County residents can access OCRRA’s high-quality compost for a mere $15 a year
By Marissa Bholan
A locally sourced food waste composting facility cost-effectively optimizes recycling and reuse opportunities in Onondaga County. Operated by the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency (OCRRA), this 13-acre composting facility in Amboy is just one of the many initiatives the nonprofit group leads; others are the Waste-to-Energy Facility in Jamesville and an in-county landfill in Van Buren.
Now in the third year of its pilot project, which ends in 2015, this composting facility, combined with OCRRA’s fouracre composting site in Jamesville that processes only yard waste, averages about 24,000 visitors per year, according to Greg Gelewski, the recycling operations manager at OCRRA. In 2009, both sites produced an average of 8,700 cubic yards of compost (3,480 tons) and 13,000 cubic yards of mulch (4,000 tons), according to OCRRA’s annual compost report.
“We’re on pace,” says Gelewski. “Our goal is to do about 10,000 tons of commercial and institutional food waste and gener ate over 37,000 cubic yards of compost annually.”
Composting leads to healthier soil and plants, better nutrient cycling, greater fertility, and aids in erosion control and storm water management. This material would otherwise be disposed of, potentially adding to greenhouse gas emissions. OCRRA is currently attempting to turn a profit from its expanding site in Amboy by charging households, for the first time, for a yearly residential pass. For $15, participants can drop off unlimited amounts of yard waste at either site and to take away up to six cubic yards of compost or mulch per pass.
Commercial users do not need a pass, but are charged on a volume-based scale. “We’ve taken it to a commercial setting so that we’re selling the mulch and the compost to help fund the system to first make it break even so that it pays for itself and then to make it profitable so that we can continue to grow and expand,” says Gelewski.
While the Jamesville site uses turned windrow technologies—a historical composting method that produces compost by piling organic matter or biodegradable waste in long rows called windrows—the Amboy site uses aerated static pile technologies. In this modern method of composting, organic waste is mixed together in one large pile instead of rows, and layers of loosely piled bulking agents like wood chips are added so that air can pass through the pile. At the Amboy site, the material is also placed over a network of pipes that deliver air into and draw air out of the pile. Air blowers are activated by a timer or a temperature sensor.
OCRRA’s composting facilities mainly deal with large-scale composting, but this process can be downsized and easily duplicated in one’s own back yard. Gelewski teaches a three-day master composting class twice a year, in the fall and spring, at various locations throughout Onondaga County.
“To make our facilities really work, we have to try to get residents to first do as much as they can at home before they come to us,” says Gelewski. He broke down the information he shares in his classes to about seven pages of instruction. Here are the highlights:
Backyard composting requires minimal effort and technical know-how. It begins with choosing a compost bin that keeps pests away and protects it from becoming overly wet or dry. It should sit on grass or dirt, preferably in partial shade. Once you have your bin ready, begin gathering your organic waste. Most at-home composters collect their kitchen scraps in a pail with a tight-fitting lid that reduces odors and flies. Collect and empty into your compost bin as often as you like.
While composting, there are five important factors to consider: food, water, air, surface area and volume.
• Food. There are two main types of organics: greens and browns. Greens are wet materials that are high in nitrogenlike vegetable and fruit scraps and garden waste. Browns are dry materials that are high in carbon-like dry leaves and shredded paper. You want to maintain a ratio of 1:1 by weight. Never add foods like meat, fish, dairy products or anything treated with pesticides or chemicals.
• Water. The micro-organisms in your pile require water. You want your compost to have a moisture content of about 50 percent. In other words, if you were to squeeze a handful, it should leave your hand moist but not drip more than a few drops.
• Air. The micro-organisms in your pile also require oxygen. Mix the pile or poke holes to make air channels throughout your pile every two to three weeks.
• Surface area. Keep in mind, “smaller is better.” Cut, chop or shred your organic waste before emptying it into your compost bin when possible for faster decomposition rates.
• Volume. The ideal volume for your bin is about one meter cubed. If it’s too small, it will not retain enough heat or if it is too large, it won’t allow enough air into the pile. Manage two or three medium bins instead of one large one.
When composting, it’s recommended to use a base layer of twigs followed by a layer of browns to decompose slowly and provide long-lasting aeration to your pile. Also, alternating layers of greens and browns prevents odors and pests. Add soil at any time; that will introduce organisms that accelerate the process.
Compost can take anywhere between a few months and three years to finish, depending on your effort level. It can be found at the bottom of the bin. When the compost is dark brown, smells like earth and crumbles in your hand, it’s ready to be used as a natural fertilizer. But if it still has large lumps or is warm, let it sit for another couple weeks. Otherwise, the micro-organisms may rob the soil and plants of nitrogen in order to finish the process. When ready, scoop out the finished compost and use it as a natural fertilizer for gardens, a lawn dressing, a potting mix, or a plant dressing indoors or outdoors.
Visit the Amboy compost site at 6296 Airport Road, Camillus, Mondays to Saturdays, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., or the Jamesville site, 4370 Route 91, Jamesville, Tuesdays to Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Compost season runs from April 1 until Nov. 30. Visit OCRRA.org or contact Greg Gelewski at ggelewski@OCRRA.org for more information.