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Composting of

Municipal Solid Waste


Caitriona Gaffney
Deirdre Mulchrone
Teresa Conway
Definition, Sources, Characterisation, End Products


Waste Hierarchy, Legislation, Microbiology, Site Selection,
Types of Systems


Environmental Factors, Problems, Economics
Introduction – Caitriona Gaffney
Definition of MSW & Irish Facts
Composting & Classification
Compost Grades
End Uses
Who Benefits
What is Municipal Solid Waste?
Mixed waste from Residential, Commercial & Industrial
Compostable potential of 60-90%
Composition includes: paper, glass, wood, plastics, soils,
chemicals, food waste, plant debris, metals, textiles, street
cleaning & OM
Organic material makes up 50-70% of MSW
The fewer the non-compostable materials in feedstock the
better the finished compost material.
Components of MSW

Municipal Waste Management in EU
Irish Facts 1998-2005
1998 The national recovery rate of MSW was 9% with
91% going to landfill

“Waste Management: Changing our Ways” published

targets to be achieved over 15 year period;

 a diversion of 50% of household waste from landfill,

 recycling of 35% of MW
 rationalisation of municipal waste landfills – 20 state of
the art facilities incorporating energy recovery & enviro
 reduce methane emission from landfill by 80%.
Irish Facts 1998-2005

Changes in waste composition between the years 1995, 1998 & 2001
Irish Facts 1998-2005
2001 - 2,704,035 tonnes MW produced, 4% of the total waste generated
- 86.7% landfilled & 13.3% recycled

2002 - 2,723,739 tonnes MW produced

- Landfill of MW decreased by 5%

2003 - 3,001,016 tonnes MW produced

- EPA carried out survey on waste generation & management.
- Recycling increased by 46%
- 69% of the recyclable waste was recycled abroad
- Export of hazardous waste increased by 56%

2004 - 72% of municipal waste was consigned to landfill

- Landfill capacity will still be used up within the next 10 years
Irish Facts 1998-2005

Provisional data from 6 surveys carried out in Waterford

Coco & Galway City in November 2004 and March 2005
Composting & Classification
Definition:- “Composting is the biological decomposition of the
organic constituents of wastes under controlled conditions to a
state sufficiently stable for nuisance-free storage and utilization.”

Performed either by households or in large centralised units

Compost systems can be classified on three general bases:

1. Oxygen usage (aerobic & anaerobic)
2. Temperature (Mesophilic 15-40OC & Thermophilic 45-65 OC)
3. Technological approach (static pile or windrow, and mechanical
or "enclosed" composting)
Grades of Compost
Premium Grade
- agricultural and horticultural use
- home use, turf, pot plants
- can be freely traded
- regulations may control the application of nitrogen to land
Regulated Grade
- remediation, restoration, agriculture, forestry and non food crops
- specialist expertise necessary in trading and its use
- regulation of the application
- biological, chemical or physical hazards remain a concern
Engineering Grade
- access to composts is strictly limited
- other risk management measures in place
for e.g. uses such as daily cover, or as engineering fill material - in bunds
and sound barriers, or as pollution control measures such as biofilters.
End Uses of Compost
Soil Improvement
- soil structure, condition and fertility
Growing media
- component of mixes used to grow crops in containers
- suppress weed growth, conserves water and also to maintain soil
temperatures. Mulching also protects plants from frost.
- used for soil “forming” and soil improvement
Landfill Applications
- improvement of landfill covers – soil formation
Those Who Benefit from the End Uses
Local Authorities
Landfill companies
Waste and sewage companies
Overview – Teresa Conway
Waste Hierarchy
Process Options for Organic Waste
Why Biologically Treat Waste
Legislation & Targets
Physical Processing of MSW
Biological Process of Composting
 Biology
 Site Selection
 Types of Systems
Waste Hierarchy
Composting can be considered a component of
Integrated Waste Management (IWM)

Options near top

are more desirable than
those at the bottom
Process Options for Organic Waste

Process Options

Landfill Incineration Biological Processing Direct Land Disposal

Anaerobic Digestion Composting Specialised Methods

Marketable Products
Why Biologically Treat MSW?
Reduces waste going to landfill
Estimated to be 10 years’ remaining landfill
capacity available for municipal waste
(Nationally in 2004)
Could be the first step in Ireland meeting its
waste challenge
% MSW that is biodegradable
40% 35%
30% 25%
Paper & Food & Garden Total
Cardboard Waste Biodegradable
(EEA,2003 )
Number of authorised Landfills
remaining in Ireland
140 126
100 92
40 34

1998 2001 2002

No. of Landfills
Legislation & Targets
Taking the Landfill Directive as a framework the
following National Landfill Diversion targets were
outlined in 1998 in the Policy statement
“Changing Our Ways”.
-The statement includes a number of targets to be
achieved over a 15 year time period. Some of these
Legislation & Targets
a diversion of 50% of household waste from
landfill by 2013
a minimum 65% reduction in biodegradable
waste consigned to landfill
the development of waste recovery facilities,
including the development of composting
and other feasible biological treatment facilities
capable of treating up to 300,000 tonnes/year
Legislation & Targets
The primary statute law on waste management is
contained in –

Waste Management Act, 1996 & 2001 and

Regulations made under the Act
EPA Act 1992 and Regulations under the Act
Regulations made under the European Communities
Act, 1972 in relation to waste management
Landfill Directive 99/31/EC
Biological Process of Composting
Microorganisms + OM -------> H2O + CO2 + Heat + Humus
3 phases under optimal conditions
(1) Mesophilic - lasts couple of days (~40oC)
(2) Thermophilic can last a few dys to several mts ( 55oC–65oC)
(3) Several-month cooling and maturation phase
Biological Process of Composting
Abundance and variety of microbes indigenous to
wastes are sufficient to compost the wastes

Microbes active in the compost process are:

Bacteria (mesophyllic and thermophyllic)
Food Web of a Compost pile
Tertiary Consumers
centipedes, mites, beetles

Secondary Consumers
nematodes, protozoa, rotifera,

Primary Consumers
bacteria, fungi, actinomycetes

Organic Residue
Site Selection for MW Processing
Large enough to receive projected waste volumes
& for technology used
Adequate buffer zone from neighbours with a
prevailing wind that blows away from neighbours
A nearly level surface, 2-3% grade
A high soil percolation rate to avoid standing water
but an impermeable surface as a base
Site Selection for MW Processing
A low water table to prevent site flooding
A central accessible location with good traffic flow
A water source for wetting compost piles & fire
Arrangements for leachate to be collected and
Windrows need shelter in regions of moderate to
heavy rainfall
Physical Processing
Quantity and characteristics of the feedstock is collected and
determined – MSW differs from other feedstocks

Nonbiodegradable and biodegradable separated through:

Separation (Recovery)
 Manual Separation

 Mechanical Separation
• Size Reduction
• Air Classification
• Screening
• Trommel
• Magnetic Separation
Drying and Densification
Biological Processing Options
1) Turned Windrow
2) Static Aerated Pile
3) In-Vessel
-Horizontal Units
-Vertical Units
-Rotating Drums
Design and management of technical options must
be based on the needs of microorganisms
Turned Windrows
Natural Air Circulation
in a Compost Windrow

Turned Windrow Systems
Most preferred method used in Ireland
Commonly used for rapid composting of yard wastes
Windrows are aerated regularly by turning
Constructed to be 6 to 10 ft high, 10 to 20 ft wide
The center of the pile insulated so that composting can
continue when outdoor temperatures are below freezing
Finished compost can be made between 3 mts - 2 yrs
Rate of composting is generally directly proportional to
frequency of turning
Typical 18 month schedule using Turned Windrow system

Autumn Summer
Windrows formed
Windrows turned
Using a front end

Winter Windrows dismantled
Windrows turned Room made for new
monthly incoming material

Spring Next 6 Months

Compost screened March/April
Windrows turned Finished Compost
Moved to curing pile
monthly Peak Demand
Stabilised & yields N
Static Aerated Pile
Does not employ turning – ‘static’
Air is drawn or blown through a network of perforated
plastic pipes under the windrows
Faster than windrow systems
Used where aeration and temperature control are
crucial, (i.e. sludge or food processing wastes)
Works best with a material that is relatively uniform in
particle size ( not > 1.5 to 2 in. in any dimension)
This blower forces air
into a static compost pile.
Forced aeration in a
bin type system

Passively Aerated Windrow

System (PAWS)
Permanent air outlets
in the pad for an aerated
static pile at a site in
In-Vessel Systems
Also referred to as
-Contained systems
Computer provides greater control of composting
Raw waste is placed in a large container, with built-
in aeration and mechanical mixing equipment
In-Vessel Systems
Protected from severe weather and odour
Low retention time (RT) (often <14 days)
Requires further compost processing - low RT is
insufficient for thermophilic composting stage
Expensive to build and operate
Types of In-Vessel Systems
Horizontal Units
Vertical Units
Rotating Drums
Horizontal Units
Material contained and aerated in a long, horizontal
reactor, usually build of concrete
Material may be moved in and out by:
A front end loader or conveyor system
Plug flow system – hydraulic ram
Moving floor system
Horizontal Bed Reactor
Vertical Units

Small land area

Enclosed and aerated in a vertical
reactor known as “silos” or “towers”.
Compaction of material at the base reactor -
impedes aeration - anaerobic regions developing
Good for Sludge composting industry but not MSW
A vertical in-reactor
composting system
Rotating Drums

Most common in-vessel composting approach

Combined with aeration in static piles or turned
Feedstock introduced into one end of slowly rotating
drum, inclined at about 5 degrees from horizontal
RT varies from 4-6 hours to 2-3 days
Drum allows homogenisation and screening of
A large-scale, Rotating Drum Composting Vessel
Some Biological Treatment Locations in Ireland
Facility Capacity Feedstock Technology
Tralee Composting site 3,000 Household Organics Windrow
Limerick Composting Site 2,000 Household Organics In-Vessel and Windrow
Galway Corporation Depot 5,000 Household Organics Aerated Pile (VAR System)
Lucan Green Waste Composting 5,000 Green Waste Windrow
Aran Island Recycling Scheme 500 Household Organics In-Vessel (Biosal Unit)
In-Vessel and Aerated Pile (Celtic
Ballinasloe Composting Site 4,000 Household Organics Composting)
Silliot Hill, Kildare 5,200 Commercial and Green Waste VCU In-Vessel
Kildare Sludge Plant 5,200 Municipal Sludge TEG In-Vessel
CTO Middleton 3,000 Commercial Organics Windrow
Kinsale Road Facility 2,000 Green Waste Windrow
Keady Composting Facility (Armagh) 65,000 Organic and Green Waste Enclosed Aerated and Windrows
McGill Facility (Cork) 10,000 Commercial Sludges Enclosed Aerated
Enviro Grind Ltd. 3,000 Green Waste Windrow
Household Organics/ Municipal
Shannon Vermicomposting 1,000 Sludge Windrow
Robert Delaney 10,000 Green Waste Windrow
Down District Council Composting
Site 1,800 Household Organics Windrow
SimproIreland Ltd. 4,000 Green Waste Windrow
Organic Gold 3,000 Municipal Sludge, Cattle Manure Windrow
Problems associated with Composting of
Municipal Waste
1. Leachate
Vector for organisms
supports the proliferation of insects
2. Odour & VOC’s
Enhanced under anaerobic conditions
3. Dust
Agitation of composting materials
Problems associated with Composting of
Municipal Waste
4. Vermin, Birds & Insects
-Nuisance Problems
-Pathogens in Final Product
5. Bioaerosols and other Health Risks
Hazard – pathogenic organisms in feedstock.
Pathway – ingestion of materials (for example from unwashed hands).
Receptor – compost site workers.

6. Fire
-Stored in bulk
Environmental Factors Affecting
1. Temperature
Thermophilic (45 –650C) and Mesophillic (15-400C).
Above this temperature spores produced (Resting Stage).
Microorganisms inactivated or die off.
Affected by its climatic surroundings and method of aeration.
In a windrow highest temperature reached in centre, lower at
Environmental Factors Affecting
2. pH
Anaerobic digestion the pH level covers a narrow range (pH 6.5 to 7.5)
Aerobic- pH so broad difficulties rarely encountered with too high or too low pH
in composting.
During the early stages the pH usually drops (down to about pH 5.0) because
of organic acid formation.
An exception which can reduce the pH is fruit wastes which can reduce the
pH to 4.5.
calcium hydroxide (lime) can be used as a buffer but it also lead to a loss in
ammonium nitrogen.
Environmental Factors Affecting
3. Aeration (Anaerobic & Aerobic)
a) minimisation of the loss of nitrogen
b) less costly
Disadvantages include:
a) Slowness of decomposition
b) Absence of high temperatures
c) The presence of un-decomposed intermediates
d) The un-pre-processed appearance of the product
Environmental Factors Affecting
Aerobic composting benefits from:
a) A rapid rate of degradation
b) Elevated temperature levels
c) Absence of putrefactive

Oxygen uptake reflects intensity of microbial activity. Theoretically

the amount of oxygen required is determined by the amount of
carbon to be oxidised (Chrometzka, 1968).
Environmental Factors Affecting
4. Moisture Content
Moisture content and oxygen availability are closely related
If the moisture content of the mass is so high as to displace the
air from the interstices (voids between particles) anaerobic
conditions will develop within the mass .
The maximum permissible moisture content is a function of the
structural strength of the particles of the material to be
composted i.e. the degree of resistance of individual particles to
Woodchips, straw and hay can be as high as 75 to 80% whereas
paper (upon becoming wet, collapses and forms mats) has a
permissible moisture content of 55 to 60%.
Factors affecting Composting
5. Substrate
The waste (referred to as the substrate) should contain all
necessary nutrients.
Macronutrients Micronutrients
Carbon (C) Cobalt (Co)
Nitrogen (N) Manganese (Mn)
Phosphorous (P) Manganese (Mg)
Potassium (K) Copper (Cu)
Factors affecting Composting
Substrate (cont.)

only available if they are in a form that can be assimilated by the


Certain groups of microbes have an enzymatic complex that

permits them to attack, degrade and utilise the organic matter
found in freshly generated waste.

Others can only utilize decomposition products (intermediates)

as a source of nutrients.
Factors affecting Composting
Carbon: Nitrogen Ratio (C: N)

The C: N ratio of the waste to be composted is the most important

factor that requires attention.
A large percentage of the carbon is oxidised to carbon dioxide by the
microbes in their metabolic activities .
The major consumption of nitrogen is in the synthesis of protoplasm
consequently much more carbon is required.
The C: N of the substrate should fall within the range of 20-25:1.
Mmicroorganisms such as bacteria and fungi grow best with the
proper level of Carbon and Nitrogen.
C: N (continued) (CAST STUDIES)
Galway City Council Celtic Composting
At the Galway City Council composting site -The C: N of source separated bio-
-no clear cut method of establishing a waste is typically measured using the
C: N ratio for the material. total nitrogen and volatile solids content
of a sample screened to <10mm.
-done by visual assessment and the -Inclusion of large amounts of
experience of the operative unavailable carbon from woody bulking
-Food waste is estimated at a C: N ratio of materials will give a false high carbon
15:1. reading.
-Woodchip is added at the assessment of - Normally bio-waste with high green
the operative waste content is fine.
- Less woodchip is required if there is -However, winter deliveries with little
green waste needs nitrogen
adequate shrub prunings in the incoming supplementation.
waste. -In the UK, it is typical to include a lot of
-More woodchip is added if there is a lot of paper and cardboard in the bio-bins
grass in the incoming material as there is and this needs nitrogen additions also.
in summer Similarly mixed waste composting often
suffers from low nitrogen”
Economic Factors
The costs of a composting facility include land, labour and
It will divert waste that would otherwise need costly disposal. If
the compost site is closer than the other disposal site, there will
be savings in transport costs.
The finished compost can be used as a substitute for purchased
mulch or topsoil in municipal landscaping.
If sold commercially, compost can generate revenues, which help
defray processing costs.
From an environmental perspective, composting
not only reduces the problems associated with
landfills and incinerators, but the finished
compost adds beneficial humus and nutrients to
soil. Composting is a waste management
solution, which can benefit municipalities and
benefit the environment at the same time.