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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Earth Care wants Nitrogen....NOW!!!

RI’s Compost King Needs Nitrogen

By DAVE FISHER/ News staff
CHARLESTOWNWashington County businesses, schools and institutions have a new option for reducing their landfillable waste stream and the associated costs of waste removal. Earth Care Farm, Rhode Island’s longest operating, privately owned composting operation is now accepting post-consumer food scraps from interested commercial and public institutions.

Mike Merner speaking at the 2011
compost conference in 
(By Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)
Mike Merner, owner of Earth Care Farm, used to get most the nitrogen for his compost from the state's fish processing industry, but the decline of the industry in recent years has forced him to begin looking at new sources of green material for his composting operation.
“We’ve run pilot programs with restaurants and supermarkets before,” Merner said. “But the quality of the materials left a lot to be desired. We’d get heads of lettuce with the plastic wrap still on it, Styrofoam trays from pre-packaged fruits and veggies. ... The larger bits aren’t too much of a problem, but when those things break down in the compost, it really degrades the quality.”
Previous attempts at sourcing nitrogen from supermarkets have been difficult because management ignored the necessary education of their employees. “That’s why our new focus is on the schools as a source for clean, well-separated food scraps," Merner said. "It’s a matter of conditioning."
He’s right. Getting adults to change their behavior is a much more difficult proposition than teaching children that not everything should go in the trash.

The real hurdle that Merner is facing is the lack of waste haulers that are targeting organics. This means organizations that would like to have their food scraps composted at Earth Care Farm would also have to transport them to the farm; many smaller businesses and school departments lack the transportation funds and capability.
An aerial view of Earth Care Farm
(Courtesy of Earth Care Farm)
Aside from the ecological benefits of composting, Merner offers a financial benefit to the practice as well. The municipal tipping fee for solid waste at the Central Landfill in Johnston is $32 a ton; the commercial tipping fee is almost double that. Merner has undercut the landfill’s municipal fee by $2, and there is no commercial rate for tipping at Earth Care Farm. That means businesses and haulers that do decide to focus on removing organics from the waste stream could show significant and immediate savings on waste hauling and tipping fees.
Unfortunately, scraps from individuals and homes won’t be accepted, but hey, you live in Charlestown. Why don’t you have your own compost pile/bin?
For more information on the expansion of the materials that Earth Care Farm will accept, and from whom, call the farm at 401-364-9930 and ask for Mike or Jeanne. It won’t get you discount on the service, but tell ‘em ecoRI News sent you.