As I was greeted at my hostel in San Jose, Costa Rica I was happy to hear about the ways I can contribute to sustainability during my stay. The hostel boasts eco-friendly characteristics such as a comprehensive recycling system, tankless water heating, and motion detecting lights in the hallways. But, what got me really excited, was what I found in the communal kitchen area- a nice big tub sitting next to the sink for composting. All food scraps and wastes are to be placed into the bucket and the bucket is taken out to one of the several backyard holes to decompose. The hostel guests seem to do a pretty good job of putting their food waste into the bucket. The hostel staff then uses the homemade compost on their landscaping around their property. I was very pleased to see a composting program, albeit small, being implemented in Costa Rica. Their production is simple, cost effective, and sets a great example that other hostels should follow.
You may be more curious about what’s new in the testing and experimental group, though. Before break group members were setting up tests to measure the dry weights of several batches of the compost. We will keep you posted on our results!
Other tests will be used to examine the physical and chemical properties of our compost. In order to create a useful compost product for Clemson’s campus, certain physical and chemical properties need to be maintained. Physical properties include moisture content (%), organic matter (%), carbon to nitrogen ratio (C:N), density, inert or oversize matter (%). The ideal range of moisture is 60-80% and will change throughout the decomposition process. The C:N is very important when measuring the rate of decomposition. Density is a measure of how easily air and water can move through the compost. Chemical properties include plant nutrients. Total nitrogen, organic nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, calcium, magnesium, nitrates, nitrites, chloride, sulfates, copper, iron, zinc, and ammonia are unique indicators of health risks, but many also have uses for plants. Other tests should include measuring the pH, which should be slightly acidic to neutral (6.5-7.0) for plants to thrive. Carbonates describe the buffering capacity, conductivity measures the soluble salts present, and maturity is a measure of respiration and ammonia production- mature composts are stable and thus have lot microbial respiration. Indicators of health concerns include traces of cadmium, arsenic, fecal coliforms, and Salmonella (Cornell Waste Management Institute).