A large pile of compost at a city-owned facility was steaming one day last week, the result of heat produced by millions of microbes feeding on food waste from city rec centers. The newly operational facility on Rising Sun Avenue in Northeast Philadelphia is the result of plans laid before the pandemic to turn tons of food waste generated at the city’s 156 recreation centers into free compost for registered community gardens.
Rec centers serve meals during programs for children and the elderly. Each center generates nearly a ton of food waste each year, officials estimate. Though the compost facility, which is not open to the public, started accepting waste in November, the material is just now turning into usable soil. The process takes about five months as the waste is collected, screened and moved by stage of decomposition through a series of eight concrete block bays. Some of the bays are fed by a blower and pipes that circulate air, helping with an aerobic process that can produce temperatures of 140 to 160 degrees to kill harmful pathogens generated by decomposing meat and dairy.
“The latest recipe we’ve been using is a blend of food waste, sawdust and wood chips all sourced from within Philadelphia,” said Tim Bennett, owner of Bennett Compost, which won the bid to haul the waste to a former maintenance facility owned by Parks and Recreation and turn it into compost. Under the arrangement, Bennett uses the facility for his own business collecting food waste from city homes. His workers mix that with the waste from the rec centers. Bennett, which also has other facilities, sells compost back to his customers at a discount.