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Transforming Agricultural Waste into Fertilizer

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The Sustainability Network |Vaughn Cassidy, TDEC Office of Sustainable Practices

Tennessee Creates a Circular Economy Around Composting

With more than 300 food related industries in Tennessee, waste management can be a considerable – and costly – challenge. Composting agricultural byproducts can be a cost-effective, sustainable solution that takes production waste out of landfills and puts it back into the soil.

The Compost Company in Ashland City, Tenn., is turning organic waste products into a high-yield compost material for farmers, landscapers, and gardeners.

Ed Wansing, founder and COO, along with company president Clay Ezell, owns and operates The Compost Company LLC. Operating a large composting facility can appear deceptively simple, but, “There’s more to the recipe than just dumping organics on the ground,” said Ezell. “The mix is really important. We take great care to mix the proper amounts of carbon and nitrogen so that it breaks down quickly, with little odor, and becomes the best natural fertilizer it can be.”

The temperature of the compost is also very important, and is partially dependent upon the mixture of materials in the compost. While using a probe to measure the temperature of the steaming piles of compost, Ezell added that, “Sight, smell, and consistency are our primary metrics.” Proper temperature, as well as the correct ratio of carbon to nitrogen, guarantees that those three metrics remain correct, and that the compost does not smell bad.

Customers of The Compost Company include Caterpillar, US Smokeless and Organix, a vendor to Wal-Mart. Nashville’s new Music City Center, which has its own sustainability management plan, provides feedstock to The Compost Company, as well, which includes food prep waste, compostable plates, box lunches, and paper towels and napkins.

The bulk of The Compost Company’s customers includes farmers, landscapers, and gardeners, “but there have been some surprises as well,” adds Wansing. “The most unusual use of our product was by a pet food facility for a bio-filter. They built the bio-filter to clean the air before discharge from the facility (to minimize odor).” The Compost Company has also sold compost for use in several rain gardens that filter stormwater runoff from parking lots before it enters the watershed.

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The Compost Company Raises Capital to Further Scale Organics Recycling Services

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Nashville, TN | May 13, 2015

The Compost Company, which diverts food and organic waste from landfills for recycling into nutrient-rich soil products, has completed its next round of growth funding, furthering the rapid expansion of its organics recycling services for local waste generators.

The Compost Company is Middle Tennessee’s only provider of fully-integrated organic waste recycling services, providing waste collection and processing services along with the sale and installation of nutrient-rich soil amendment products including compost and mulch. By diverting organic waste from landfills, the Compost Company’s services reduce waste disposal fees for waste generators such as restaurants, grocery stores, hotels, schools and corporate offices, helping them achieve their sustainability goals and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This additional round of funding will enable us to continue expanding our business to meet a rapidly growing market demand. More and more corporations, municipalities and other organizations are looking for partners like the Compost Company to meet their sustainability goals and our end-to-end organic waste recycling services provide a one stop solution to meet these objectives,” said Ed Wansing, Founder and Chief Operating Officer, The Compost Company.

The Compost Company currently processes over 200 tons of organic waste per month through partnerships with The Music City Center, Caterpillar Financial Services Corporation and the City of Clarksville, among others. The additional funds will help the company scale its hauling operations to serve a greater number of clients throughout the region and add processing capacity at its 37 acre site, located in Cheatham County.

Compost Company President, Clay Ezell, adds, “We are focused on transforming the waste industry by diverting the single largest category of waste currently going to landfills. Today, more than 80 million tons of organic material, including food scraps and yard trimmings, goes to landfills across the U.S. annually and is the least recycled component of our waste stream. Organic waste is quickly becoming a valuable commodity that can be transformed into nutrient-rich compost and mulch for farmers, landscapers and gardeners. We are committed to this mission and to helping make Nashville the greenest city in the Southeast.”

For more information visit our website at www.compostcompany.com or contact us at info@compostcompany.com.

Compost: A Rind is a Terrible Thing To Waste

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Groundbreaking Roots

A common refrain from farmers and gardeners who are just starting out is that their soil is hurting. Either it drains too fast or it doesn’t drain at all. Either nothing grows or the land is one mass of lawn or it is overgrown with dense, thorny blackberries. Perhaps neighbors have been using the land to dump all measure of trash and old building supplies. Or all of the above. Once the building supplies are cleared out and the unwanted plants cut down, what’s next?

Some people would plough, rototill, cultivate, and/or disc the soil at this point, attempting to disturb the roots of the undesired plants. I am not enough of an English or Agronomy major to differentiate all those verbs, but they all involve some form of deep digging. If you farm organically, you can dig some compost into the soil at this time to improve the overall fertility.

Some people eschew the disruption to the soil involved in digging deeply and prefer to sheet mulch. They lay large sheets of cardboard flat over the bed space, overlapping all edges, and leaving no holes. Layers of biomass are then added atop the cardboard. Finally a layer of compost is added, followed by a layer of mulch. This method has the added advantage of preserving the life in the soil – the insects, worms, spiders, bacteria, and the fungi that give the soil structure and fertility. It has the added disadvantage of being labor intensive. Which is why some folks make a permablitz party of it, inviting their friends and neighbors to help.

Needless to say, there are endless variations on how to get your soil in shape for planting. But both methods mentioned above involve the application of compost. Compost is partially decomposed organic matter. It is nature’s way of refashioning leaves and other plant debris that have fallen to the ground, into rich soil. When humans compost, we add vegetable scraps, grass clippings, wood chips, coffee grounds, leftovers-gone-bad, and all manner of human-altered organic matter. Adding compost to the soil each planting season adds fertility, promotes soil microbes that aid plant growth, helps the soil retain moisture, extends the growing season, and neutralizes extreme soil PH. No wonder some call compost “Black Gold”.

When you are starting a farm or garden and don’t have any compost at the ready, you’ll need to go to the compost store. If you are planting a large area, you’ll need to go to a large compost store. Some municipalities divert portions of their community’s waste stream to create compost and provide it to the public for free. Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont, as well as Seattle, San Francisco and Portland, have all banned large institutions from sending their food waste to a landfill. A few years ago, I visited San Francisco and discovered curbside collection of food scraps. I felt so virtuous, when I put my food waste in the compostables bin. And who turns this raw material into Black Gold? That’s where the Compost Company and others like it come in.

I spoke with Ed Wansing at the Compost Company, in Ashland City, Tennessee. He launched into a description of the various blends he produces. His premium screened blend includes wood chips, leaves, tobacco-growing waste, and cafeteria waste.  The compost mulch has the same ingredients as the premium screened blend, but twice as many wood chips.  Ed adds QuikSoil, an organic decomposition accelerator, to hasten the process. Even so, on average, it takes about a year for Ed to produce his compost. Last year, Ed finished fourteen long rows of compost.  So far he has sold ten of them and hopes to sell the rest by the time this year’s new rows are ready to sell.  I asked Ed if he is making a profit in this 2 1/2 year old enterprise.  He is not quite there yet, because he is still in the process of reinvesting all profits back into the business.

In some respects I am a lazy gardener.  And I am, most assuredly, lazy about composting. I scatter my household kitchen scraps around the base of fruit trees, cover with wood chips and leaves, and let nature take its course.  But, if I wanted to sell compost, then it would need to look as lovely as Ed’s mature compost.  His is friable, comes in deep earthy colors, smells lovely, and I could see the fungal growth taking hold when I looked closely.

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