The organic fraction of MSW includes food waste, paper, cardboard, plastics, textiles, rubber, leather, and yard waste. Organic material makes up about half of the solid waste stream (Henry 1991) (see Section 10.5). Almost all organic components can be biologically converted although the rate at which these components degrade varies. Composting is the biological transformation of the organic fraction of MSW to reduce the volume and weight of the material and produce compost, a humus-like material that can be used as a soil conditioner (Tchobanoglous, Theissen, and Vigil 1993).
Composting is gaining favor for MSW management (Goldstein and Steuteville 1992). It diverts organic matter from landfills, reduces some of the risks associated with landfilling and incineration, and produces a valuable byproduct (compost). At the present time, twenty-one MSW composting plants are operating in the United States (Goldstein and Steuteville 1992). Most of these plants compost a mixed MSW waste stream. This number does not include a larger number of operations which deal solely with organic material, primarily from commercial establishments (grocery stores, restaurants, and institutions) and those facilities composting yard waste. Finstein (1992) states that over 200 such yard waste facilities are in New Jersey alone.
Applications of aerobic composting for MSW management include yard waste, separated MSW, commingled MSW, and cocomposting with sludge.
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