Rapid industrial composting of compostable foodware: assessment and optimization of the Rocket Composter
Partner: MASS Environmental Date: December 2019 – May 2019 Funder: OCE – VIP1 Lead Researchers: Ryan Hill, Barbara Siembida-Losch, Marcus Sheppard
What We Did
While indisputably convenient and (hopefully) delicious, society’s enduring take-out habit is tantamount to waste creation, evoking images of waste bins and landfills spilling over with single-use styrofoam and oil-soaked cardboard containers. Enter compostable foodware—a much-needed solution to our collective addiction to disposables, engineered to degrade rapidly into soil-like material under the right conditions. The problem is, the bulk of these containers are diverted to landfill, where they remain for years, unable to biodegrade. Part of the problem is that municipal facilities lack the resources necessary to process the containers quickly.
Responding to a need from industry, municipalities and citizens, MASS Environmental Services Inc., experts in waste-diversion solutions, partnered with us to assess the ability and efficiency of its Rocket Composter technology (“the Rocket”) to expediently transform single-use foodware into nutrient-rich material. In a traditional system, eco-packaging made from plant-based materials typically takes several weeks, months or even years to become compost. The Rocket, an industrial composter engineered to handle high volumes of waste, works on a rapid two-week turnaround time—but its effectiveness on compostable foodware was unknown: could it break down the containers in two-weeks’ time and produce a viable, Category A compost?
Our researchers conducted optimization testing and developed procedures and methodologies that identified the ideal operating conditions around parameters such as temperature and the use of additives like water, woodchips and greenwaste. As a result, the Rocket can produce a desirable end-product that can be handled safely, with acceptable levels of trace elements, coliforms and other substances required to meet the guidelines for Category A-grade compost. MASS Environmental will gain market share and increase revenues, growing its client base to include manufacturers and corporations who bear the brunt of the consumer backlash over single-use packaging. Furthermore, the CAWT’s assistance in establishing standard operating procedures ensures that the technology’s end users will deploy the Rocket correctly and enables MASS Environmental to disseminate accurate and appropriate marketing material. In the bigger picture, less disposable packaging ends up in landfill—you really rocked it, Rocket!