AMHERST, Mass. -- Take several tons of food waste, including plate scrapings and preparation scraps, add a few hundred pounds of animal bedding and maybe a dash of leaves, and what do you have?
Not something to serve to guests certainly, but at the University of Massachusetts this "tasty" concoction could offer an ideal way to dispose of solid waste on campus.
Beginning this semester, the Office of Waste Management at the University will bring a new in-vessel composting unit on-line at Tillson Farm. Once running at full steam, the composter is expected to turn between 10 and 20 tons of waste into compost, providing an ecologically sound way to improve the campus grounds.
The in-vessel composter is a self-contained, continuous-feed, commercial composting unit that measures 35 feet in length, eight feet in width and height, and can handle up to 1,500 pounds of waste per day. An automated cart dumper, attached to the unit, dumps 64-gallon wheeled carts of waste into the mixer on top of the vessel. The "mix" is fed onto a series of transporters within the unit which move the material periodically through various zones where composting takes place. Probes monitor the temperature and signal fans to circulate air as needed. Moisture levels are maintained with spray nozzles and a fan sends odorous gas to the bio-filter. The composting process takes 28 days, followed by a month-long period in which the material must "cure" before it can be used.
The Wright In-Vessel Composting System was purchased with a $90,000 grant from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, according to Waste Management staffperson Amy Baranowski. She says the campus is the first pilot site in New England to employ the new technology, and that it expects to provide research and training opportunities to faculty, staff, and students as a result of the three-year pilot project. Moreover, Baranowski says, the information gleaned from the effort will be shared with other public and private institutions.
Introduction of the in-vessel composting program follows a four-month trial period of composting food waste and animal bedding at Leonard Farm in Amherst. During the trial period, food waste from a variety of locations on campus as well as animal bedding from the University's Hadley Farm were sent to Leonard Farm for composting. Over four months, the program composted five tons of food waste and 98 tons of animal bedding.
After utility hookups for the composter are completed during the next month, the program will get under way. At that time, all food locations on campus will be involved.