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Composting/Organics Recycling Technologies

There are many methods to recycle organic materials. Deciding on a method is dependent on a number of factors including the type of material, quantity, agricultural land availability, facility siting availability, markets for soil products, technology cost, government incentives available and other factors.

The most common organics recycling technologies discussed are composting and anaerobic digestion. Cornell Waste Management Institute's compost website (leaving DEC's website) is one of the most comprehensive in the country. In addition to composting and anaerobic digestion, there are other techniques and technologies for recycling organics including direct land application, processed and unprocessed animal feed, vermiculture (decomposition using worms), fermentation and other treatments created specifically for biosolids.

1. Direct land application

Some organic wastes can be applied directly to agricultural fields for use as a source of nutrients. The most common wastes, excluding animal manure, that are land applied in New York State are biosolids and food processing waste (whey from the manufacture of yogurt, etc.). These materials are similar to manure in consistency and are more readily applied using existing application equipment. Similar to animal manure, any organic waste that is land applied on a farm must be managed properly. The amount of nutrient applied cannot exceed the needs of the crop grown. These materials can provide savings to the farm as a replacement for commercial fertilizer, especially nitrogen. For some wastes with particular concerns (heavy metals in biosolids for example), State regulations require additional testing and monitoring for land application.

2. Animal feed (unprocessed)

The feeding of breads from grocery stores and bakeries to animals on farms has occurred for decades. If done properly, feeding leftover food to animals can be a beneficial dietary supplement.

For more information visit DEC's animal feeding webpage.

3. Animal feed (processed)

New York State currently has a facility that accepts food scraps and processes them through cooking, drying, and forming into dog biscuits. This facility can produce a higher value feed product from food scraps instead of virgin raw food stuffs.

4. Vermiculture

two hands cupped together with dirt and worms inside

Sometimes called vermicomposting, this technology relies on worms to do the work. Under the right conditions, worms will consume many organic wastes, leaving additional worms and worm castings. The castings are useful as a soil amendment. Vermiculture can occur at a variety of sizes from a classroom bin to large scale beds.

5. Fermentation

Fermentation is the consumption of sugars by yeast to form alcohol. It has been used for thousands of years to produce alcohol for human consumption but can also be used to produce ethanol for fuel use. A facility currently located in western New York State uses wasted soda and other sugary food stuffs in a fermentation process to produce ethanol. The solids from fermentation can be used for animal feed, for land application, or possible as a feed stock for an anaerobic digester.

6. Other Biosolids Treatment (lime treatment, heat drying, etc.)

There are a number of technologies that have been developed specifically for biosolids because of the need to reduce pathogens in biosolids prior to use. These include, but are not limited to, the addition of lime to raise the pH of biosolids, and the use of dryers to remove almost all of the water from biosolids resulting in fertilizer granules.


More about Composting/Organics Recycling Technologies:

  • Anaerobic Digestion - Through anaerobic digestion organic materials are processed in an airtight container by microorganisms which break down the material into biogas and a digestate. More than half of biogas is methane which can be used as a renewable energy source.
  • Land Application of Organic Waste - Materials such as sewage sludge, non-sewage sludge, septage and food processing provides valuable nutrients to enrich soils.
  • Permitted Land Application Facilities - List of Part 360 Permitted Land Application Facilities.
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