Aerobic vs Anaerobic Composting Systems
By: Sarah Worp
One cold, rainy day, I received a call from a curious member asking what we do with the methane produced in the composting process. At that time, I was a brand new CompostNow employee and had juuust begun to learn the ropes. This call led me to a number of questions - “What DO we do with the methane? Is methane even a byproduct of our composting system of choice? What IS our chosen composting system?” Thus began my research into aerobic composting and the benefits of it versus other popular methods of composting, such as anaerobic composting.
Aerobic composting, or the decomposition of organic materials using microorganisms that require oxygen, is CompostNow’s and our commercial composting partners’ chosen system of composting. Aerobic composting requires the introduction of oxygen to compost piles to allow aerobic microbes to thrive. The only byproducts of aerobic composting are heat, water, and a small amount of carbon dioxide. While carbon dioxide is classified as a greenhouse gas, it is only 1/20th as harmful as methane, which is released during anaerobic composting. The carbon dioxide produced in aerobic composting systems is easily absorbed by surrounding vegetation - a similar process to how we release carbon dioxide during the respiration process. Anaerobic composting is the method of composting without introducing oxygen, which means the breakdown of the organic materials takes much longer and produces little heat. This lack of heat often results in the survival of many pathogens, weeds, and seeds, and causes a significant amount of methane to be released into the atmosphere.
While there are many other methods of composting not talked about in this resource, the CompostNow team trust in the aerobic composting process. Due to its minimal environmental impact, ability to kill harmful pathogens, and high turnover rate (pun intended), aerobic composting allows us to be both confident that this system has minimal negative environmental impact and that the quality of the finished compost is of a high level so that we can use it to rebuild our depleted soils. To (aerobic) composting!
Cover Photo Credit: Bailey Garrot