Friday, July 9, 2010

A virtuous circle for our food.... at last

Miracles abound, and a circle has been completed!

A miracle of public policy was the undoing of a very poor choice for a prison facility at the Camden riverfront with its exquisite views of the Philadelphia skyline. I learned from my compost friend, Dan Vecsi, that he has supplied 7,000 cubic yards of compost for the reclamation of this riverfront property, just upriver of the Ben Franklin Bridge, that formerly housed prisoners.

But the other miracle, almost as astonishing, is the commercial-scale production from food scraps of compost used at the former prison. The compost was made at the Wilmington Organic Recycling Center (WORC), a subsidiary of the Peninsula Compost Group. WORC is itself a miracle, as a waste processing facility sensitively sited in a mixed-use community in Wilmington, close to I-95, and developed without government subsidies. The WORC facility started to receive food scraps in early winter and, after a challenging shakedown period, is now producing a fine compost of the kind that has been unavailable in the Philadelphia metro area, except in relatively small quantities.

Composters, soil lovers, sustainability advocates and greenies of all shades have been cheering the initiative of Peninsula's leader, Nelson Widell, long-known to composters in this part of the country, and they have been eager to see his venture a success.

A major winner, too, will be those organizations, such as the University of Pennsylvania, Starbucks and Wal-Mart, with sustainability commitments, as diversion of organic wastes from landfills help them achieve their goals for a reduced environmental footprint.

The other miracle is the completion of the organic nutrient cycle, as the nutrients and solar energy captured by plants are returned to the soil and made available for future plant growth. Shameful indices of society's wastefulness are the 50% of all U.S. food production that fails to reach the mouth and the over 90% of the wasted food that ends up in landfills, where much of the food energy escapes as methane and where nutrients are locked up forever.

Very nearly a moral imperative is that food scraps be returned to the soil. Composting is one of the best ways of doing so.

We can hope that Peninsula's success will encourage others to embark on similar projects, as the food scrap generation in this region, from both pre and post consumer sources, very likely exceeds 500,000 tons annually.

That can make a lot of compost! Just think of how many gardens and storm runoff detention features could be installed with that compost.

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