Science Guides Successful Composting – Waste & Recylcing News

Science guides successful composting

Waste & Recycling News

By: Chrissy Kadleck

Jay Fischer has been known to host state environmental regulators for outdoor luncheons at his composting facility and eating only 10 feet from his windrows of decaying food waste.

Fischer, founder of Ag Choice LLC – the first New Jersey on-farm composting operation approved by the Department of Environmental Protection to collect and compost agricultural waste, pre-consumer food waste and manufacturing such as plant-based organics – has not received a single complaint about odor in his five years of operation.  Not even from those attending the luncheon.

“Composting is real simple.  You either follow the science or you don’ t.  You are not going to beat Mother Nature.  It doesn’t matter how many billions of dollars you throw at it,” said Fischer, who runs Ag Choice with his wife, Jill, and three full-time employees. “Microbes are just like you and I – they need oxygen, moisture, and they need a food source.  If you can control those three parameters, you can successfully compost anything under the sun.  And within two or three days, you can stand next to the windrows and have lunch and not even know that you are at a compost facility.”

As a rule, Fischer is particular about what and how much he accepts at his facility, which spans eight acres in rural Andover.  He takes in measured amounts of livestock manure, fruits, vegetables, bread, floral waste and leaves.

“I’ve got about 35 different inputs that go into making my finished product,” he said, adding that his business currently is the only licensed facility in the state of New Jersey that can take in food waste for compost.  “The other facilities that have failed were all focused on generating revenue through large tipping fees.  I’m more focused on the quality of my finished product, so I am very selective about the materials I take in.”

Ag Choice is permitted to accept 20,000 cubic yards of product, which translates to about 8,000 cubic yards of finished compost.  For the past two years, Fischer sold out of his compost, which is approved as an organic soil amendment.

His fees, $40 a ton, are significantly less than surrounding landfills, which cost $80 to $120 a ton.  That makes his facility a winning choice for many surrounding businesses that deal with a lot of pre-consumer food waste.

In fact, Ag Choice collects an average of 13 to 15 tons of fruit, vegetable and floral waste a month from each of six ShopRite grocery stores.  The company also leaves a second container for the store’s bakery waste, which includes potato chips, baked goods, candy and pastas.  That averages about 5 tons a month at each store.

Ag Choice uses those products to create a sweet livestock feed supplement for chickens and dairy and beef cows.

“The neat thing about the feed program is the material can be in a package,” Fischer said.  “We’ve got machinery that well actually tear open a package, remove the packaging and process the food product inside.  It eliminates a lot of the extra handling and makes it very cost-effective.”

One of the company’s biggest contracts is with Waste Management, which Ag Choice started servicing this Spring – the very same day that Fischer decided to close the family’s sawmill business, which was started in 1997.  The contract brings the food waste from a nearby flavoring company – pulps and leftover organic material that Fischer gladly adds to his rich compost mix.

Fischer said his future plans are working with the DEP to revise regulations on composting facilities that would allow him to take in 50,000 cubic yards of raw material, grow his business, add employees, maintain quality control and still be profitable.