Zero Waste, Big Benefits: Ohio State to Hold Course on Large-scale Composting

Seedling in compost

WOOSTER, Ohio -- Fred Michel sees less food getting dumped into landfills in the future, or even none at all, and he’s working to make it happen in a big way, literally.

A scientist with Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, Michel studies large-scale composting, such as by farms, cities and industry, and is a co-organizer of the upcoming Ohio Compost Operator Education Course.

“There’s a growing ‘zero-waste’ movement around the country and in Ohio,” said Michel, an associate professor in the Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering. “Composting is an integral part of that movement since it can efficiently recycle organic wastes, such as food waste, into soil nutrients and soil amendments.”

Now in its 13th year, the course takes place March 25-26 at the college’s research arm, the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) in Wooster. Registration, capped at 30, has sold out in five of the past six years.

The program is for people who work at or with commercial-scale composting facilities, he said -- places that handle tons of waste and compost, rather than bushels, at a time.

Michel, other Ohio State composting scientists, including co-organizer Harold Keener, and experienced compost facility operators will teach the course in OARDC’s Shisler Conference Center, 1680 Madison Ave. Hours are 8:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. the first day and 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. the second.

“Composting and compost utilization require multidisciplinary knowledge of microbiology, process engineering, plant science, soil science, chemistry, thermodynamics and more,” Michel said. “We aim to expand the knowledge of compost operators in all of these areas so they can operate more efficiently and avoid costly mistakes.”

The course’s topics will include composting methods, mixing, site design, odor control, economics, marketing, and value-added products and uses.

Hands-on lab sessions will focus on measuring compost properties and on detailed monitoring of the composting process, including for moisture, oxygen and temperature.

The complete course agenda and a registration form can be downloaded at

Registration costs $175 for members of the Organics Recycling Association of Ohio (ORAO) and $225 for non-members.

The registration cost includes all materials and continental breakfast and lunch both days. The registration deadline is March 17.

For more information, contact Mary Wicks of the college’s Ohio Composting and Manure Management Program (OCAMM) at 330-202-3533 or

Participants can email Linda Robertson at to join ORAO and get the discount registration rate.

Michel said food waste now makes up a major part of the solid waste collected by cities and counties, and most of it ends up in landfills.

Food waste in landfills rots and makes methane, which pound for pound is 20 times stronger than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“Food waste is an enormous contributor to greenhouse gas emissions since it readily degrades in landfills, and even in landfills with methane collection, the methane isn’t efficiently captured,” Michel said.

“Food waste also contains valuable plant nutrients that shouldn’t be landfilled but recycled.”

By recycling and other methods, the zero-waste movement aims to end landfill use, he said. The goal is to switch from using raw materials once, then throwing them away, to using them over and over in a cycle.

Vermont, for example, has banned food waste from landfills, he said. The state of Washington now diverts half of its waste to recycling and composting. Ohio State’s own Ohio Stadium, home of the Buckeyes, has a zero-waste goal for football games.

“As Ohio moves from a linear, unsustainable way of using raw materials to a more cyclical, sustainable path focused on recycling and reuse,” Michel said, “composting will play a central role in organics recycling.”

Co-hosting the course are ORAO and OCAMM. Funding support to develop the course came from Ohio EPA’s Ohio Environmental Education Fund.

Attendees are eligible for continuing education credits of 13.0 hours for Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) wastewater certification and 11.0 hours for registered sanitarians.

- 30 - 

CFAES News Team
For more information, contact: 

Fred Michel