In-vessel composting dispenses with many common problems. The method keeps pests out and smells in. As a result, Smith-Sebasto sees no problem including meat, dairy and oils in the composter. In-vessel systems are also space saving, making them ideal for Manhattan parks or adjacent to university cafeterias. Smith-Sebasto’s first unit is only 30 feet long, and he says his new system will be able to handle nearly twice as much volume at roughly the same size. This means waste can be processed where it is generated, reducing transportation and emissions.
About 70,000 tons of food and 300,000 tons of yard waste is composted for Seattle each year by Cedar Grove Composting. The company’s technology can process 40,000 tons on just 2.5 acres.
There is a drawback to in-vessel composting: Initial costs run to tens of thousands of dollars. The system at Montclair State was set up with a grant. Still, according to BioCycle magazine, large-scale food composting projects nearly doubled between 2000 and 2007, from 138 to 267.
The U.S. already pays $1 billion a year to deal with food waste. What if that revenue could be used for smarter composting, creating green jobs in the process? Once running, Smith-Sebasto’s system processes waste at a rate per ton as low as $1, much lower than even the cheapest landfill tipping fees in the Heartland.
Smith-Sebasto envisions in-vessel composters for schools, industrial parks, hospitals, grocery stores and anywhere else large numbers of people gather. “The fact that we even tolerate the word “waste” as a noun shows how far we are from sustainability,” he says.