Commercial composting uses large quantities of water to ensure that every windrow has enough moisture. The amount of water used will depend on the size of the operation and how much it produces. It is important to know exactly how much water your composting operation will use to help manage resources.

Why water matters in composting

Water usage might not matter so much to home composters, but for municipal and commercial operations, this component is vital. The approximate industry standard is to create compost windrows that contain 60% moisture. The actual amount of water used to reach that point will depend on many factors, including the following.

  • The amount of compost being made
  • The ingredients in the mixture
  • The size of each compost pile
  • The type of composting you implement
  • Your region
  • The current weather and season

How feedstock affects the water content

When you add new material to a pile or start a new pile, the feedstock should have a moisture content of 50%-60%. Anything below 35% or above 65% will cause the decomposition process to slow or even stop. This is why you must add or decrease moisture regularly.

How weather can hurt or help your compost

Your local weather will affect the composting process. For example, if you live in a dry area, the piles will lose moisture faster. This means you will need to add water more often. If you live in a rainy area, you might need to cover your piles to make sure they don’t get too moist. Also, when you start a pile, the mixture may be too moist initially, so try adding woody feedstock to dry it out.

The type of composting matters

The type of composting your operation uses is perhaps the greatest factor to consider when it comes to water usage. This is because it will affect everything about your piles, from size to materials used. Each method has its own pros and cons, so water usage is only one thing to think about.

For example, using covered and aerated static piles will allow you to use less water due to a decreased surface area and shorter composting time. However, this method doesn’t allow you to compost as much material as turned windrow composting.

Using water in commercial composting

During the course of the composting process, you should ensure that whatever irrigation system you have in place waters the piles regularly. The system should add water to the surface of each pile, which helps reduce odors and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Water should be added to the top of the pile before turning as well to ensure that the entire mixture has proper moisture content. Be sure to monitor your compost piles to ensure they are getting enough moisture and add some water to the final product to keep it fresh.

So, how much water will your commercial composting facility use?

The answer to this question is not simple because every operation is unique. But, you can gather some basic information to help you figure out your water usage and how that factors into your resource needs and profit margins.

  • Climate conditions in your area like typical rainfall, storms, etc…
  • The aeration type and retention time of your composting system
  • How often you turn your compost piles
  • How much water you are reusing, if any
  • The amount of water used in the past for a specified time (monthly, yearly, etc…)
  • Biodegradation rates (estimates should work)
  • The composition of the feedstock you use in each season

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