The pros and cons of on-site organic waste management systems
There’s no doubt about it, effective on-site organic waste management is the way of the future. For businesses, it means food scraps, paper, cardboard, packaging, and other organic materials can be siphoned away from landfills and sent back to the earth instead.
Not only does a self-managed composting solution make for greener business practices, but it will also lower your waste collection costs over time.
While there is a range of composting methods available, finding the best approach depends on your business’ size, volume, and the type of organic waste you need to dispose of.
For instance, if you run a smaller business, you may be able to use a contained composting solution on-site, whereas bigger companies need to look at more robust equipment or outdoor composting strategies to manage their volume of food, cardboard, and packaging.
To take the legwork out of searching for the best option for your business, we’ve reviewed the most common types of composting set-ups and earmarked which is most suitable for different spaces and company structures.
Best for offices: Vermicomposting
This method allows staff to compost their own lunch leftovers or scraps in a ‘red worm’ farm. Built to the size you need, a vermicomposting system is a contained solution that uses worms instead of microorganisms to break down food scraps, garden clippings, paper, and other organic materials to produce high-quality compost.
- Makes high-quality fertiliser for the garden
- Acts fast, creating compost in 3-4 months
- Ideal for office spaces that don’t have a big outdoor area
- Needs constant management in case liquid spills out
- Worms are sensitive to extreme conditions
- Requires proper climate control and drainage
Best for small businesses: Compost tumbler
A tumbler turns food and garden waste into nutrient-rich compost. It’s essentially a drum with a handle for turning the compost to allow for aeration. This method is popular with businesses that only have a small space available and have a limited amount of organic waste to dispose of.
- Includes a lid to keep pests out
- Inexpensive to set-up
- Composts in as little as 3-6 months
- Requires ongoing maintenance
- Needs manual turning for aeration
- Can only handle small volumes of organic waste
Best for restaurants and cafes: In-vessel composting
In-vessel composting, or as it’s more commonly known, a ‘compost bin’, is widely considered to be the most effective approach for compostable packaging. A good choice for businesses that are short on space, it has side vents for ventilation, a lid to keep smells in and pests out, and lets the right amount of rainwater in to maintain moisture. This method allows more control over the composting process by managing the key elements of air, moisture, heat, and microorganisms.
- Can manage a range of types of organic waste
- Contains any odour and litter
- Compost is produced relatively quickly (less than 3 months)
- Can be expensive to get started
- Requires some technical knowledge and regular turning to operate properly
- Needs outdoor space
Best for businesses with a garden: A Compost Heap
A standard compost pile involves creating an aerated stack of compost somewhere outside. It is the cheapest, easiest, and most popular form of composting, but being outside in the open, it does have its drawbacks, including the smell from food scraps and the risk of attracting animals.
- Easy to get started
- Simple to maintain
- Option for hot or cold composting
- Has limited capacity for food scraps
- Needs manual turning
- May attract animals
Best for bigger businesses: Industrial Composting
Larger businesses, such as hotels, restaurants, and warehouses, with lots of organic food scraps and packaging offcuts, may consider installing industrial composting machinery. While it comes with a higher initial cost, once the system has been set up and the process integrated into your operations, the composting equipment will look after itself and save on waste collection fees. It can manage huge volumes of waste quickly and efficiently.
- Can manage a high volume of organic materials
- Fully automatic
- Easy and convenient to use
- More expensive to set up
- Requires power to run
Best for farms: Windrow Composting
The windrow method produces large volumes of compost and is popular with rurally based businesses that have a high turnover of food scraps. Organic waste is piled into long rows with spacing between each. The piles need to be large enough to maintain an internal temperature, but small enough to allow natural airflow between the rows. This option is really only suitable for organisations with enough land. It requires sturdy equipment and a commitment to continual turning.
- Produces a lot of compost that can be used as garden fertiliser
- Can manage a wide range of different types of wastes
- Relatively easy to set up
- Requires a lot of space
- Specialised equipment for turning
- Needs constant maintenance
Best for agricultural businesses: Aerated Static Pile Composting
A great option for businesses that have the space is Aerated Static Pile Composting. While costly to set up, it doesn’t require physical turning. This method manages large volumes of organic waste through a system of pipes and loosely piled bulking agents like wood chips and shredded newspaper. It’s out in the open and can smell if not covered, so some systems use covers to contain odour and maintain moisture.
- Creates compost quickly (in 3-6 months)
- Can manage lots of general organic waste
- No need for physical turning for aeration
- Needs a large outdoor area
- Set-up requires detailed layering and monitoring to ensure even heating
- Costly to install the pipe system to circulate airflow
If a composting setup isn’t the right fit for your business, you can organise a regular collection service either through your local council or a private operator.