Managing Wastes: Composting and Land Application


PWT Co-Chairs:

*Ellen Harrison, Director, Cornell Waste Management Institute

100 Rice Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853

607 255-8576



Keith Severson, Association Executive Director

Cornell University Cooperative Extension of Chenango County

99 N. Broad Street, Norwich, NY 13815




Activities, Accomplishments, Outcomes and Impacts:


The Managing Wastes PWT continues to engage diverse stakeholders including government agency personnel who are responsible for managing waste residuals, regulating wastes and fertilizers, assisting the agricultural community and funding waste-related research and outreach; livestock farmers; compost producers; government agencies, NGOs, private consultants, waste management companies as well as Cornell Cooperative Extension educators and Cornell faculty and staff from several colleges and departments. 


One of the important roles CWMI plays is convening people interested in waste management so that they can work together to affect change.  Throughout the year, new and old issues surface. We can deal with easy issues quickly while others take a group of people to look at all aspects of the problem and give it direction. With old issues, we might take another track or re-energize that part of the program. In the past 8 years, we have been working more on agricultural waste management than municipal issues.  There are indications from our constituents that there is need to re-energize our education programs in municipal composting.  It has been 10 years since our last educational push in that area. Fifty people participated in a compost course in cooperation with the state recycling organization (NYSAR3), and Dr. Rynk from SUNY Cobleskill.  It was a beginner course that trained composters, municipalities, regulators, extension educators and farmers.


Participation in meetings and projects helped to reach hundreds of NYS farmers, veterinarians, agency staff, educators, students, composters and others with up-to-date research-based information and also served to help set direction for research, policy and outreach activities. The PWT played a significant role in developing two national conferences (manure management; mortality management) that engaged stakeholders from farmers to government agencies.  Our website continues to be a very important part of our outreach receiving over 625,000 hits per year (http://cwmi.css.cornell.edu).  With the help of our stakeholders and a lot of staff time the site was reorganized and now has a new “skin.”


Substantial progress was made on numerous PWT goals including answering research questions on mortality composting, continued outreach on composting of mortalities and butcher residuals, helping farmers produce better quality composts to sell or meet farm needs. A current identified need and research area is using manure as bedding. The questions being asked were; Do we need to compost it,, and if so, for how long, and how often should manure bedding be changed?. Funds were secured for research and outreach and data are being analyzed now.


Managing mortalities through composting continues to be a focal point for research and outreach. In April 2007, Northern New York and parts of Vermont were slated to lose all of their rendering services. We convened our stakeholders and were able to respond with workshops and demonstrations in March so that there were sound options for farmers and butchers.  Dealing with potential mass casualties is a critical topic and preparation of a plan addressing the role of composting is being developed. We helped NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets (NYSDAM) and NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) respond to three mass casualty incidents this year and reached 70 veterinarians in a NYSDAM coordinated seminar.


A project that links NYS Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), CWMI, the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine, faculty with the workplace health and safety program in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR) Extension, NYSDEC, NYS Department. of Health and Woods End Research Laboratory has been completed. As a result of trainings and educational materials, more than 170 highway personnel and regulators are ready to implement composting as an option to manage road-kill.  This project will protect water quality and health and save the state money by improving management of the 25,000 road-killed deer that NYSDOT manages annually.  DOT had another question that stemmed from their implementation, so CWMI is assisting in a study to look at the quality and quantity of leachate that is emitted from deer compost piles. Extensive media coverage and web-based training materials have broadened the impact so that highway personnel across NYS and the nation are equipped to change carcass management practices.


The use of dried manure as dairy barn bedding is of increasing interest to farmers in NYS. Four collaborative projects involving Cornell University (CWMI and the Vet School) and dairy producers are investigating this practice and providing outreach to the participating farms and to other dairy farms. Results from some of the studies will be available spring 2008.


Assisting compost producers in making quality compost in an environmentally and economically sound process is a PWT goal.  A new fact sheet on composting liquids is posted on our web site and elaborates on a method that can help manage manure, blood, whey, milk house waste, and residuals from bio-diesel production.


Neighbor and siting issues for large-scale composting facilities are an increasing concern. The 2006 PWT annual meeting concentrated on this issue with affected citizens, regulators, educators and composters in attendance. Research-based information was gathered on air emissions and health impacts and compiled into a document that is posted on the web site and was published in BioCycle Magazine. It is already being used in permit hearings and planning for new facilities.


Concerns about soil contamination range from impacts of the use of treated lumber or pesticides to the impact of spills of fuel oil or gasoline.  To help address these concerns, a 3 year CWMI project is coming to completion involving CCE educators across NYS, as well as many faculty and agencies in identifying contaminants of particular concern and in developing guidance materials addressing what to test for, how to test soils and how to interpret test results. Dr. Murray McBride, an environmental toxicologist and chemist with Department of Crop and Soil Sciences will take over the directorship of CWMI with the retirement of Ellen Harrison and will continue to explore aspects of soil quality.