Decentralized Community Composting: History
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In recent years, there has been a huge interest from local communities in decentralized composting. Decentralized community composting refers to a community-scale network in a specific neighborhood that diverts and composts biowaste in a controlled operative environment. In fact, the lack of centralized composting facilities in small towns or rural areas can be supported by decentralized solutions. Decentralizing waste treatment facilities and thus creating local solutions to urban waste management strategies will help to achieve the resource recovery and valorization targets in line with the circular economy.

  • biofertilizer
  • community composting
  • decentralized composting
  • municipal solid waste
  • recycling
  • organic waste management

Decentralized Community Composting

General Overview

Considering the limitations of centralized waste treatment facilities originating from diverting food waste and increased costs for collecting and transporting waste in long distances, some of municipal composting programs may not be fully successful. In addition, high operational costs and operational complexity are other factors that should be taken into consideration for centralized systems (Sakarika et al., 2019; Panaretou et al., 2019; De Kraker et al., 2019). At this point, alternative strategies must be identified and developed, such as decentralized collection and treatment. Decentralized composting, also known as community composting, refers to a community-scale network in a specific neighborhood that diverts and composts biowaste in a controlled operative environment (Pai et al., 2019). The main advantages of decentralized composting over centralized systems are summarized in Table 1. In a broad perspective, decentralized composting can help to decrease the cost and effort for transportation of waste for processing and treatment, and further reduce the need to construct new disposal facilities, enable local reuse of organic matter, create local small-scale enterprises as well as reduce costs associated with commercial fertilizer purchase (Colón et al., 2015; Arrigoni et al., 2018; Pai et al., 2019). Furthermore, the final compost product is comparatively of higher quality due to efficient separation and less intercontamination of wastes (Zhou et al., 2010; Araya et al., 2018). Community composting is thus attracting some attention from policymakers, who consider this as a logical implementation (Slater et al., 2015). However, some drawbacks are also faced during decentralized composting. The collection of organic waste in containers may result in an uncontrolled degradation of organic matter that leads to odor problems and leachate generation in the case of poor management (Sakarika et al., 2019). Furthermore, logistic problems can lead to unsatisfactory implementations (Pai et al., 2019). In this regard, new composting technologies should be well-addressed, and the information gathered from the operative environments should be thoroughly analyzed for a win-win situation for all stakeholders.
 
Table 1. Main advantages of decentralized composting over centralized composting (Öberg, 2011; Araya, 2018).

Community Composting in the Operative Environment

When a decentralized composting system at the community-scale is demonstrated in a specific city or urban area, current and future proposed land use availability, and status of vacant land and community interest are initially considered within the regulatory frameworks. Once the location type and the individual site within each area are selected, the composting capacity is latter calculated within the city or specific region, based on the population size and waste generation trend (Pai et al., 2019). The next step is then the decision on the composting technology. Community composting reactors can be different, in other words, “simpler”, than centralized composters. Plastic bins in any shapes (i.e., rectangular, cylindrical, conical) are often used for community composting reactors (Comesaña, 2017; Araya, 2018). Plastic drum reactors were also recently reported (Manu et al., 2019). These reactors can be operated in batch, semi-continuous or continuous mode, based on the sustainability of the wastes. The reactor capacity is usually between 100–1000 L (Comesaña, 2017; Manu et al., 2019). In most cases, holes are constructed at the bottom or on the periphery for aeration and turning/mixing is applied manually. Some examples of decentralized composting practices in Europe are presented in Table 2. The biggest drawbacks of these bin-type reactors is the uncontrolled emission of GHGs, such as methane, ammonia or nitrous oxide (Colón et al., 2012; Adhikari et al., 2013), non-homogenous matrix of the final compost product due to inadequate mixing (Martínez-Blanco et al., 2010); odor and leachate (Sakarika et al., 2019). For instance, gas emissions (i.e., (CH4, N2O, NH3 and volatile organic compounds (VOCs)) of a bin-type composter were calculated in the range of 30–148 kg CO2 eq/Mg leftovers of raw fruits and vegetables (Colón, et al., 2010).
 
Table 2. Characteristics of selected decentralized composting systems in Europe.

Socioeconomic Perception

In most agri-environmental programs, the lack of participation of interested stakeholders in designing frameworks, the poor information basis to support policy formulation and the failure to consider local specificities in the scheme design are reported to be the main reasons for low success achievements (Fabiani et al., 2020). In a recent survey (Al-Madbouh et al., 2019), the farmers’ perception of compost production was found to be 83.9%, in which the participants showed also a high, yet lower, willingness level (63.6%) of the more salient option to produce compost themselves and use it in agriculture. In another survey, 67% of respondents indicated that they are interested or very interested in community composting systems (Mcneill, 2018). Without a doubt, public acceptance and encouragement are the key factors for a successful decentralized composting implementation. As the actual processing volume is dependent on the participation of residents in a community, low participation rates can be a major challenge in such cases (Pai et al., 2019). By community composting, local resources community participation can be established (Yedla, 2012) and people may be more motivated to reduce their food waste when they see it separated out from the rest of their waste (Mcneill, 2018). In a common sense, decentralized composting systems should be inexpensive, require low maintenance and easy handling (Manu et al., 2019). Identifying a suitable location in a city/region is critical and logistical characteristics such as the distance from waste sources, need/use of compost, demographic characteristics, and environmental characteristics such as drainage, potential or existing environmental conditions, should be all considered during the identification. A lack of technical support in operating and building community composting facilities has also been a critical challenge in maintaining decentralized composting systems (Pai et al., 2019. Hence, training and navigating the community within the specific region is crucial.
 
References
 
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This entry is adapted from the peer-reviewed paper 10.3390/su12083319

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