Stony Brook Composting: Where Old Trees & Wood Debris Come Back to Life
by Sakib Ahmed
In the farthest corner of our campus, tucked behind the concrete and asphalt that is South P Lot, are huge mounds of what appears to be dirt. However upon closer inspection, one can see that it is actually wood mulch and debris and this site is home to our University's composting facility, which is just one part of our triangular compost system. The program was started in 1999 and has been around for over ten years.
The composting process begins with the collection of downed branches that are located on campus and are typically a byproduct of storms and natural processes. After Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the trees that toppled over had to be collected and mulched, and the University uses wood chippers to shred the trees in order to be able to transport them easily and safely. Once this is complete, the wood debris is transported to South P Lot where giant Fecon Orbit Screeners and mixers are used to separate the material that is suited to be composted from rocks and other non-fine material.
Once the material has been sifted through, the pile is left out in huge mounds to decay and absorb vast amounts of nitrogen from the soil. This process depletes the soil of most of its nitrogen content but produces high quality mulch. The pile gains a rich dark color and is fluffy and fibrous to the touch. The mulch that is produced here is used in a variety of ways, for instance it is combined with organic composted materials to produce a nitrogen and potassium rich fertilizer for plants.
On campus, this mulch is used during the planting process and is used as an application as a fresh layer in the spring to existing plants to give them nutrients and give the soil a rich brown color. The mulch also keeps weeds down by absorbing nitrogen from them, and wood chips also lower a soil pH level which is vital for growing certain plants, since long island soil is naturally highly acidic. Finally, wood chips also help lock in moisture.
Stony Brook University composts roughly five-thousand (5,000) tons of wood debris a year, which cuts down on roughly three-thousand (3,000) tons of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere. When combined with the other composting site located at the Roth Quad Kitchen Composter, the mulching is part of a multi-pronged system of sustainable agricultural practices on campus. According to Andrea Petterson, Facilities & Services Horticulturalist, "This is a great opportunity for us to reuse wood debris and we are excited about the high quantity of quality mulch we have available to us this year." Stony Brook University continues to be a leader in recycling and resource management and a steadfast supporter of sustainable agriculture.
For more information on this initiative, please contact:
Stony Brook University
Office of Sustainability