So what do you do with your green waste? Is it waste or just an inconvenient by-product of landscaping and grounds maintenance, and how many of us actually do anything with it? Recycling has been with us for many years; from turning bottles into road surfaces or beer cans into aircraft wings there’s very little we can’t and don’t recycle. But I’m still surprised at the quantity of green arisings being sent in skips to be recycled by others; so why not consider doing it yourself and making your own compost?
So what is composting? Simply defined it is nature’s way of recycling. It is the breaking down of organic waste such as grass cuttings, shrub material and wood waste (there’s an endless list of ingredients) into an extremely useful humus-like substance by micro-organisms, bacteria, fungi and the like in the presence of oxygen.
That’s the science behind it, but recycling green material to produce compost is not cheap. The investment required to operate a commercial composting operation can be frightening – infrastructure, machinery, headaches with compliance, safety and ensuring a final route to market – not to mention the paperwork. It’s no easy task and no surprise that the majority of these operations are run by large waste management organisations. However it can be just as effective on a local level on a smaller scale.
For a true closed loop recycling system you need to keep the whole process within the same environment, with the stock material produced, processed and the end product returned to the same place. This should all be fairly simple, but the ultimate success hinges on a final use for the end product. In many cases this phase can be the stumbling block. Local authorities in particular can be reluctant to accept a composted material back onto their land for fear of contamination with weeds or a pH imbalance, but if the process is managed properly these issues can be avoided.
A small simple approach to composting need not break the bank
Infrastructure is expensive; ideally you would have a concrete pad with storage bays and a lagoon to contain leachate run-off but done on a small scale this need not break the bank. A little and often approach to shredding, turning, monitoring and screening will help to keep feedstock to a minimum and ensure the composting process results in a weed free quality mulch or even a nutrient rich soil improver. Do it properly and there’s no reason you couldn’t produce a credible top dressing.
The second biggest investment will be machinery – but don’t get carried away! We’ve all seen huge self propelled shredders and screeners serviced by loading shovels processing hundreds of tonnes of material an hour in a cacophony of noise, dust and debris (ideal if you have space and no neighbours). However, smaller, cheaper and less obtrusive shredders utilising tractor power and integral loading cranes are much more realistic for smaller operations. These can be towed between sites to process material at source and in the case of a shredder/mixer can even transport the shredded material back to a central point. You could go even smaller and less expensive by opting for smaller self propelled shredders, screeners and material handling equipment which can be transported by existing works vehicles.
Whilst equipment is available, infrastructure could be an issue, so look around and see what you have to hand and don’t get too ambitious. The main stumbling block is still the end use of the product. Producing something which is acceptable to clients will require basic testing to confirm that the product does what it says. More importantly you need significant buy-in from the end user at the beginning of the process so they have confidence in what you’re doing – no easy task and possibly the most difficult bit of the loop to close.
Group Head of Assets and Fleet
Angus writes a monthly column for Pro Landscaper Magazine http://prolandscapermagazine.com/