Before making the jump into composting, there are several other factors for which to consider and plan. Evaluate potential customers for your products, obtain proper permits, establish an efficient composting process and determine what equipment you will need to help make your operation run smoothly.
By Matt Eul

For wood waste facilities looking to expand their operations, compost feels like a natural and logical progression. Wood waste is an excellent and sustainable carbon source for composting, and nitrogen-based sources like yard clippings, leaves and food waste are usually readily available. However, before making the jump into composting, there are several other factors for which to consider and plan. You need to evaluate potential customers for your products, obtain proper permits, establish an efficient composting process and determine what equipment you will need to help make your operation run smoothly. Below is a brief overview of what you need to consider for each of those areas.

First Things First: Determine if there is a Market for Your End Products
Successful composting companies collect tipping fees and sell quality end products regionally. Collecting material usually is not an issue, but in many parts of the country finding customers to buy the compost can be challenging. It is important before you begin composting to identify customers who will buy your compost. A few different customers to consider include large landscapers, golf courses, greenhouses and landscape supply companies.

You need to develop a business plan that includes how and who you plan to sell compost to, as well as a marketing plan that includes educational outreach about the benefits of using compost. Through education, you will be able to expand your customer base and grow the value of your end products.

Vermeer CT718 Compost Turner.

Obtaining the Proper Permits
Cities and states are trying to divert organic waste away from landfills, which is opening up opportunities for private contractors to expand operations into composting. However, every city and state have their own process for obtaining the proper permits, as well as their own set of regulations.
To research permit requirements in your area, you can start by contacting your local city hall or visit the U.S. Composting Council’s (USCC) “State Composting Regulations” website:

Setting Up Your Facility
Another important consideration with every composting operation is the setup of your facility. To begin, you need to make sure you have enough space available to accommodate the volume of waste you plan to take in. From there, you need to evaluate ground and drainage conditions.

While a simple dirt pad may be the most economical decision, it is not always the best option. When you combine wet material like food waste, mulch and rain, a dirt pad can get pretty sloppy quickly and impact your operations. Concrete or asphalt pads offer the best surface for producing quality finished compost but come with a hefty price tag. Many facilities choose a more economical option like crushed stone. They will use four to six-inch (10.1 – 15.2 cm) rocks to create a base layer 12 to 18 inches (30.5 – 45.7 cm) thick, then apply a top layer of gravel.
You also need to think about slope for drainage. It is important to avoid having wet pockets where water just sits and creates an odor, but you also need to determine where water will drain to.
You should also think about how you want to handle the inflow of raw material. You want to make sure you limit the number of times that material needs to be handled. Many new composting facilities receive raw material at the front of their yards. As it is processed, the material then moves toward the back of the yard until it is ready to sell. It then needs to be hauled back to the front to be sold. Tweaking the layout of your operation so material is processed toward the front of the yard and asking customers to dump in the back can help reduce the number of times material has to be handled.

Static Piles Versus Windrows
How you stack and store compost is also something you should think about as you choose between static piles and windrows. Static piles take up less space than windrows but can take much longer to break down and may require additional grinding before screening the final product.
Composting material in windrows decomposes faster because it is efficient to turn. Depending on weather conditions, type of material and the frequency piles are turned, the material is usually ready to be screened after curing for 90 to 120 days.

Accepting Food Waste
Food waste creates nutrient-rich composts, but there is a lot to think about before you decide to start receiving it at your facilities. Processing food waste can be challenging. Depending on the source of the food waste, you may have to separate non-food-based waste like wrappers, plastic and paper before adding the material to your compost mix. Food waste also needs to be processed almost immediately when it comes into your facility, or your operations may start producing foul odors.

In addition, you need to have an abundance of coarse ground wood waste available to combine with food waste. Mixing the two feedstocks at the proper carbon to nitrogen ratio will help reduce odor and provide the right amount of porosity for air flow. Operations that get in trouble with odor from food waste often do not have enough bulky carbon to balance the nitrogen-rich food waste. Porosity also should not be overlooked; operations using finely ground mulch as their carbon source can find their piles create odors. This is due to poor structure in the pile that reduces air space leading to odors.

Vermeer HG6800TX Horizontal Grinder.

Equipment Needs
While you likely already own a grinder and loaders for your wood waste recycling operation, you should spend some time evaluating how your equipment needs may change as you expand your services.
To begin, you need to evaluate whether your current grinder can handle processing larger volumes of material. From there, you can determine if it makes more sense to add an additional tub or horizontal grinder or replace the one you have with a larger unit.
The next machine you should consider adding is a compost turner. Some facilities may be able to turn material using loaders, but compost turners are more efficient. Compost turners effectively mix all the material in the windrow, increasing the amount of oxygen in the compost heap. The extra oxygen will allow the material to break down faster, help produce higher yields and improve the quality of the end product.
You will also need a machine to screen the compost. Trommel screens are among the most popular screen types used in composting operations because of their efficiency.

Other equipment you may want to look into includes spreaders, a machine that can remove contaminants from your composting mix and radial stackers to aid with moving material.

Here to help
Ramping up your operations is an exciting time, but you will likely have questions that are not answered here. Reach out to a recycling and forestry specialist that can help you develop a plan, set up your operations and, of course, help with any of your equipment needs. | WA

Matt Eul is Senior Product Marketing Specialist – Recycling, Forestry, Pipeline and Specialty Excavation for Vermeer Corporation (Pella, IA). For more information, contact your local Vermeer Recycling and Forestry Specialist at
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