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What is composting ?

Composting is a biological transformation

of biodegradable waste into water, carbon
dioxide, energy and a composted matter.
can help to reduce the volume of waste
destined for landfill or incineration
yields a valuable product that can be used
for soil amendment and mulch and when
properly processed and cured, the compost
improves soil nutrients, reduces erosion and
help suppress plant diseases.
Compostable materials

yard waste (grass, leaves,

small tree branches, etc)
organic fraction of MSW ( food waste,
thin plastics, papers, etc)
partially processed Commingled MSW
(waste which were not separated before
arriving at the processing site,
co-composting of the organic
fraction of MSW with wastewater sludge.
Process Requirement

Composting takes place when these conditions exist

i. Organic matter
ii. Suitable Microorganisms
iii. Sufficient nutrient
iv. with Oxygen (aerobic) / without oxygen
(anaerobic) depending on the types of
microorganisms requirement for transformation
Process Chemistry

Aerobic decomposition : bacteria

Organic matter + O2 + nutrients new cells + resistant organic

+ CO2 + H2O + NH3 + SO4-
+ heat
Anaerobic decomposition : bacteria
Organic matter + H2O + nutrients new cells + resistant
organic matter + CO2 +
CH4 + NH3 + H2S
+ heat
Process Parameters

Parameters Condition
smaller particle is encouraged to increase
surface area for microbial activity and
optimum temperature to be maintained.
However too small particle size will reduce
Particle size void size and hence oxygen viability for
aerobic condition. Hence ideal size is in the
range of 1.25 7.5 cm.

this is required by microorganisms to

assimilate nutrients and increase colony
size. Too little water may affect microbial
Moisture content activity whereas too much water will deplete
oxygen concentration and inhibit
temperature rise in the pile. Hence ideal
range is between 40 65 %.
Parameters Condition
The rate of decomposition depends on
temperature. However different types of
microorganism require different temperature
range as shown in table 14-4, pg 676 of your
textbook. Since composting process also
involves heat generation, thus it is important
to control the temperature during the
process. This is why cooling is performed
on the compost pile by turning the compost
frequently as well as to aerate the compost
while controlling the temperature and
microbial activity.
Parameters Condition
The important nutrients required for the
microbial activities are ; carbon, nitrogen,
phosphorus and potassium. C : N ratio
dominates the microbial activity.
A high C : N ratio slows the rate of aerobic
decomposition. On the other hand a high
rate of decomposition will deplete oxygen
concentration and thereby turn to anaerobic
conditions. This is undesirable as foul smell
is produced (due to the release of H2S).
Nutrient Also high N concentration will lead to higher
NH3 is produced which can be toxic to the
microorganisms. Hence it is usually
acceptable if the range of C : N ratio is
between 20 25 and higher C
concentrations can be considered if high
quality of compost is required. Table 14-7
page 689, provides the nominal range of C :
N ratio for many types of compostable
Parameters Condition

the pH level indicates the Hydrogen ion

concentration. Microbial activity can be
pH affected by pH less than 5.5 or rise above 9.
Hence ideally the pH level is best kept
between 6.5 7.5.

composting time can take within 6 months or

up to 4 years. The time depends on the
waste composition. Usually protein, fats,
lignin and cellulose will take longer time to
Time break-down or decompose. Besides the
decomposition process, another important
factor that affects timing for completion is the
curing process. The longer the curing period
will result in high quality compost.
Composting process Flow

Preparation and
Decomposition of marketing
of the final
of MSW the organic compost
fraction product.

See website Wasteology Systems Ltd


1. separate compostable materials

from those that cannot
decompose through the process
of sorting
2. size reduction of the waste
3. The sorting process can either be
done manually or with the use of
mechanical devices (see page
552 561)
4. size of the waste should not be
too small to disallow aeration
Composting Methods
1 Windrow composting
2 Aerated Static Pile
3 In-vessel composting
The windrow composting involve piling the waste
into windrows of about in the range of 6 to 7 or 8 to 10 high
and 14 to 16 or 20 to 25 wide respectively.
After initial size reduction process, the moisture content of the waste
is adjusted to 50 60 % and temperature maintained at around 55 C.
During the degradation process, the waste is regularly
turned (and odour released) and composting is expected to
complete in 3 4 weeks followed by the curing process
(without turning) for another 3 - 4 weeks.
Figure 14-2 shows the different types of
composting methods.
For static process (needs no
frequent turning), the compost
piles is laid on perforated
pipes equipped with blower
and covered by a layer of
screened compost for
insulation and odour control.

For in-vessel composting systems, as the name implies,

the waste is held inside a vessel cum reactor where the
composting reactions takes place under well controlled conditions.
The system can be divided under two major categories;
plug-flow and dynamic (agitated bed). In plug flow system,
assuming ideal condition prevails, the concentration remains the
same at the same position along the flow path at any point in time.
On the other hand, for the dynamic agitated system,
the vessel can be said to resemble a continuous stirred tank reactor.
The waste may contain pathogens
which may exist if the conditions in
the system allows its survival.
Hence control on the temperature
typically around 55 C and exposure
time of between 15 to 20 days are
critical to ensure pathogen free

Bad odour .
The release of odour during the composting process
can be extremely severe during the turning and mixing
process and if not managed well can be tormenting to the
operators and upset the nearby residents. Hence odour
masking agents and enzymes must be used for the
temporary control of the odours.

Cost economics
The economics of composting will
have to consider the capital cost for
establishing the facility including
siting, cost of operation and
maintenance and the marketing and
promotions of the product.

Heavy metal toxicity

Heavy metal toxicity may arise due to the emission of the dust and
particles during shredding of waste. Hence to avoid the production
of the dust, it is wise to separate the waste before arriving at the
composting facilities or alternatively, the method of co-composting
of waste water treatment plant sludges and organic fraction of
MSW is highly recommended to reduce the concentration and
consequently the potential toxicity.
Benefits of composting

Benefits that can be considered

such as :
1. savings on the purchase of
soil amendments
2. use for streets and parks,
3. revenues from selling the
4. creation of new jobs within a
community and
5. most importantly a
knowledged nation is generated.