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Recycling & Composting

What Is Industrial Composting?

Team Compost Connect, 11 February 2022
What Is Industrial Composting?

If you don’t really understand what industrial composting is — you’re not alone! Industrial composting, or commercial composting, is an industry that promotes a circular waste system by diverting organic waste from landfill and transforming it into valuable resources, like nutrient-rich compost.

Here at Compost Connect, we believe that industrial composting can help our planet to thrive again. That’s why we spoke with Lachlan Jeffries, Executive Director of Jeffries, about the key differences between industrial composting and home composting, and how we can all play a role in creating a circular economy.

As a proud Compost Connect Partner — and a fifth-generation, family-owned organics recycling business — Jeffries has provided high-quality compost, soil and mulch to farmers, landscapers, viticulturalists, businesses and home gardeners around South Australia since 1842.

What are the different types of industrial composting?

Industrial composting facilities create the perfect environment for organic material to decompose into nutrient-rich compost! The entire process, which can take anywhere from six weeks to six months, is dependent on measured inputs of nitrogen-rich food organics and carbon-rich garden organics — also known as ‘FOGO’ waste — plus moisture, oxygen, and heat. There are three main industrial composting methods: windrow, static pile, and in-vessel composting (IVC).

Windrow Composting

Windrow composting is one of the most common ways to process a high-volume of organics. The organic material is arranged into long rows (windrows) and turned regularly, which exposes the organic matter to optimal amounts of air, heat and moisture.

Jeffries industrial composting facility

Static Pile Composting

Static pile composting works by mixing organic matter with loose, dry materials like wood chips, shredded paper and compostable packaging, which allows air to travel through the compost pile. Sometimes, the compost piles are placed over pipes that stimulate airflow.

Static pile industrial composting

In-Vessel Composting

IVC is quite different to windrow and static pile composting. As the name suggests, the entire IVC process takes place in a large vessel which measures and controls the temperature, moisture and oxygen levels. The IVC method is optimal to decompose smaller amounts of organic matter.

In-Vessel industrial composting

What is the difference between industrial composting and home composting?

According to Lachlan Jeffries, there are a few key differences between industrial composting and home composting. The first main difference is the desired outcome of the process. “A commercial composter is trying to optimise the conditions to create a saleable product in the quickest period of time, whereas in our backyard, it’s really just letting that process work by itself,” Lachlan says.

To do this, industrial composting facilities typically shred the FOGO waste, compostable packaging and other organic materials to speed up the entire process.

“A commercial composter can generally compost a much broader range of materials than what you can do in a home composting system,” like meat, grease, bones, and PLA bioplastic products. “With commercial composting, the equipment handles the material so there’s more aggression in breaking the material up, as well as allowing the compost process to break it down,” he says.

Jeffries industrial composting facility

Plus, industrial composting methods “reach a much higher temperature, so it’s much more effective in eliminating weed seeds and pathogens, whereas in your backyard it’s more simple or low-risk materials that you’re going to put in your compost,” says Lachlan.

Once Jeffries collects and processes the organic matter, it’s laid out in windrows on top of forced aeration pads. The organics remain there for several weeks until the required levels of heat, air and moisture are achieved. From there, the compost is screened through Jeffries’ state-of-the-art Recycled Organics Sorting System (R.O.S.S.), which removes inorganic materials like metal, glass, and plastic to produce clean, consistent, high-quality compost!

What can I compost at home?

Composting your food scraps and garden waste at home is a fantastic way to divert organic materials from landfill and create nutrient-rich compost in the process. Costa Georgiadis — the host of ABC TV’s Gardening Australia — is a home composting expert!

To get started on your home composting journey, says Costa, “you could choose a smaller system, like a Bokashi bucket, or investigate whether your council allows kitchen scraps in your green waste bin. If not, ask them why not”. Or, check out our Compost Club Members Map to see if your council already offers a compost pickup service.

Home composting, much like industrial composting, requires a balance of ‘green’ food scraps, ‘brown’ garden waste, plus heat, moisture and oxygen. “For every quantity of fresh green kitchen waste you put in, you should add twice as much dry waste,” says Costa.

Once you’ve got a good mix of organic materials, “turn the compost once every week to 10 days. If you have a tumbler model, that’s pretty simple. When you’re finished, just give it a light sprinkle of water. Your garden will thank you no end,” says Costa.

Unfortunately, though, not everything can go in your home compost bin! Some certified compostable takeaway items — like BioPak’s Bioplastic cups, bowls and cutlery — are made with a bioplastic lining called Polylactic acid, or PLA. It’s a polyester derived from renewable biomass, typically from fermented plant starch, such as corn, cassava, sugarcane or sugar beet pulp.

When placed in commercial composting conditions, PLA will break down within eight to twelve weeks. Other items like meat, fish, dairy and grease are not suitable for home composting as the smell can attract vermin.

Costa Georgiadis, Australian landscape architect and compost enthusiast

How does industrial composting fit into a circular economy?

Not everyone has the luxury or space to have their own veggie garden! In fact, around 10% of Australians live in apartments, which means that they don’t have the space for a backyard compost pile or bin. There’s also a growing disconnect between the food we consume, the waste we produce, and where it ends up.

Here at Compost Connect, we believe there’s an opportunity to re-educate our population about the importance of diverting FOGO waste away from landfill and into industrial composting facilities.

This is because industrial composting creates value from an organic resource and prevents FOGO waste from rotting in landfill. “Organic material going to landfill is not only lost as a resource, it also creates methane, which has a significant impact on our climate. I think we get that picture now,” says Lachlan.

In addition to this, “I think the thing that we’re starting to learn about more — and it’s becoming more of a mainstream term now — is the circular economy. If we’re fortunate enough to be in a city like Adelaide, or many municipalities across Australia, we can play a role in that circular economy. We can make decisions about what we consume and where it gets reused or recycled, and we can choose to put our garden waste and our food scraps into our green bin for compost. Then, that resource can be put to great use — either back into home gardens, or to a commercial grower,” says Lachlan.

Industrial composting isn’t just good for the environment — it’s good for our economy, too. According to Lachlan, “there’s three times more jobs created from a recycling system than a linear landfill system, which means we’re all playing a role in meaningful job creation. Many of the Jeffries’ team really enjoy that they’re playing a role in creating value from an organic resource that was once discarded and sent to landfill”.

Jeffries food organics recycling truck

Does your council offer composting?

Luckily, many councils across Australia now offer composting services and FOGO bins to their residents. Diverting your own FOGO waste from landfill means that you’re actively playing a part in our circular economy and contributing to a sustainable waste system!

You can check to see if your council is composting on this page — plus, you can show your support for your local Compost Club Members by dropping in for a coffee or a bite to eat. By supporting Compost Club Members and venues that use certified compostable packaging instead of single-use plastics, you’re helping to create a sustainable, waste-free foodservice industry.

Please help us in our mission to grow access to organic recycling and instigate widespread change. You can even sign our petition and tell your council you want them to start composting. We can make a global impact — all by making changes at the local level!

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