Our Black Gold

Albuquerque Academy's on-site Compost Yard
Albuquerque Academy’s on-site Compost Yard

According to the UN’s FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), “food wastage ranks as the third top emitter of green house gases after the USA and China.”1  Most food waste in the United States ends up in the landfill, anaerobically decomposing into methane gas, which escapes into the atmosphere contributing to global warming.  Methane gas, a powerful greenhouse gas (30 times more powerful than CO2)2 is overlooked by most of us in its ability to turn up the earth’s thermostat.  But we also over look the fact that food waste dumped into a landfill is a wasted resource. At Albuquerque Academy, 1200 people eat lunch every day at the school’s dining hall.  In 2008, my students measured a disturbingly large amount of food waste (1700 pounds/week) produced and thrown out in the trash, trash which is then driven  40 miles out to the Cerro Colorado Landfill on the west side of the city.  In 2009, the AA sustainability program seized an opportunity to turn our food waste into black gold.  Consulting with Walter Dods from Soilutions, Tim Grey with the NM Environment Department and Steve Glass, a microbiologist, we set up an on-site compost facility, managed by Mark Mellott, an AA employee trained with the NM Master Composting program.

Green BIns Make Composting Easy
Green Bins Make Composting Easy

The process for making our black gold is easy and the ingredients are free.  Students and adults easily sort the food-waste. Since our food waste is decomposed in large thermopiles, all food waste, paper products and even wooden popsicle sticks can be composted.  The decision “to compost or not to compost” comes down to the question “was this waste once alive?” The food waste is collected each day in clearly labeled, distinct green bins – made easy to transport by the trolley wheels they sit upon.  Brown materials needed for the carbon content, such as wood chips and manure are given and delivered to us for free.  Landscape companies are eager to drop off their chipped material so that they don’t have to pay a fee at the dump.  A local horse farm is equally thrilled to bring us their poop. Periodic temperature measurements of the thermopile, application of water, and turning by our front loader result in a rich compost ready to be sifted and applied to our gardens and fields within 6 months.

Compost piles are monitored for temperature,
Compost Piles Are Monitored for Temperature,

Money saved from waste disposal fees and fertilizer costs add up to roughly $20,000 a year! But the real winner is the soil.  This black gold will not only return nutrients to the depleted soil, but also provide habitat to the soil organisms, and most critically in the desert ecosystem, increase the soil’s water holding capacity. And educating our students and community about the value of composting is our primary goal.

Students learning about the whole process of composting
Students Learn About the Whole Process of Composting

To learn more about how you can reduce your own food waste: THINK EAT SAVE

1 http://www.climatecentral.org/news/food-waste-worsens-greenhouse-gas-emissions-fao-16498

2 https://blogs.princeton.edu/research/2014/03/26/a-more-potent-greenhouse-gas-than-co2-methane-emissions-will-leap-as-earth-warms-nature/

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