PELZER, SC (FOX Carolina) - Composting. It's all about turning usable waste into nutrient rich soil. Compost House and Atlas Organics have made their home in Greenville County's Twin Chimney's landfill.
Wendy Mcnatt of Greenville County Recycling says, "one of the number one items thrown away in landfills, is food waste, in America.” We learned that since Atlas Organics' production opened in 2016, nearly 40 million pounds of food and yard waste have been diverted away from Twin Chimney's landfill.
The kind of food and yard scraps vary throughout the year. Leslie Rogers, the Education Coordinator and Business Developer for Atlas Organics says, "you know in the summer we get a lot of fresh fruit and watermelons, in the fall it’s a lot of leaves and pumpkins. But we handle about a million pounds of food waste a month”
The company works with some large corporations like Michelin, Adidas and Miliken, as well as numerous restaurants across the area. There's even a network of schools with wide age ranges that set aside their food scraps for pickup.
Mcnatt talks about the impact dumping food into a landfill can have on the environment, saying, "when food waste is in the landfill, compostable food waste, it does create methane in the landfill, which is a greenhouse gas which is 72% more powerful than carbon dioxide”
Diverting food away from the landfill keeps the air around us healthier. Twin Chimney's takes in 1300 tons of garbage every day, six days per week. It'll take another 50-80 years for the landfill to reach capacity at this rate, but that could be extended with the help of composting. Gary Nihart, the Chief Operating Officer of Atlas Organics says "it makes a huge impact locally. With enough local people doing it, it will make an impact globally and we’re running out of landfill space, and we need to protect the environment.”
Rodgers told FOX Carolina that the schools that get involved help to spread the message far and wide. "The educational institutions that we work with have really helped us get this message of diversion and the importance of what we do with our waste to the community, in a scale that we could never do on our own.”
And it doesn't end there. Individual homes and families can get involved too. The Mertel Family in Greenville is one who has taken up composting in their own home. They collect compostable food scraps, and Atlas Organics' curbside service, Compost House, comes to pick it up twice a month. Alyssa Mertel told us, "when you take the time to become aware of the trash you leave behind, you become more particular of the products you use on a daily basis. It’s a challenge I recommend every family take. Composting has created a series of new healthy habits for our family that has also greatly benefited the Earth."
The process of what happens next is easier than some may think. When the food and yard waste arrives on site at Atlas Organics' facility, it's turned it fresh, vibrant soil that usually wasting away in a landfill. First, the food gets mixed with mulched yard waste at a 1-1 ratio. Pipes of oxygen sit underneath the mixed piles, and as the mixture heats up naturally, the pile "cooks" itself. Once the pieces break down into compost, a large sifter filters out items that need more time, and any contamination.
In order to be a DHEC approved process, the mixture must get to 131 degrees for three days in a row. That is achieved here, which is why this facility is able to take on things that typically couldn't go into a backyard compost pile (dairy products, cooked meats, and "certified compostable" cups and utensils).
The process in total takes just 45 days, but would remain stagnant in a landfill for years. Mcnatt says, "if you are recycling your food waste, and turning it into compost, you are improving the landfill, because we’re not producing as much methane, you’re also improving your garden, your soil, wherever you decide to place your compost.”
Compost can be added to any type of soil, to enhance what's already in the ground. The red clay of the southern states is a perfect example of how compost can do great things here. Rodgers says, "we can barely get a shovel in red clay, but with this, root systems can grow deeper and further out, which support a stronger, healthier plant.” Nihart told us a lot about what compost can do for the good of our local farming, saying, "it also helps with water retention and plant health. A lot of our customers see increased yields, healthier plants and it’s less maintenance on the farm.”
Rodgers knows the importance of what this, on a large scale can do, not just in our area, but across the board. She says, "it’s utilizing our resources at a rate that is optimum. You know we’re creating, we’re using what nature has, to the best of its ability.”
If you want to get involved, there is the curbside program with Compost House that services many zip codes in our area. There's also the Enoree Residential Waste and Recycling Center near the Five Forks area of Woodruff Road, were you can drop off food scraps and other compostable waste for free.