FORT DRUM — A new composting program at the post’s four dining facilities and at the commissary could save the installation thousands of dollars and reduce its environmental impact.
Working with the Development Authority of the North Country, the Cornell Waste Management Institute and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County, post staff found approximately half a pound of waste is generated per served meal, and of that total, 96 percent is either compostible or recyclable.
“You’re looking at only four percent of what we’re currently throwing in the garbage should be going in the garbage,” said Rodger H. Voss, a forester on post. “It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that’s huge.”
The composting has been in action since November, and was developed following an Army order at the beginning of 2014 to find ways to reduce waste output.
Currently, about six to seven tons of food waste from the five sites is collected weekly, which can lead to a large price tag when considering the multiple trips needed to dispose of the products.
“You’ve got tipping fees, transport fees, so we’re saving those costs right off the top,” Mr. Voss said.
The food scraps, heavy in nitrogen, are mixed with wood waste products, heavy in carbon, setting up a natural decomposition process that creates a nutrient-heavy final product that can be used in a variety of settings. Among the uses the post projects for the composted waste is in its timber management program, filling in areas of the post’s forest where harvesting operations can strip nutrients from the ground. It also can be used for a variety of public works projects.
On Thursday morning, soldiers and civilian staff at the dining facility of the 1st Brigade Combat Team were hard at work whipping up dishes such as enchiladas and burgers for lunch. As they completed their prep work, scrap amounts of lettuce, peppers, onions, bread and other items could be seen filling up a bin designated for movement to the post’s compost piles.
Once the items are picked up from the various collection points, they are moved to the post’s transfer area near the main gate. In addition to the food scraps, post staff mixes in wood waste, in this case products such as waste ammunition cases and shipping palettes. In a proper mix, Mr. Voss said, the final pile, weighing about 30 tons, should consist of about two-thirds wood chips and about one-third food waste.
The decomposition process could be seen in the piles that had already been sitting.
As the compostible items sit, microorganisms within the pile get to work, releasing a large amount of heat.
Taking a shovel to one of the sitting piles, Mr. Voss pointed out that a small amount of steam could be seen rising where he worked.
Mr. Voss said that the piles sitting were about 100 degrees Fahrenheit and sometimes hotter, despite the chilly winter weather.
Into the future, Mr. Voss said, he is looking to expand the composting collections to include the fast food operations running on the post. Another plan for down the road is offering compost to soldiers and their families for their own home gardening projects.
Video featuring the new composting work on post can be seen at http://wdt.me/drum-compost.
By Gordon Block, Times Staff Writer