• Maris Rennolds

The Ecological Benefits of Composting

They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and when it comes to composting, that statement has never been more true. Although compost comes from decomposing food scraps and other organic matter, the finished product is much more valuable not only to us as humans, but also to our planet.

According to the US National Resources Defense Council, composting is the process of natural materials and organic matter decomposition being sped up by heat and environment and being recycled into a sort of fertilizer that can be used for an abundance of purposes. Composting can be done on many different scales, from your backyard to an industrial level.

The list of benefits is tremendous, but to name a few, composting can help reduce waste in landfills, cut methane emissions, improve our soil and conserve water. It is one of the smallest, most effective and underrated acts that can be done to save the planet, and reuse what would have otherwise been useless trash that ends up in a landfill.

Joe Hoffman, who owns Hoffman Composting in Washington County, has worked with and learned from not only farmers, but researchers as well in many areas, spanning from Wisconsin to Tennessee, and as far as Ecuador. With his experience, years of research and learning, a degree in Agronomy and a drive to help communities get the most out of their resources, Hoffman reached out in 2010 to the City of Jonesborough and the State of Tennessee to see what he had to do to get started. After more than a year of going through the lengthy processes, paperwork and receiving state permits, Hoffman Composting has been actively processing material year-round for about 6 years now.

“I have wanted to do something along these lines since the late 90’s, and I spent a lot of time doing trials and honing my skills,” Hoffman stated in an interview. “I became really interested in two things in particular; the soil itself and how the things we do affect it a great deal, and in turn how it has a large effect on us, like with our water systems and environment, and also the need for us to use all of our resources effectively and efficiently.”

Hoffman Composting is one of four Tier 2 Composting Facilities in Tennessee, which Hoffman explained means they can accept food scraps. Due to the large-scale they work on, Hoffman’s practices will look different than your average backyard composting operation. Although at home you shouldn’t compost things like meat and cheese because of worries of animals and odors, Hoffman explains this isn’t a problem at their facility. There are, however, a few things they will not accept.

“Here, it’s much bigger and hotter, and an entirely different process, so we can take things that I normally wouldn’t recommend to someone working in their backyard, like meat, cheese, bones and bread,” Hoffman explained. “The piles, typically 7 feet tall, 14 feet wide and 40 feet long, heat up on their own because of all the microorganisms which are going to work on the material. Within a day or so, it’s 150 plus degrees in there. It’s too hot for any animal.” He added that things like manure, bedding, hay and straw are not accepted at their facility, not because they can’t be composted, but because there have been instances where compost made from hay or manure that was sprayed with or contained certain herbicides, has really harmed people’s gardens.

According to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) research on food waste data in the US from 2000 to 2018, the numbers on food generated went from around 30 thousand tons in 2000 to more than double this figure in 2018 with more than 63 thousand tons. Following suit, the numbers on food scraps and waste thrown into landfills jumped from around 24 thousand tons in 2000 to more than 35 thousand tons in 2018, more than half of the year’s generated total.

Hoffman, who spoke with me on the Bristol VA/TN Landfill situation, said composting could have been the answer to at least one thing: the dreadful odor, which has lead to mass complaints and bitter law suits.

“That odor is being produced by the anerobic, or non-oxygenated decomposition of food and other organic materials that could have been composted,” he added. Explaining that they use an aerobic system to compost at Hoffman, where blowers shoot fresh, rich oxygen up through the bottom of the piles. “We could give our landfills longer lives, and hopefully stop taking out new space for more landfills. And a lot of the problems landfills cause; the moisture, the effect on air quality and the odors, could absolutely be avoided with composting.”

While composting is on a slow rise, there is still a devastating difference between annual composting and landfill levels. According to the EPA, in 2018, nearly 300 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) was thrown in landfills, while 25 million tons, of which food waste makes up 2.6 million tons of, was composted. Although landfill waste has decreased from 95 percent in 1960 to 50 percent in 2018, there is still roughly 4.9 pounds worth of waste per person per day that is going into landfills, most of which could have otherwise been composted.

According to Feeding America, commercial food waste makes up about 61 percent of all food waste, or roughly 66 billion pounds annually. Taking this into consideration, Hoffman initially assumed his main source of food scraps and waste would be restaurants. However, his clientele is nearly entirely residential, and he struggled to get and then keep restaurants willing to participate. “A lot of it boils down to not wanting to add any new tasks to everyone’s plate. Sometimes the manager and owner are on board, but the kitchen staff aren’t necessarily interested in it. It’s just another task that has to be done” he said.

According to the company’s website, nearly 175 households and 7 restaurants work with Hoffman Composting, including Dos Gatos since 2016, and The Corner Cup and One Acre Café since 2017. Alongside their residential collection service, which for a small monthly fee includes a bucket and liners for your scraps, weekly collections and two free bags of premium compost a year, they also offer free drop offs at a site at their facility anytime they are open.

“The thing is, most communities don’t have this, but we do,” Hoffman said. “There are so many advantages. If there is anything we can keep out of landfills, and that saves us money and space, gives us a great product that’s good for the planet, while being cheap, easy and extremely effective, we should be doing it.”

Saving the Earth doesn’t have to involve huge donations or getting rid of every plastic straw on the planet. Composting is the cheapest and easiest way you can efficiently help not only the planet, but your local community, while reducing personal or company waste, and using every resource we have to its fullest potential.

Hoffman’s Composting, or Joe Hoffman can be reached via the company’s website, www.hoffmancomposting.com. There, you can find any information you may need on the benefits of composting, as well as full services, products, answers to questions and a form you can fill out to sign up for residential collections.