BioCycle June 2005, Vol. 46, No. 6, p. 42
Range of source-separated feedstocks handled by Midwest facility includes yard trimmings, manures and woody materials.
THE 2005 season represents a turning point for Creekside Soils of Hutchinson, Minnesota. Nearly $1.9 million in sales of compost and other soil products are projected this year, compared to about $1.4 million in 2004. From its origins as a pilot source-separated project in 1998, Creekside’s 24-acre operation has grown into one of the most successful composters and mulch producers in the Midwest.
Operations at the facility include yard trimmings and residential organics composting; wood grinding and coloring; bagging compost and soil mixes. “We may not be the biggest in Minnesota, but we’re the only site in the state that does all four,” says facility manager Doug Johnson. Creekside’s staff has grown from two to five full-time operators, and a number of part-time employees.
Today, more than 4,000 households (about 85 percent of total households) participate in the city of Hutchinson’s source-separated collection program, using 480,000 biodegradable bags per year. Three times a year, each household receives 40 bags. “If they run out, they can purchase more bags at cost at city hall,” Johnson explains.
Two local grocery stores and two large employers, Hutchinson Technology and 3M, were included in organics collection as part of the initial pilot project, funded by a $100,000 grant from the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance. When the grant funding ended, those businesses ceased to participate. However, “we’re continuing to have conversations with hope of working out new arrangements,” Johnson reports. “A lot of it comes down to logistics of getting the material here. We’re trying to come up with a tipping fee and work out arrangements with haulers.”
The amount of source-separated organic material collected and processed from Hutchinson’s households and businesses has grown steadily from 1,500 tons in 2001 (the operation’s first year) to 2,556 tons last year. “The tonnage has gone up dramatically, not only because of the city’s population growth (from 12,000 to more than 14,000 residents), but because people have started to realize there are cost savings for them to participate,” Johnson notes. A number of households that previously used 90-gallon garbage containers have been able to downsize to 60- or 30-gallon containers, and save on their monthly solid waste bills as a result.
Depending on the size of their MSW container, residential customers pay either $16.69 per month (30 gallon), $23.94 (60 gallon) or $33.07 (90 gallon), with credits for participation. For customers who choose every-other-week pickup of the refuse fraction, the rate is $12.23 per month.
To pick up the source-separated material, the city’s hauler, Waste Management, Inc., originally tried using a split-compartment truck. “That wasn’t working out for them,” Johnson says. “Then they proposed hauling the (nonorganic) waste directly to the city landfill. That has worked out very well.”
With the approaching expiration of the city’s contract with Waste Management, Johnson and other officials are in the process of negotiating a new one. Failing that, the job would be offered for public bidding. A new McLeod County recycling facility is slated to open in Hutchinson in the second half of 2005. It will handle the Hutchinson recyclables, which have been processed at Waste Management’s local facility.
Currently, the $3.4 million Hutchinson processing facility is permitted to handle 1,782 tons/year of source-separated organics; 8,460 tons/year of yard trimmings; and 9,360 tons/year of MSW transfer materials. Creekside plans to increase those numbers when its permit is renewed by Minnesota state regulators.
Reaching Out For Feedstocks
To source enough green waste to meet its production goals, Creekside has looked beyond McLeod County to the Twin Cities, about 60 miles east. For the third season, Creekside has contracted with the city of Minneapolis to pick up and process its yard trimmings – about 25,000 tons a year. Creekside acquired five walking-floor trailers made by Morris, Minnesota-based Wilkens Industries to augment those used by the contracted private haulers. Creekside processes two types of yard trimmings from Minneapolis: the “clean” bagged waste and the leaves and other debris collected in fall street-sweeping. Under the contract, Minneapolis pays a tipping fee of $31 a ton for “dirty waste” and $15.97 a ton for clean leaves and trimmings.
Automating the yard trimmings bag opening process has allowed Creekside to reduce the required manpower from five employees per shift to just one operator. Explains Johnson: “Everything is in black plastic bags when we get it. We needed to find a way to separate the plastic from the green material. That first year we tried grinding it. That wasn’t a good situation. You have four-inch pieces of plastic that get airborne when you do that.” Adding a debagger with the screen solved that problem. “Ninety-nine percent of the black plastic is gone, and the large pieces that remain at the end of the process can be screened out.”
Creekside uses a Scarab bag opening unit with a McCloskey 621 trommel screener which is 6 feet wide by 21 inches long. Johnson looked into purchasing a wider unit, but found that “the price jumps dramatically when you move up to the 8-foot diameter model.” So, McCloskey is going to custom build a 7-foot by 33-foot trommel screener, with delivery expected around Aug. 1.
To keep up with the growing amount of material it processes, last year Creekside added four, additional 40-cubic yard Green Mountain in-vessel composting containers, increasing the number it uses to 20. The material is in the containers for about 21 days at temperatures from 120° to 150°F. But most significant, recent change in the composting operation has been the switch from using windrows on the concrete pad to piling the material in “cells.” The larger piles provide better insulation in Minnesota’s harsh winters, making it easier to maintain the necessary temperatures.
The Creekside facility has also added more blacktop surfacing; about half of the facility’s square-footage is paved. That eliminates the problem of pallets freezing to the gravel surface during the thawing and freezing cycle.
To manage the larger piles of material, Creekside purchased a Scat windrow turner equipped with an elevator. As a result of the changes, “we’re able to produce more than four times the amount of product in the same amount of space,” according to Johnson.
A portable Bivitec screen from Aggregates Equipment, Inc. is used to screen the finished compost. Creekside’s compost bagging line is comprised of Premier Tech equipment, including a VF-2000 series feeder, an FFS-200 bagger and an AP-426 series Palletizer. The actual capacity of the bagging line is determined by product bag size, method of feeding (e.g., by volume or weight), product characteristics (e.g., humidity, stickiness), product bulk density and particle size, notes Simon Roy of Premier Tech Chronos. “Typically, compost products we encounter range from 50 to 65 percent humidity,” he adds. “Using a 2-cubic foot bag, this bagging line can reach up to 28 or 29 bags/minute.”
The bagging line at Creekside is fully automated, from the feeding of the product to the stretch wrapped pallets. One operator is needed to oversee the line, and a fork-lift driver feeds the empty pallet dispenser and moves wrapped pallets to the storage and shipping area.
To accommodate the variety of products bagged, adjustments can be made quickly to the equipment – typically a 15-minute procedure that is similar in time required to change bag sizes. The form fill and seal bagger installed at Creekside can accommodate bags from 10.5 to 27-inches wide and 14- to 45-inches in length. On average, the equipment line used in Hutchinson is about $500,000 shipped and installed, says Roy.
At a Minnesota Landscape Association conference in early 2003, Creekside reps met Minneapolis-based marketer Jeff Meehan, and hired him to use his industry contacts to develop regional customers.
As a result, Creekside’s biggest challenge in the last three seasons has been keeping up with the demand for its soil products during its peak season, which runs from late February until about mid-June. Creekside’s products are sold in a five-state area, through regional and local retailers including SuperValu and Cub food stores, United Hardware, Frattalone’s Ace Hardware and Minnesota Distributing. Creekside markets its bagged products under three different labels: Splendergro, its “economy” line; Creekside, its premium line; and Wonderblend, its professional grade. “The products sold under the Splendergro and Creekside labels are essentially the same in terms of end uses, but the formulations and contents vary,” says Meehan. “Those labels include topsoil, an all purpose potting soil, a manure compost, a straight compost and hard wood mulch. The Wonderblend line includes 100 percent organic cow manure, professional planting mix and professional garden soil.” Creekside contracts with a nearby dairy farmer to supply the manure compost. Some of the products also are sold in bulk.
After projecting production of 625,000 bags for 2004, the actual total was about 850,000 last season. “Our goal for 2005 is 1.3 million bags,” Meehan says. “If the weather cooperates that is very doable.” As of mid-May, three-quarters of the way through the season, the facility had shipped 950,000 bags. A second, 10 hour shift has been added to the bagging operation.
Creekside also produces, bags and sells about 10,000 yards per year of mulch in natural, red and gold colors. Creekside Soils uses a Second Harvester 100, which is a stand alone coloring system manufactured by Becker Underwood. And it does private-label mixing and bagging of soil products for two Twin Cities nursery/garden center chains – Bachman’s and Linder’s Nursery. Another profitable side-business is bagging corn kernels for Hutchinson-based Country Select, which sells corn-burning stoves.
All things considered, Creekside has earned its success, Meehan says. “I’ve worked with soils companies for 20-some years, and this is one of the best-run and most technologically efficient I have worked with. Their equipment is very technologically advanced for our industry.”