall juiciness and flavor.” Jeff Eckert, Supervisor of Buildings and Grounds at Kean’s Liberty Hall Museum, also has had good results with the compost: “I have been using the compost in all aspects of groundskeeping at Liberty Hall Museum. We have noticed hardier blooms on our roses as well as our perennials and annuals. Lawn areas where we have incorporated the compost exhibit a noticeably darker green color even through drought type conditions. The compost’s moisture retention ability has also significantly reduced our watering requirements.”

In the nearly 300 days that the project has been in operation, roughly 250,000 lbs of food scraps have been processed with about 60,000 lbs of wood shavings to produce about 200 cubic yards of compost. Using the U.S. E.P.A. WARM model calculator, in 2012 the project was responsible for 13.5 MTCO2E emissions avoidance and 38 million BTUs of energy saved, according to Smith-Sebasto.

San Diego Food Bank Selects FOR Solutions Composter to Eliminate Food Waste

In-vessel composter to convert 500,000 pounds of waste annually into high-quality compost for local farms.

in-vessel-composting-systemSan Diego and Morristown, N.J – FOR Solutions, developer of commercial-scale sustainable composting solutions for businesses and institutions, announced that the Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank has selected its Model-2000 aerobic, in-vessel rotary drum composting system to achieve the food bank’s goal of zero landfilled food waste. Installed on-site, the FOR Solutions composting system will divert the food bank’s more than 500,000 pounds of food waste per year from landfills, recycling the waste into high-quality compost for use at local San Diego farms.

The San Diego Food Bank receives more than 23 million pounds of food annually, of which, 500,000 pounds cannot be distributed and requires disposal. According to the EPA, the U.S. sends more than 30 million tons of food waste to landfills each year and recycles less than three percent of food waste. Landfilled food waste harms the environment by producing methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and leachate, which pollutes water systems.

The FOR Solutions system includes an on-site aerobic in-vessel rotary drum digester that protects the environment by recycling food waste into high-quality compost in just five days. FOR Solutions composters are optimized for large institutions such as colleges, non-profits and mid-to-large size businesses that currently send large amounts of food waste to landfills or incinerators. The FOR Solutions Model-2000 system processes 2,000 pounds of food waste per day and will help the San Diego Food bank improve its environmental footprint and achieve substantial savings on hauling and tipping fees.

“The FOR Solutions composter fits in perfectly with our directive to integrate sustainability into every aspect of our operations,” said James A. Floros, Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank CEO. “We considered a number of food waste recycling options and selected the FOR Solutions composter for its simple design, ease of use and ability to process large amounts of waste within a small footprint, all of which will help us save money, protect the environment and focus on our core mission of providing food to those in need.”

The FOR Solutions Model 2000 will be an integral part of the food bank’s ambitious sustainability program, which already includes a 350 kW solar array, LED lighting retrofits and a high-efficiency HVAC system. By installing the composter before the end of the year, the food bank is acting ahead of California law AB 1826 that will require organizations to recycle their organic waste starting April 2016.

“The San Diego Food Bank is to be congratulated for its forward-thinking approach to sustainability,” said FOR Solutions CEO Edward Friedman. “We think food waste is the next frontier in recycling and we are pleased to partner with the food bank to help it eliminate its waste, save money and serve as a symbol of environmental stewardship.”


FOR Solutions Media Contact

Sarah Mier
Antenna for FOR Solutions

San Diego Food Bank Media Contact

Chris Carter
Vice President of Communications & Marketing

Food Waste is a Misnomer

food waste compostingIdentifying discarded uneaten food as waste is a mistake because food waste is a misnomer. The issue centers on if waste is used as a noun or a verb. To waste (verb) food is certainly a poor decision. Food waste (noun) is a misnomer because it is a fundamental ecological law that there is no such thing as waste on Earth.

In fact, life on Earth is possible because of the fact that matter is continuously recycled, it is never created and it is never destroyed. It continuously changes from one form to another.

Yes, it may be wasteful to take food and then not eat it; however, the uneaten food is not waste any more than water in the half-full glass that wasn’t finished is waste. In both instances, the unconsumed material may be processed for repeated use.

In the case of water that is not consumed, it is destined for the water treatment facility, where it is purified so that it may be returned to the supply of water available for consumption or use. This is the water system: availability, use, discard, purification, availability, use: a sub-cycle of the global water cycle.

In the case of discarded uneaten food, while a comparable opportunity exists, it is not yet as fully implemented as with water because a food system is not as well developed. We have availability of food. We eat food. We discard uneaten food, but that’s where the system fails. Instead of providing an analog of water treatment purification that allows for the discarded uneaten food to be used again, it is most commonly buried in a landfill or burned in an incinerator.

What is missing is an analog of the water treatment facility. Paradoxically, that analog does exist; however, it is not being utilized effectively. That analog is composting. Composting allows for discarded uneaten food to restore vital nutrients to soil, to improve the water retaining capacity of soil, and to decrease compaction of soil, thereby improving the capacity of soil to produce food. So the system is: availability, use, discard, composting, availability, use.

Perhaps the issue is that with the water system water is returned as water; whereas with the food system, one type of food once composted will likely be returned as a different type of food so the link between the discarded uneaten food and the new supply of food is less clear. This issue could be made more clear with the local or on-site recovery of discarded uneaten food followed by a local or on-site composting system followed by the local or on-site use of the compost as a soil amendment followed by the local or on-site production of food that is then served locally or on-site.

Imagine eating a wonderfully delicious tomato and learning that it was grown locally on soil that was amended with compost made locally or on-site from discarded eaten food that was collected locally or on-site – not with synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides made long distances away – would the discarded uneaten food that was used to created the compost be considered a waste product?

Here’s another aspect of the issue worth considering. Suppose we were able to achieve a 50% improvement in our efficiency of food use; that is, we reduced the amount of discarded uneaten food generated annually by one-half or we became twice as efficient at using food. Using the most currently available data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, that would result in a reduction from about 36 million tons to about 18 million tons. That is still a lot of discarded uneaten food. Instead of being able to fill the entire Pentagon with the discarded uneaten food more than 25 times, now we would be able to fill it only about 13 times! That’s hardly a victory. Also, with the exception of certain information technology applications, how many examples of a 50% improvement in efficiency have been realized in much less than one generation?

Another reason for rejecting the idea of discarded uneaten food as waste concerns the impending exhaustion of crude oil. There is a very strong belief among many scientists that the peak of crude oil extraction has been past. That means every new day brings less available crude oil to be pumped from the ground. So, our ability to synthesize fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides is decreasing. We are also approaching peak phosphorus, so our ability to mine this mineral, which is a critical component of fertilizers, is decreasing. In the future, it is conceivable that the way we restore vitality to soil may be restricted to amending it with compost produced from discarded uneaten food. Perhaps, then we will acknowledge discarded uneaten food for what it is really: a replenishable natural resource!

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When Will There Be A Harvest For The World?

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I just read a report that suggests that World War III will occur in the next 50 years. Its cause will not be land as some have proposed nor will it be water as others have proposed. Its cause purportedly will be over food. There is growing speculation that humanity will outstrip its ability to produce enough food to feed everyone sometime within the next 50 years when it is surmised that the population will grow to the point where there will be approximately 10 billion of us. As I’ve stated in previous blogs, this is where local recovery of discarded uneaten food combined with local composting of it combined with utilization of the compost to turn unproductive land into food producing land is a key component of a comprehensive strategy to assure equity, fairness, and justice of the global food system.

Take New York City as an example. It is believed that there are roughly 30,000 vacant lots there. This amounts to about 7,300 acres of land. It is believed that it takes about one acre of land to produce enough food to feed the typical American for one year. So, conceivably, 7,300 individuals could be provided with a diet consisting of approximately 2,000 Calories per day if this vacant land were used to produce food. And, that’s just one city. Some cities are already working to turn vacant and abandoned lots into food oases, but they are in the extreme minority. If humanity is to avoid the collision course it is on currently with a potential third world war, it must adopt a new perception of land and food production. An excellent place to start is the available land that is close to population centers.

The added benefit of local recovery and composting of discarded uneaten food is in addition to providing food it will provide jobs. At every step of the process, from collection to processing to utilization to distribution, jobs will be created. It is vital that the processing of the discarded uneaten food require as small a footprint as possible. The composting technology most able to accomplish this is aerobic in-vessel rotary drum digestion. This technology is also exceptionally energy efficient. It is the solution to the issue of how to manage the millions and millions of tons of discarded uneaten food that are generated in the Unites States year after year.

After the horrors that humanity endured as a result of WWI and WWII, it is very difficult to imagine it letting another war happen when the solution to the question of how to avoid such an event is so readily at hand. If the idea that WWIII might be over food is valid, then any opportunity to create a situation whereby food may be produced in manners now currently being realized becomes a matter of national security. Who could possibly reject the idea of recycling discarded uneaten food in an effort to avoid such an unpleasant future? The reality of local recovery and composting is that:

  1. It is not constrained by political boundaries.
  2. Discarded uneaten food is a global phenomenon.
  3. Nutrient dense compost is the best amendment for soil.
  4. Most important, the technology is so-called shovel ready!

The generation that lived through WWII is often described as the greatest generation. To have accomplished what it did surely makes it deserving of such acclaim; however, let’s be clear that the acclaim was achieved as a result of the outcome of a world war that also showcased humanity at its most depraved and wicked. I propose that in the future there will be an opportunity for the crowning of another greatest generation. This generation will achieve its acclaim not because of the outcome of a war and the associated depravity that led to it; rather it will achieve it because it took the necessary steps to ensure that a war did not happen because it would not relent on efforts to ensure that a right as basic as access to nutritious food was not compromised; because it took all measures, large and small, to reconcile its relationship with Earth’s life support system, one of the most vital of which is soil fertility and productivity, so that hunger would not be the cause of strife between nations.

Nearly 40 years ago, the Isley Brothers asked, when will there be a harvest for the world? (The full lyrics, which are really worth reading, are available at here. Sadly, the reference to half and half is probably more like 1% and 99%!) Part of the answer, I believe, is when we stop regarding discarded uneaten food as waste and instead regard it as a vital replenishable natural resource that holds the key to sustainable food production.

Equity, Fairness, Justice

food scraps compostingRecently, a very dear friend asked me why I keep suggesting that one of the guiding principles of FOR Solutions (Food and Organics Recycling Solutions) is equity, fairness, and justice.

This is a defensible question because the connection between recovery and local or on-site composting of uneaten food and an equitable, fair, and just humanity might not be self-evident. Actually, for some it might seem preposterous to suggest such a connection. Well, I believe they are mistaken.

It turns out that there are a lot of people that do not share the luxury of easy access to nutritious food. For some, the access involves food in general, regardless of whether or not it is nutritious. I can think of few worse examples of an inequitable, unfair, and unjust situation for a person to live. What makes the matter so egregiously wrong is that hunger is not, by and large, the result of an inadequate supply of food (at least not now, in 35 years or so, that may not be the case); rather it is the result of inequitable, unfair, and unjust distribution of that food. The amount of food that is wasted as a result of this failure of distribution is substantial and disturbing.

And, even when the overabundance of food availability is the situation, the fact that the food often travels 1,000 miles or more before it is consumed is simply not sustainable and actually contributes to the lack of equality, fairness, and justice. That migrant workers should have to live the lives that they do just to satisfy the desires of more well-to-do people far away is wrong.

Still, even if all of the food grown on the planet was equitably, fairly, and justly grown and distributed, there is still going to be some that is not consumed. It will have either gone bad before it could be consumed; it is something we don’t consume, like banana peels; or it is wasted because sometimes our eyes are bigger than our stomachs and we take more than we eat. Whatever the reason, this uneaten food must not be wasted by burying it in a landfill, burning it in an incinerator, or liquefying it and discharging it into a wastewater line. It must not be transformed into some supposedly beneficial product with designer bacteria or enzymes. It must be composted, just as nature has done for millennia.

But composting alone is not the solution to the equity, fairness, or justice issue. For composting to address those concerns, it must become an indispensible part of a larger paradigm. Uneaten food must be recovered locally. This will create jobs. It must then be composted locally. This will create jobs. The compost must be used locally to restore or sustain the vitality of soil so that eco-region appropriate food-producing plants may be grown locally, especially in areas not commonly considered as potential gardens. This addresses the resiliency issue that is becoming increasingly important to those interested in sustainability. Growing and harvesting this food will create jobs. Migrant workers will be able to settle – some might say set down roots and the relevance of this metaphor is not lost on me – send their children to the same school to complete their education, and live more equitable, fair, and just lives. This food must then be distributed locally to schools, colleges/universities, hospitals, homeless shelters, grocery stores, etc., so that it is no longer more affordable to purchase food of little to no nutritional value than it is to purchase nutritious, organically produced food. The adage you are what you eat is in very large part true. The costs associated with transportation will now be saved and those savings should be passed on to the consumer in the form of lower prices for the locally grown and harvested food. This distribution will create jobs. This paradigm allows for low-income people to have access to the kind of food that is currently available predominantly only to individuals of higher income. In other words, it makes access to food more equal, fair, and just! The foundation on which this kind of equality, fairness, and justice exists is the local recovery and composting of uneaten food. This is why I state that a guiding principle of FOR Solutions is equity, fairness, and justice.

The challenge, or opportunity depending on your perspective, for the composting industry was to create a technology that would allow for small-scale, local, decentralized recovery and composting of uneaten food; a technology that did not treat uneaten food as a waste product to be made to disappear with as little effort and expense as possible even if that disappearing act is entirely inconsistent with the concepts of resiliency and/or sustainability. The opportunity, I’ll take a stand here, was to create a technology that is clean, maximally efficient, both biologically and economically, easy to operate, aesthetically pleasing, and safe that could transform uneaten food into nutrient-dense compost in amounts that would be generated on-site or locally in as short a period as nature will allow. That was the motivation behind the research and development that has resulted in the FOR Solutions patented state-of-the-art design.

If all one ever searches for are answers to questions about why certain situations exist, that is likely all he/she will ever find. If, however, one searches for solutions to why certain situations exist, then it is likely that is precisely what he/she will discover or create. Answers may be the equivalent of a setting Sun – the end of a story; while solutions have the potential be the equivalent of a Sunrise – the dawn of a new beginning. That’s why our name is FOR Solutions and not FOR Answers!

So, when I state that a guiding principle of FOR Solutions is equality, fairness, and justice, I’m stating that FOR Solutions stands for creating a better world for all of humanity, the dawn of a new beginning. That is the reason for the development of our technology.

We believe that it is possible for human societies to be more equitable, fair, and just when it comes to the food system.

We believe that how societies treat uneaten food is a telltale sign of their attitudes toward and respect for nature and natural resources.

We just happen to use patented technology to design and market state-of-the-art food scraps composting systems for on-site and local applications.

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