Compost station up and running

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County > Pick up samples at PEEC’s Earth Day celebration Saturday

By Arin McKenna

Contrary to what the late winter weather would have us believe, it is spring, and as temperatures warm up this weekend it may be tempting to run to the nursery and begin planting. But with New Mexico’s unpredictable weather, experts advise holding off until at least mid-May for anything other than seeds.
So bypass the nursery and head to the Eco Station for a load of compost to start prepping your soil. Los Alamos County’s new composting facility has just received state certification and its first batch of compost is ready to go.
The new facility is located at the old wastewater treatment plant in Bayo Canyon. The entire operation sits in a lined retention pond.
“Basically, nothing can leave it. Anything that has active sludge on it will be contained on this pad, so it can’t leach into the groundwater and go anywhere else,” said Public Works Director Philo Shelton.
The process of making mulch actually starts in residents’ backyards.
“We need organic waste, woody waste, to sustain this operation. We need people to start using paper yard bags instead of plastic bags so we can use that to compost. That’s why we’re asking people to put yard waste in paper bags,” Shelton said.
The county is asking residents to separate their “green waste”— grass clippings, leaves and pine needles — from their garbage and place it in paper lawn bags, available at the Eco Station for $1 each or at Metzger’s Do it Best Hardware for less.
“If you put it in plastic bags, it’s garbage, even if you have pine needles in it, because you can’t compost plastic,” Shelton said.
Even weeds can be composted, since the temperatures reached while the compost is cooking kill any seeds.
Logs, branches, green waste — even wooden pallets — are put through a tub grinder at the Eco Station to produce an organic mulch. That is carried to the compost facility and put through a screener to separate fibers too long to compost effectively.
The mulch is mixed with biosolids from the wastewater treatment plant and horse manure, then spread into long rows six to seven feet high
“The reason we had to go with this design was to get enough mass so that it could generate a high enough temperature in the wintertime, because this is outside,” Shelton said. “Some compost facilities they put indoors to keep the heat in. but by building these large piles, the heat is generated in the middle of the pile even in winter, and gets enough heat to compost.”
As anyone who has made backyard compost knows, the organic mix must be turned to keep it aerated. That is accomplished by a piece of machinery called a Scarab.
The Scarab straddles the rows, and as the operator directs it slowly down each one, huge paddles in the underbelly mix and turn the organic matter. The process must be repeated five times in the first 30 days, then periodically over the next three months as the mixture “cooks” and decomposes into mulch. The oldest rows are turned first to prevent contamination from newer material.
Temperature probes are placed along the piles to chart their progress. The mixture must cool to 130-degrees Fahrenheit before it is ready for use.
After several months of operations, the facility has produced compost ready for use, the first since the Eco Station closed its composting operations. Compost may be picked up at the Eco Station.
Shelton plans to celebrate the feat and spread the word by handing out samples at the Pajarito Environmental Education Center (PEEC) Earth Day Celebration, from 10 a.m.−2 p.m. Saturday. Parking is at Sullivan Field, with Atomic City Transit providing shuttles to the center.
The Eco Station has also launched its new Recycle More campaign. The facility is now accepting one through seven plastic containers, paper board (i.e. cereal and cracker boxes, paper towel tubes) and plastic and paper shopping bags. Even small appliances such as toasters can be placed in the blue recycle bins, as long a there is no glass.