Environmental Leadership Center
Warren Wilson College
Campus Box 6323
P.O. Box 9000
Asheville, NC 28815-9000
Please refer comments or questions about this website to Ellen Querin.
THE GREAT THING ABOUT COMPOSTING: ANYONE CAN DO IT! All you need is some scrap lumber, a trash barrel, or other material out of which to fashion a container, and some earthworms. However, it is a really good idea to do a little research first because having the right combinations of nutrients, adequate aeration, and appropriate temperatures are all important to successful compost.
Why We Use It:
Composting, the ultimate recycling, offers one of the best ways to close the loop of sustainability: instead of adding garbage to the landfill, food waste is broken down into fertilizer that enriches the soil, which in turn provides food, shade, recreation, and beautiful, healthy surroundings for the community. Enriching the soil enhances our natural resource base by utilizing resources already available to us. This reduces our costs by diminishing the need for purchased fertilizers. It also decreases the amount of waste that must be transported and stored in landfills, allowing taxpayer dollars to be put toward other services. Compost also has an advantage over unaged manures or other amendments in that it has a more ideal ratio of carbon to nitrogen.
How We Use It:
In order to compost campus food waste, landscaping by-products such as collected leaves, and wood chips the Campus utilizes three different composting methods. They include the GREENDRUM In-Vessel Composter, a windrow compost system, and a bin composting system, each suited to the particular needs of an aspect of campus operations.
For the Institution: (Large-Scale)
While the benefits that the institution and the individual see from composting are the same, the scale is understandably much different. The college sees a daily food waste stream of 500 pounds, as well as a fair amount of organic matter, such as leaves and wood chips, gathered in the course of landscaping. In 2004, the college began researching the most effective way to compost this volume of material and decided on the GREENDRUM continual feed-system. This consists of a large drum capable of handling up to 3000 pounds of material each day, which rotates three times an hour. This rotation produces aerobic bacteria that work to break down the waste, which when combined with a carbon source such as sawdust during the composting process, produces a nutrient-rich, recycled compost. After spending three – five days in the GREENDRUM the material is allowed to cure for three to four weeks.
Challenge: Cost! The GREENDRUM system required an initial investment of $20,000, which was assisted by a generous grant. However, GREENDRUM compost is expected to significantly reduce fertilizer input costs, possibly paying for itself in the long-term, as many environmental investments often do. Another challenge of the GREENDRUM is maintaining the right nutrient ratio, which can be an issue with all composting systems.
For the Garden: (Medium Scale)
The Warren Wilson College Garden maintains a windrow compost operation that uses fresh compostable material, adding straw and/or bark chips, clippings from landscaping, horse manure, and animal wastes from the WNC Nature Center to create a pile that the Crew turns with tractors. Windrow composting is a method in which organic waste is formed into rows of long piles called "windrows" and aerated by turning the pile periodically by either manual or mechanical means. The ideal pile height, which is between 4 and 8 feet, allows for a pile large enough to generate sufficient heat and maintain temperatures, yet small enough to allow oxygen to flow to the windrow's core.
For the Home-Owner: (Small Scale)
For individual and small-scale composting the most common options are barrel and bin compost. Residents of the EcoDorm, a communal living facility of 36 students, utilize bin composting on campus. Food waste from the dorm is composted in a three-part bin, which allows food to be added to one part while the other two parts decompose. The addition of sawdust and utilization of natural microbial agents work together to decompose additions into fertile soil. An integral part of this system is the cover and pole, which keep out pests, including infamous North Carolina black bears.
Where to Get It: