The Business Of Composting: How Food Waste Makes Money
Written by Konstantina Antoniadou.
How does food waste make money? What happens when we send something over to the industrial composting facility? Is commercial composting really sustainable? Here’s everything you need to know about the blooming business of composting.
If you are a proud member of the zero-waste movement, you’ve probably already opted for an at-home composter—or at least thought about it over the last few months. But what about commercial composting? Rumor has it that the global industry is expected to reach USD 7516.5 million by the end of 2027. In reality, large-scale composting designed to treat tons of organic waste and turn it into fertilizer is a highly profitable business. However, in order to understand how big the compost industry is, we first have to analyze how much compost is worth.
Compost collected from curbside bins from our homes, restaurants, etc. is later sold to farms or individuals for gardening and landscaping. But what happens when we send something over to the industrial composting facility is pretty much unknown to regular zero-waste pros and newbies alike. So let’s get into the topic of composting commercially.
Who picks up our organic' waste?
Waste management companies like WM, and Republic Services are turning organic material into resources by collecting your food, yard waste, and more from the neighborhood. The waste is usually picked up by leak-proof compost trucks which take it straight to the facility. Currently, there are 713 Waste Collection Facilities businesses in the US as of 2022.
How do industrial composters make money?
Large and small industrial composters make money by selling fully composted material. So essentially, our waste is turned into either dirt which is then used as a fertilizer, or, on some occasions, ground cover. This organic fertilizer is extremely useful to farmers but it can also be found in many gardens.
Also, when it comes to the question of how much compost is worth, it’s also important to look at the additional charges. Composting sites make money from tipping fees. Just like in the business of landfills, industrial composters are paid for by anyone who disposes of waste based on the load’s weight.
How much do composters make?
The industry may still be young, but the average revenue can be anything from $500,000 to over $1 million for a small to medium-sized compost business. Typically, composting sites charge $16 per ton for yard waste but high-quality compost facilities can even ask for $49 per ton.
However, when we are discussing the profits of composting commercially, we should also take into consideration the ongoing expenses of these facilities including gasoline for trucks, marketing, office utilities, and labor costs. These expenses depend on the scale of the operation, but typically, the operation of a small facility starts at around $10,000 per month.
What are the working conditions in commercial composting sites like?
Unfortunately, recycling, composting, and landfill sites are by no means healthy work environments. Still, in 2022, there are many Work-related health symptoms among compost facility workers including respiratory, irritation, gastrointestinal, and skin symptoms. However, compared to landfills, composting sites are far more healthy for workers.
How does composting work?
Now that you already have a pretty good idea of how big the compost industry is, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. How does commercial composting work? A composting facility is in charge of collecting recyclable garbage from the community. In some cases, we can just drop off our waste, but most commonly, the company picks up the garbage from the local neighborhoods.
Then, as soon as the waste enters the facility, workers dump it into piles. These piles are layered with bulking agents such as woodchips, branches, shredded newspaper, etc for better air circulation. The average composting time of an aerated static pile of compost is three to six months.
There is another popular technique in industrial composting called in-vessel composting, which takes a few more weeks and can process large amounts of waste without taking up as much space.
Can bioplastics be composted?
According to BBC Science Focus, biodegradable plastics take only three to six months to fully decompose. This means that these materials compost way quicker than traditional plastic which can take hundreds of years. So ultimately, compostable plastic will biodegrade in a compost site because they are made from plant-based substances.
What’s the final compost product & where do they send it?
As ACS describes it, the final compost product is “a carbon dioxide, water vapor, and a dark-brown or black organic material,” half the volume of the original material that can be used to enrich the soil in farm fields and gardens.
This material is then sold to garden centers, mulch suppliers, farmers, and at-home gardeners for profit.
What happens to a contaminated compost pile?
It’s no secret that contaminated compost equals garden problems. So much so that it can result in the total loss of a crop even if plants do not die. The harmful herbicide in most cases comes from contaminated hay, grass clippings, or manure that somehow make their way into the regional composting system. Unfortunately, the operator has to remove or decontaminate all waste residues and most likely send them to the landfill.
Is commercial composting sustainable or should more people compost at home?
It’s no secret that converting waste into compost effectively eliminates pollution of the air, water, and soil. This nutrient-rich soil amendment can be used in numerous ways, preserving natural resources and saving water. However, in large commercial compost sites, many contaminants can get into the waste including bacteria, heavy metals, and other chemicals besides pesticides.
That doesn’t mean choosing industrial composting for food scraps, bioplastics, and organics diversion is not the most sustainable and efficient end-of-life environment—because it is. In reality, home composting cannot process as many types of organic matter as commercial composting can, so if you want to treat dense materials (such as large branches and compostable plastics), it would be best to choose commercial composting instead. Either way, both solutions are equally eco-friendly.
Which countries are better at composting?
Unfortunately, just 27 percent of people in the United States have access to some form of composting service. But likely, composted food and yard trimmings increased from 23.4 million to 24.9 million tons during the last 5 years. Still, many countries do it better. Germany is one of the best examples as they manage to recycle and compost 65% of waste. South Korea is second best as they ethically get rid of 59% of their waste. Last but not least, Austria and Slovenia both recycle and compost 58% of their waste.
Composting commercially: a sustainable practice that matters
We can’t help but feel proud of the growth of the compost industry! Especially over the last few years, more and more people are getting into the at-home or commercial composting in order to minimize their waste and save natural resources. It’s so great to hear that our organic waste can actually help, farmers and gardeners alike, enrich the soil, assist in retaining moisture, and suppress plant diseases and pests all while reducing the need for chemical fertilizers. So pat yourself on the back, because this is yet another small step towards a healthier planet—and your small, daily actions have a true impact.