Composting: the inside story


A colection of fruits a vegetables are the basic component of compost. Composting is happening at Case Western Reserve University’s farm in Hunting Valley, Ohio.

Brian Weiser, CWRU Green Speaks

Springfest and Thwing Study Over, this Saturday and Tuesday, respectively, will both have composting bins in order to send less of the events’ waste to the landfill. Food and biodegradable plates and utensils will be the main products composted at these events.

Composting is the process of turning biodegradable materials into fertilizer. With the compost pile, composters need to be concerned with the balance between carbon and nitrogen to obtain a healthy pile. This balance allows for proper airflow within the pile to aid in the growth of the microorganisms that live within the pile. These microorganisms do most of the work by decomposing the materials until they become fertilizer.

The microorganisms that live in the compost pile each play a special role that is vital to the success of the pile. Thermophiles, which, as the name suggests, are organisms that quickly raise the temperature of the pile to a degree at which the most weed seeds are killed.

Also present are actinomycetes whose role is to decompose complex, organic substances, such as “woody” material. They are also responsible for the earthy smell of the compost pile.

These microorganisms are critical, because they impact the early stages when the bacteria begin to oxidize the carbon within the pile, causing heat and nutrients (in the form of amino acids) to be released. Once the pile has thoroughly increased in temperature, mesophiles begin to break down the food waste in the pile.

This causes the pile to heat to over 90 degrees Fahrenheit, allowing the thermopiles to take over. While thermophiles warm the pile enough to kill off weed seeds, the heat also creates humic acids, which aid the plants in absorbing the nutrients of the compost.

Composting is happening at Case Western Reserve University’s farm in Hunting Valley, Ohio. One source of material for that compost pile remains the university dining halls, but they only compost the pre-consumer waste, mainly from the kitchens of the dining halls. Most post-consumer waste, which comprises 80 percent of our food waste, contains plastic bottles and similar items that cannot be composted.