School Composting and Waste Sorting Data

Joe Richardson of Bar-T Mountainside Ranch (a directory member!) and member of the @Frederick Compost Workgroup recently presented data from a number of waste sorts and composting efforts he coordinated at schools in Frederick County. He presented the data to the Frederick County Solid Waste Advisory Committee (SWAC) as well as Frederick County Public Schools representatives. Students, teachers and parents from Sugarloaf/Urbana Elementary and Brunswick High School who have worked on the project also attended and gave their perspective.

The presentation is here for your enjoyment and information; click on the graphic below!

 Presentation for SWAC – FINAL

“There’s a new ‘JOHN’ in town”

David Myers checks it out–no smell!!! — in the composting toilet.

If you poop, add a scoop. If you pee, let it be.

Months later, top-dress the brown spots in your lawn.

I interviewed David Myers of Build-Rite Construction LLC/Myers Barn Shop, and RN, a customer of his, about the Sun-Mar Composting Toilet. And the statements above are about the long and the short of it.

Myers is a Sun-Mar dealer, and has sold composting units in the region for the past 3 years. Due to their lack of impact on the environment– there is nothing to flush, no leachate to treat–the toilets can be installed anywhere, but they are still considered an oddity for local permitting departments because the National Building Code, requiring a conventional septic. However, per application the local counties are giving it some attention.

A year prior to finding Sun-Mar, RN had purchased and installed another brand of composting toilet that only meets the performance standard of the National Sanitation Foundation (Sun-Mar composting toilets are certified by the National Sanitation Foundation) but it proved to have odors and did not compost completely. So he went to a Mother Earth News show with his family and his young daughter spotted Myers’ Sun-Mar display. “Buy one!” his daughter urged him.


And since his small home did not provide room for the large composting toilet system, he chose the self-contained unit. Based on his bad experience with the other brand and looking at the show model at Myers’ office, he decided to buy a Sun-Mar unit. “We wanted something simple, that worked, with no environmental impact,” he says.


All Sun-Mar toilets are designed so that air is constantly being drawn in and up the vent stack providing odor-free operation; some have an electrical fan and heating element that dries out the compost material quickly; others use natural draft to do the job. The human waste (the nitrogen portion of the composting process) mixes with the Sun-Mar organic carbon bulk material — “it contains hemp straw and peat moss as well as other components, though people have tried to make up their own version it doesn’t work very well,” Myers says. Turn the drum regularly for six rotations, where the carbon and nitrogen stock that make up compost are mixed; only adding a scoop of the bulking mix at each bowel movement (add a scoop when you poop!) The carbon/nitrogen mix drops into a holding tray at the foot of the toilet, which is emptied 4-6 times per year in an average 4 person household.


“The smell is non-existent,” RN says.


Myers says he added Sun-Mar composting toilets to his offering of storage buildings, cabins, garages, and basement remodels because it is an affordable option when access to plumbing and electricity is difficult to access. We also have Sun-Mar units designed for the whole house where the toilet looks more like a traditional toilet with the composting taking place below the floor of the home. The units range from $1,500 – $3,000.


Biochar: Builder of organic matter and super-charged compost

What is Biochar?

Biochar is an ancient human agricultural practice, largely forgotten until recent decades. Ancient biochar has been discovered in the Amazon basin, where it is known as “Terra Preta.” Fertile soil infused with biochar provided food for millions of Ancient South Americans in a region otherwise challenged by low soil fertility.

“Terra Preta” biochar soil remains rich and fertile to this day. Biochar is the carbon which remains after plant or animal matter is baked or “pyrolized” at low temperatures, in the absence of oxygen. It is a natural process that occurs during forest fires. Carbon is a natural component of healthy living soil. The ancients augmented this naturally occurring soil carbon by producing biochar in a process similar to charcoal-making. Modern biochar pyrolysis is an efficient, tightly engineered process which generates biochar and valuable by-products cleanly, with energy self-sufficiency, and is carbon negative.

How does Biochar work?

1. Production. Biochar, when property produced via pyrolysis, retains the microscopic cell structure of the plant or animal material from which it was made. A handful of biochar contains many square miles of surface area and billions of cellular cavities. Biochar comes out of the pyrolysis process sterile.

2. Inoculation. Sterile biochar is “inoculated” with beneficial biological life. The easiest method is by incorporating biochar into an existing compost operation. Beneficial microorganisms, fungi, and bacteria take up residence in the vast network of biochar cell cavities, where they flourish, reproduce, compete and generate plant-available nutrients. This can take 3-12 weeks.

3. Use as Soil Amendment. Inoculated Biochar compost is introduced into agricultural fields or lawn soil. There, it improves virtuous nutrient cycling, increases water retention, accelerates the building of soil organic matter, and filters out mineral fertilizers and toxins that would normally run off into streams.

Biochar Advantages

• Biochar helps build soil organic matter (SOM), soil organic carbon (SOC) and soil biological activity. Compost alone is a good method to sequester carbon into soil (thus removing it from the atmospheric stock of CO2.) However, compost oxidizes in a few years, returning its carbon into the atmosphere. Biochar is soil carbon which remains stable in soil for hundreds or thousands of years, while also benefiting soil fertility.

• Biochar enhances the rainwater infiltration capacity of soil. Less run-off means reduced nutrient management issues, increased drought tolerance and reduced stormwater management costs.

• Biochar acts as a large-scale “carbon filter,” absorbing surplus mineral fertilizers, pesticides and toxins prior to stormwater carrying them into waterways. • Biochar turns agricultural waste into a valuable farm product. Chicken litter, diseased trees, manure, invasive species biomass, municipal wood chips… All can be pyrolyzed into sterile biochar.

• Biochar production is energy self-sufficient and can generate excess energy for resale into the grid, to heat greenhouses or otherwise displace conventionally-produced energy. • Biochar production is clean, exceeding California emissions standards.

• Biochar production generates valuable by-products. Depending on the feedstock biomass that is being pyrolyzed into biochar, the process can yield valuable quantities of waste heat, syngas, wood vinegar and other high-value products.

• Biochar helps restore essential soil carbon levels and biological biomass levels, which have been depleted by intensive agriculture. Biochar is NOT a waste product, it is carbon mad from organic feedstocks, which augments a natural soil-building process that is millions of years old.

• Biochar is particularly effective in accelerating the conversion of “conventional” agricultural fields, domestic lawns and municipal greenways to organic practices.




Richard with biochar that is being blended with his compost.

Richard Jefferies operates Utica Bridge Farms, a chemical-free farmstead which grows 50+ varieties of heirloom vegetables, berries, fruits, nuts and grains, using practices which build healthy biologically-active soil, support biodiversity and produce nutrient-dense food. This work is taken from a presentation he made at a Future Harvest CASA conference. 

Microbes at FMH—the Good Ones—Are Tackling Tons of Food Waste

There’s a new player in town reducing the amount of food waste headed to the Frederick County landfill—actually a host of new players in the form of hungry microbes.

Frederick Memorial Hospital installed a BioHiTech EcoSafe digester,  an aerobic food waste disposal system.The digester began processing food waste from the kitchen and patient rooms in February 2018. So far, it’s reduced the hospital’s food waste being landfilled by nearly five tons a month. Overall figures for waste from the hospital were unavailable. Diverting the leftover food from the cafeteria, what’s known as “front of house”,  is a more complex feat and is not yet underway.


Emily Dyson checks out the EcoSafe digester in the FMH kitchen.

Emily Dyson, Director, Science Research and Development for BioHiTech, explained how the system works.
· Kitchen employees scrape the food waste during the dishwashing process into a 5-gallon bucket. When the bucket fills they dump the scraps into the digester.
· The system is housed in a steel container that resembles an industrial icemaker. The digester is maintained at between 105 and 115 degrees and has paddles to provide constant aeration which allows the microorganisms to reproduce at an optimum rate. The digester operates like a stomach and needs proper temperatures, oxygen, and bacteria to digester the food waste. BioHiTech uses a proprietary blend of microorganisms to facilitate digestion.


Hospital food scrap ready for aerobic microbial digestion!

· The digester can handle everything except bones, large amounts of meat, raw dough and rice, corn husks, cobs and pineapple tops. That’s because the outer surfaces are too hard for critters that break down. If you wouldn’t eat it neither will the critters!
· After the digestion process, the discharged liquid heads to a FMH grease trap where anything that is not digested is skimmed and the rest of the liquid heads to the Frederick City Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The digester so far has diverted 37,621 lbs since the system was installed fin February. That’s removed it from landfill disposal and changed it to effluent treated by the Frederick water treatment system. The microorganism blend contains no surfactants or man-made enzymes (what is added to dish detergent so that dishes get clean quickly). This is because surfactants only temporarily break down fats, oils, and greases which can recongeal in the treatment process into “fatbergs” that clog sewage treatment operations. The microorganisms used in the digesters continue to eat away at the fats, oils and greases as they continue down the sanitary sewer line.

The added value of the EcoSafe digester, BioHiTech says, is its smart technology. The hospital’s chef, nutritionists and operations team all can use the BioHiTech app on their phones connected to the microcomputer in the digester. It can tell them at any moment how much waste has been digested for any given time period, as well as other metrics such as the equivalent drop in trash truck trips; carbon footprint and water used.

The EcoSafe digester was downsized from its originally installed digester because the data provided the hospital food and nutrition team info that helped them to tweak what they buy and put on the menu so that organic waste was significantly reduced (a followup story on this coming in July!). This helped the hospital cut their food waste by 200 pounds weekly.

BioHiTech sees the system complementing other organic waste diversion practices coming on line in the states where composting and anaerobic digestion are being required through regulation. “The digester is one element of the solution for organic waste,” she said. “There is not one technology that is going to work to solve the organic waste issue in the US.”

Frederick County On-Farm Compost Amendment

A zoning amendment allowing acceptance of food scraps on permitted farms in the agriculture zone, a change proposed to existing zoning code to solve obstacles to expansion of composting in Frederick County, was recently supported by Frederick County’s Solid Waste Advisory Committee (SWAC).
The proposed zoning amendment, which has been discussed for months by the Frederick County Planning and Zoning Dept., must still be introduced as County Council legislation and follow the process for zoning amendments before it can be adopted.
Currently, food scrap composting can take place on agricultural land under 5,000 square feet. The proposed amendment creates two levels: permitted acceptance of food scrap with no commercial sales in the ag zone between 5,000 square feet and five acres; or acceptance by Special Use Permit in the agriculture zone above 5 acres but no more than 10 acres, with commercial sales allowed.
Other proposed conditions include:
*no composting in the floodplain and a required setback of 25 feet from floodplain and 50 feet from streambanks
*must be 150 feet from property lines
*must have frontage to a 20-foot-wide paved road and at the discretion of the county, a commercial/industrial entrance
*a vehicle circulation plan and turning radius plan
*A log book of received material that can be inspected at any time by the Zoning Administrator
*must be incorporated into composting within 24 hours and avoid nuisance, dust and detectable noise from other properties
Facilities would still be expected to meet all state permitting regulations for Tier 2 composting.