PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Though they may appear to be “dumpster diving,” Nick Shorr and Ross Hirshfeld are actually sorting through trash to find information for the Pennsylvania Resources Council.

“We’re looking through the garbage,” says Shorr, the program manager for the Regional Composting Initiative. “One 24-hour period of garbage, to determine what percentage is compostable. What percent can be turned into soil for local farmers?”

Behind a supermarket in Beaver Falls, they separate compostables like paper and food products from the rest of the trash.

They also work with kids who use school cafeterias.

“When they come, bring their tray up – you know – this is going to the trash, this is going to the farmers. That sort of thing,” Shorr adds.

Ninety percent of the trash they measured could have gone for compost, instead of winding up in a landfill.

Ron Stidmon’s Enon Valley farm is far removed from a supermarket dumpster. But Pennsylvania’s largest garlic farm benefits from towering piles of compost, produced by organic materials from local markets.

“Fertilizers have a lot of negative effects on the soil, and the microbes, and the organisms that help you produce crops,” says the owner of Enon Valley Garlic. “That’s not the case with compost.”

When the temperature of the compost hits 130 degrees, it’s ready for the garden.

“Bacteria and microorganisms break it down,” Stidmon says, “and it becomes the new soil that the food comes back from. It’s just a complete cycle.”

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