Environmental and economic analysis of an in-vessel food waste composting system at Kean University in the U.S.

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A composting system provides many benefits towards achieving sustainability such as, replacing fertilizer use, increasing the quantity of produce sold, and diverting organic wastes from landfills. This study delves into the many benefits a composting system provided by utilizing an established composting system at Kean University (KU) in New Jersey, as a scale project to examine the composters’ environmental and economic impacts. The results from the study showed that composting food wastes in an in-vessel composter when compared to typical disposal means by landfilling, had lower impacts in the categories of fossil fuel, GHG emissions, eutrophication, smog formation and respiratory effects; whereas, its had higher impacts in ozone depletion, acidification human health impacts, and ecotoxicity. The environmental impacts were mainly raised from the manufacturing of the composter and the electricity use for operation. Applying compost to the garden can replace fertilizers and also lock carbon and nutrients in soil, which reduced all of the environmental impact categories examined. In particular, the plant growth and use stage reduced up to 80% of respiratory effects in the life cycle of food waste composting. A cost-benefit analysis showed that the composting system could generate a profit of $13,200 a year by selling vegetables grown with compost to the student cafeteria at Kean and to local communities. When educational and environmental benefits were included in the analysis, the revenue increased to $23,550. The results suggest that in-vessel composting and the subsequent usage of a vegetable garden should be utilized by Universities or food markets that generate intensive food wastes across the U.S.

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Waste Management

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