Plastic may have taken much of the attention in recent years, but food waste continues to be a pressing (maybe even underestimated) issue affecting the environment.
It was estimated by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) that roughly 178,000 tonnes of food waste was generated in Ireland in 2020 by restaurants, hotels, B&Bs, pubs, restaurants, cafes, takeaways and canteens. Another recent report found that over 66% of food waste from the food services sector was avoidable. This kind of waste emits large amounts of methane - a very potent greenhouse gas. The Environmental Defence Fund states that at least 25% of today’s global warming is driven by methane from human actions.
When it comes to the household or the individual, things may seem relatively simple: if you’re keen on gardening, it’s almost second nature to separate your food waste into a compost bin and make good use of it. Alternatively, you can separate your organic waste into a brown bin for collection.
In the case of restaurants, hotels, schools, colleges and so on, you may well have a larger amount of food waste than you can deal with via the above options. There are also regulations to take into account and abide by for disposing of waste above a certain volume. Food waste can quickly pile up, whether you’re a catering business or you have a high turnover of visitors or attendees who (being human) need to eat! It can take the form of peelings, leftovers, expired food or improperly prepared food. Commercial composting methods are intended to deal efficiently with these large volumes of potential waste, while creating rich compost and soil improver at the same time.
The three main options for food waste for a business/institution/premises etc are:
- Collection from a waste collector, who will then either bring it to a facility for composting or export it
- Arrange for their own transport to such a facility
- Use an authorised composting unit to take care of the food waste ‘on-site’.
Methods of Composting
The two main methods of commercial composting in Ireland are a) ‘turned windrow’ and b) in-vessel. In terms of availing of commercial composting facilities, you should consult your local authority to see if any are based in your surrounding area. Cre provides a map of composting facilities as well as their primary methods.
Windrow Composting With the former, organic material is placed in a series of long rows where they are regularly turned and aerated by hand or by machinery. Despite being in the open air, these piles will reach very high temperatures in the centre as the material breaks down. Woodrow composting is a common method used by facilities dealing with a high volume of organic waste: the windrows can be several feet high and hundreds of feet long. Windrow composting is regarded as one of the best methods for industrial or municipal composting. However when dealing with food waste this method can attract vermin, so it requires a carefully controlled system.
In-Vessel Composting As you may have guessed, in-vessel commercial composting is where you place organic waste in a purpose-built sealed container. In-vessel composting takes place at waste facilities, but it is also an option for the individual business or premises to set up their own system - provided that they have the space. These containers feature automated temperature and moisture control, and are sealed to prevent issues such as odour or pest problems. They are a practical and economic alternative to arranging for collection or transport of waste.
Laois County Council provided details of a case study where they implemented an automated commercial composter to deal with the ‘significant waste generation’ from the hundreds of visitors they served a day in their canteen. The composter in question was a Joraform JK5100. By doing this, they reduced the amount of biodegradable waste being sent to landfill, while the resulting compost has been used by the county horticulturist in green areas and parks. Analysis of the produced compost found it "rich in potash and potassium and...therefore suitable for use in vegetable gardens, around fruit trees as well as window boxes".
How Does It Work?
The JK5100 uses a twin-chamber system to process organic waste. It can process 700 litres of food waste per week, including cooked food such as meat or fish (the similar JK6200 model can process approximately 1400 litres). Food and organic waste is added to the composter via a chute (or ‘hopper’ as it’s called) with an integrated grinder/shredder. The grinder ensures that the material has an even consistency as it enters the first chamber. This chamber is where most of the active breaking down of material occurs.
Sawdust pellets (similar to those used in a wood pellet boiler) are automatically mixed at the correct ratio to balance the high nitrogen food scraps with a high carbon material, leading to rapid composting. These pellets also reduce odours. Mechanical arms periodically rotate the composter, airing the mixture and speeding up the decomposition process. Fresh organic material can still be added while this is going on, further fuelling the action.
After two weeks the mixture is then ejected into the second chamber. This is known as the ‘ripening chamber’ and has its own separate mixing process. The material at this point should be well broken down (yes, it’s a speedy process!), but separating it from further incoming waste gives it time to further ’ripen’ as it’s kept separate from incoming waste.
Grinding, mixing and aeration operations are variable and can be adjusted using a control panel. You can also get a view of what’s going on inside by using built-in inspection hatches. In total the turnaround from waste disposal to rich compost is a brisk 4 weeks.
- The end result of commercial composting is a rich, soil-like material that can be used as soil fertiliser or mulch - whether it’s fed back into the business itself (if the business produces its own food) or supplied to local farmers, landscapers, or nurseries. This material nourishes crops and soil, providing a range of nutrients and leading to higher yields.
- Of course, it also means that food waste is kept out of landfill and methane emissions are thus reduced.
- Due to the amount of material that the Jora can ‘digest’, you can considerably reduce the amount of waste going into other containers, as well as the associated pickup or disposal costs.
- Additional revenue can be created by supplying the finished product to interested parties such as gardeners, horticulturists etc.
- On-site composting will contribute to the sustainability of your business. Sustainability is a concept or practice that encompasses the overall way that your business is run and the impact you have on the environment, the economy and society. When you think about it, carrying out your own commercial composting is a textbook example of this: there’s less food waste (environment), the economic burden of waste disposal is lessened (economy), and local farmers, landscapers etc can benefit from the finished product (social).
Pursuing sustainability may seem more like an obligation than a benefit, but make no mistake: sustainability is increasingly an asset to a business, resulting in a positive reputation, good social connections, future-proofing against regulations further down the line etc. Many consumers are looking for businesses that care about their social and environmental impact, and will gravitate towards the ones that ‘walk the walk’ so to speak. Therefore, this is a huge marketing opportunity for any business.
If you’re interested in the Joraform commercial composter, you can contact us at Quickcrop for further info. We can also provide assistance with grant applications to make the JK composter a more affordable solution for your business.