The Compost System Explained

Composting is an aerobic process where complex degradable materials are degraded and transformed by microorganisms into organic and inorganic byproducts.

Improper waste management is harmful to human health. It causes air pollution, affects water bodies when dumped into the water, and depletes the ozone layer when burnt, thereby increasing the impact of climate change. Wastes are often improperly managed using conventional methods. Wastes are burnt, disposed of into oceans and waterways, and dumped by the roadsides. These practices breed insects and pests, release offensive odors, are unsightly, and contribute to global warming (during combustion).

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Composting is the controlled conversion of degradable organic products and wastes into stable products with the aid of microorganisms. The composting process helps to protect underground water from becoming polluted compared to the landfilling method of waste disposal, which could pose a pollution threat to underground water. This is because there is a reduction of microbes and chemical pollutants during composting.

The farmers are reverting to the application of composts as a means of restoring soil fertility. Composting is a fundamental process in agriculture and helps in the recycling of farm wastes. Chemical fertilizers make nutrients readily available to plants, but their disadvantages outweigh their advantages. For example, chemical fertilizers contribute to greenhouse effects, environmental pollution, death of soil organisms and marine inhabitants, ozone layer depletion, and human diseases. The long duration of composting is a challenge due to the presence of materials that take a longer time to compost, especially during co-composting.

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Kaentian Street/Shutterstock

Composting is a long-used technology, though it has shortcomings that have reduced its extensive usage and efficiency. The shortcomings include pathogen detection, low nutrient status, long duration of composting, long mineralization duration, and odor production. Various challenges are posed by this method of waste management, from its effects on climate change to its release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and the depletion of oxygen, as well as the production of offensive smells from the release of hydrogen sulfide produced from anaerobic activity. As a result of these health impacts, various regulations have been put in place by different bodies in different countries concerning the use of the method. These limitations show that this method should still be improved to address various concerns mentioned. Two major areas of improvement are temperature regulation and oxygen flow control. These are key to the function of the microbes carrying out the composting process

 

The Process

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Degradation of organic waste is a natural process and begins after waste is generated. Under natural conditions, earthworms and soil insects do most of the initial breakdown of organic materials into smaller particles, thus increasing their exposure to microbial degradation. Composting operators break down large waste particles within the controlled condition by grinding or chopping. During composting, the microorganisms consume oxygen while feeding on organic matter. Active composting generates considerable heat, and large quantities of carbon dioxide and water vapor are released into the air. The CO2 and water losses can amount to half the weight of the initial materials, thereby reducing the volume and mass of the final product.

Composting is a microbial-driven process and needs the right environment to survive and thrive. Microbes need nutritious food, suitable moisture, temperature, and oxygen for successful composting.

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Jahangir Alam Onuchcha/Shutterstock

In suitable moisture, the moisture should be kept in a way to let the composting process be aerobic. Too low moisture content will slow composting, and too high fills the compost pile filled with water than air. Besides, the temperature in the compost pile affects microbial growth. Higher temperatures result in a faster breakdown of organic materials, destroy weed seeds, and kill pathogens.  The temperature should be monitored frequently using a thermometer and adjusted throughout the composting process.

The entire decomposition and stabilization of materials may be accomplished within a few weeks under favorable conditions, but research has shown that 10-14 weeks of active composting for dairy cattle waste is more common. Active composting will change depending on the amount of natural moisture or water added to the compost, turning frequency, composting materials, and temperatures.

The world is moving towards improving environmental and human health. As a form of organic fertilizer, composting can play a significant role in achieving this goal. Focus on composting will cause a shift in the use of chemical fertilizer in favor of compost. This shift will invariably promote environmental and human health by reducing the number of toxic chemicals released into the environment. In the present state, a lot of awareness still needs to be done concerning the potential of this technology for its full acceptance by farmers. Further development is still needed to make the process cleaner and less polluted.

 

Photo: Lightspring/Shutterstock

 


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