A Field Trip to Cedar Grove Composting Facility

Last Wednesday a cadre of Nomads took a trip to Cedar Grove, the family-owned composting facility in Everett that handles the yard and food waste from King and Snohomish counties. When you put your coffee grounds, chopsticks, eggshells, orange peels, leftover Pud Thai, sandwiches, bonsai trees, and approved food packaging into the green compost bins at Office Nomads, this is where it ends up!

Hey! Don’t eat that!

They use a 3-phase Gore system (as in Gore-Tex, the company that makes the breathable covers for the composting piles) to turn organic urban waste into various garden soils and mulches.  In fact, theirs is the largest Gore system in the world!  It turns out over 400,000 tons of rich, fertile goodness every year.

And this bald eagle owns all of it.

The first phase grinds and sorts the waste into pieces no bigger than 4 inches.  Then it is churned in with wood chips, which are important to balance out the abundance of green yard waste they receive.  “Green” materials contain lots of nitrogen, while “brown” materials like wood have lots of carbon.  Getting the right balance is critical to making good compost.  Then, they use front-loaders to move the compost into long piles, which are aerated and sprayed with just the right amount of water for decomposition.  The next phase continues this, and the final one involves “curing,” i.e. letting the compost rest until it naturally darkens in color.

Conveyor system moving the compost from intake to Stage 1.

A long pile of compost in Stage 2

Their “recipes” for nitrogen and carbon (green and brown organic waste, respectively) ratios vary throughout the year in order to produce a uniform final product.  For example, they have a grass recipe, a pumpkin recipe, and a Christmas tree recipe, depending on what they’re getting seasonally from consumers.  They also modify the recipes with nutrients such as manure and loam to make the different products they sell to gardeners and landscapers.

Vesting up for safety

We were able to walk right up to the giant rows of compost to see and feel the various stages of decomposition.  Most were under their Gore-Tex covers, but in the final stage they are out in the open air.  We were able to touch them to feel how hot they get–the composting organic material naturally heats up to about 175 degrees!  This hot composting action works even in the dead of winter.

Veena feels the warmth

On a sad note, there were pieces of shredded plastic visible in all the piles. While they have a system to remove most of the plastic and metal that gets tossed in with the organic waste, seeing the plastic bags all piled in tall heaps was enough to make any Italian-actor-playing-a-Native-American-chief cry.  It might not seem like a big deal to toss a bag closure in with the spinach, but it adds up fast–and the result is pretty upsetting.  They can’t even sell some of their compost anymore because of all the plastic.

Huge magnet they use to remove metal

But encouragingly, everyone we met was super sweet, optimistic, and very passionate about composting. It was such a nerdy good time that we’d love to organize more field trips in the future.  Next up, we’re going to see if we can visit the recycling center to learn how that magic happens.  Onward to more adventures!

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