Compost – ’tis Black Gold

If you were to be asked to share your knowledge about composting, what would you say?  Would you say materials like leaves, grass clippings and yard waste?  Would you include food scraps?  That might be the extent of what most people think of as compostable materials because that is what we typically may do in our backyards or remember from our Grandparent’s backyard.  Commercial composting can mean a whole lot more and here is our story.

Three years ago Nichols (Norton Shores headquarters) made the decision that we wanted to start composting.  At that time there was not a hauler servicing the Muskegon/Spring Lake/Grand Haven area and the nearest commercial composter was in Zeeland, Michigan.  So instead of giving up on the idea, we worked to build the demand through the Muskegon Area Sustainability Coalition and found five other commercial building owners that were willing to go down this path, commit to composting and work to create awareness with other building owners/managers to build more demand.  At the time cost of a hauler for composting was very close to the same as our hauler for landfill and we just shifted our spend from the waste (landfill) hauler to a compost hauler.  We have a small 2-yard dumpster that the hauler picks up every two weeks.

So what do we compost besides food scraps and yard waste?  Any organic waste, paper towels out of our restrooms and café’, paper-based food wrappers, containers and bags, paper cups, coffee grounds and filters, napkins, facial tissue, paper plates, waxed paper cartons, pizza boxes, wood scraps, cardboard and paper products that have been contaminated with food or are wet since they cannot be recycled.

Our materials are hauled to SPURT in Zeeland, Michigan. It eventually turns into a nutrient rich soil that SPURT then sells as a product to area landscapers.  

With only 5 to 8 years left in our Muskegon County landfill, it is important that we take action now as residents and businesses and keep those resources that can be recovered, repurposed and contribute to the circular economy.  This landfill capacity issue is not unique to Muskegon County, it is happening all across Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and beyond.

Why is soil important to us?  Several reasons are worth mentioning:  It acts as a filter system when it rains to absorb water therefore preventing floods. This drainage also filters water to clean it as minerals and micro-organisms in the soil detoxify the water of pollutants. These natural processes benefit humans.

The organic matter in soil contains nutrients which are essential for plant growth, which is incredibly important to us as we need plants to eat! Vegetables, fruits, cereals all need to be grown, as well as crops to be used as feed for animals.

Micro-organisms in the soil convert toxic compounds within the soil into useful nutrients for plants. For example ammonia is converted into nitrogen in the nitrogen cycle. These micro-organisms also decompose organic matter for it to be recycled through the carbon cycle (and are even responsible for that earthy smell after it rains).According to the Ecological Society of America, “Carbon can remain stored in soils for millennia, or be quickly released back into the atmosphere. Climatic conditions, natural vegetation, soil texture, and drainage all affect the amount and length of time carbon is stored.”

Did you also know microorganisms that live in soil are used to make medicine that treat diseases? In fact, nearly all of the antibiotics we take to help us fight infections come from soil, like the antibiotic streptomycin, and cyclosporine—a drug used to prevent transplant patients from rejecting their new organs.

Soil is a finite natural resource however if we all do a good job of composting we can replenish it.  Organic waste can easily become that black gold that we need for so many things and life in general.

Contact us if you would like more details.