Composting Roundup - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Urban Dirt Factory

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The University City District (UCD) in the University City area of West Philadelphia is a nonprofit involved in community revitalization that services neighborhood institutions, small businesses and residents. One of its projects is the Dirt Factory, a community composting operation opened in 2012 and located on a 2,500-square foot formerly overgrown, trash-strewn vacant lot. Neighborhood residents can drop off their vegetative (nonprotein) food waste. The owner of the lot allows UCD to use it rent-free. The Dirt Factory has two 3 cubic yard Green Mountain Technologies Earth Tubs. About 70 to 90 gallons/week of food waste are dropped off and added to the Earth Tub, along with about 200 gallons of dried leaves. It takes about six to eight weeks to collect enough compostable material to fill one tub. Then it takes about a month to go through active composting, with a power auger used to turn the material five days a week, according to Seth Budick, UCD’s policy and research manager. While material in one tub is being composted, the other tub is having more organic material added to it.

After about a month, the composting material is piled in “corrals” on a paved surface and covered with tarps. It cures for a minimum of one month, and depending on seasonal weather conditions, sometimes for several months, Budick says. Odor management has not been a problem: “As long as we capture the leachate, we can minimize odors,” he explains. A finished load of about 400 gallons of compost is produced every six to eight weeks. Neighborhood residents can pick up as much compost as they need for use in their gardens (the facility is open to the public one morning and one afternoon per week). The District uses the compost in its own public space landscaping projects. The Dirt Factory produces a total of about 10 tons/year of finished, high-quality compost.

“The program has been very well received in the neighborhood,” adds Budick. The number of households dropping off organic material has increased from 5 to 10 per week at the beginning, to the current level of 25 to 30 households per week. “Based on the demand we’ve seen, we could expand,” he says. “We’re looking for opportunities to do that, either by expanding the facility or opening additional sites elsewhere in the neighborhood.”

Some of the space on the lot is used as an open-air “classroom” that other community groups can use for events, thereby exposing more people to the composting concept.

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