BioCycle June 2008, Vol. 49, No. 6, p. 20
A Vermont solid waste district, an area hauler and a farm-based composter in neighboring Massachusetts are working together to lower the costs and improve the efficiency of recycling commercial organics.
WINDHAM Solid Waste Management District (WSWMD) provides recycling services to 19 towns in the southeast corner of Vermont, serving a population base of 37,000, plus a significant number of second home residents, as well as tourists. Based in Brattleboro, WSWMD operates drop-off recycling at 22 locations, with materials processed at a dual stream materials recovery facility (MRF) owned and operated by the District. Adjacent to the MRF is a closed landfill with methane recovery for electricity generation, as well as a small transfer station.
A new feature of the MRF is manual sorting of nonrecyclable paper, waxed corrugated and other off-spec fiber for composting. During a tour of the MRF, Cindy Sterling, WSWMD Program Director, pointed out the chutes installed on each side of the fiber sorting conveyor, allowing workers to drop nonrecyclable paper and cardboard, such as egg cartons and waxy beverage cups, into a roll-off container. Those materials are then hauled to the Martin’s Farm composting site in Greenfield, Massachusetts, approximately 30 miles south of the MRF. The challenge so far, according to Sterling, is to keep plastic and other nonbiodegradable materials out of the container.
Sterling believes that diversion of nonrecyclable paper and cardboard from the MRF to composting can set the stage for a drop-off area at the MRF for commercial food waste. This would be in addition to the District’s existing commercial food waste and cardboard composting program, which has been operating for almost four years.
“The District saves $20/ton by diverting nonrecyclable paper and cardboard to composting, and we have discussed adding the food waste drop-off area at the MRF for businesses and other haulers, as well as residents,” she says. “Vermont will be putting greater emphasis on food waste composting once a reorganization of its environmental agencies is completed, and perhaps we can get funding to help establish a drop-off area.”
OCC + FOOD SCRAPS IMPROVES COLLECTION ECONOMICS
WSWMD works closely with a number of commercial solid waste haulers to provide recycling services for commercial paper, old corrugated cardboard (OCC) and food waste. One of those haulers, Triple T Trucking, operates a privately owned transfer station in Brattleboro where the District’s nonrecyclable paper is taken and mixed with organics removed from the waste received at the transfer station, and transferred to Martin’s Farm for composting. The District also hauls MSW from the District’s drop-off facility to Triple T’s transfer station, where it is then consolidated on trailers for hauling to landfills in Massachusetts and Vermont.
For over 30 years, Triple T has been offering commercial trash collection, as well as residential collection in the tri-state region of southern Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Norman Mallory, Triple T’s owner, recalls how he bought a packer truck and worked long days collecting trash by himself. Eventually Mallory’s hard work and reliable service led to several municipal trash collection contracts, and he built his business to the point that Triple T constructed a transfer station when the District landfill closed to handle the material they collected, plus waste from other haulers. As recycling became more prevalent, Triple T also started putting out containers for cardboard at commercial accounts that wanted to recycle. The OCC was hauled to the WSWMD’s MRF.
Peter Gaskill, General Manager of Triple T, explains that the company’s original method of picking up just OCC did not make economic sense. “Our service area is primarily rural,” he says. “One front load route collecting OCC took eight hours and recovered on average only three tons. We were fulfilling our customers’ demands to recycle OCC but it was not economical for our company, so I looked into an alternative approach, which is to include food waste with the OCC. We now collect two to three times the weight in each load, and are paying a lower tip fee to compost than for landfill disposal.”
Triple T learned about Martin’s Farm 10 years ago. “We became aware of a local solid waste hauler who also had a compost facility in Greenfield, Massachusetts,” he recalls. “Martin’s Farm provided front load rubbish removal service along with a new twist, organics collection. Their trucks were filled both ways, one way collecting rubbish and taking it to a disposal facility, and then on the return trip to the farm, collecting both food and OCC for composting. Their efficiency got us thinking about implementing such a program in our service area.”
Mallory began negotiations with Bob Martin, owner of Martin’s Farm, culminating in Triple T’s purchase of Martin’s front load waste and organics collection business in 2004. “We purchased the trucks and existing accounts from Bob, and he focused more on processing of organics at his farm,” says Gaskill. “Triple T started to build an organics collection route in our Vermont service area. We knew we were on the brink of a cost-effective way to recover a whole lot of material and be environmentally responsible.”
He adds that not all of Triple T’s customers save on disposal costs from participating in the organics program, but “many do not see price increases as frequently either. For some smaller volume customers, it made recovering a larger portion of their waste stream worthwhile.”
The District initially was hesitant about combining the OCC with the organics. “Triple T’s motivation was to make it more economical for the company to collect OCC by adding food waste to the front-load dumpsters at their commercial accounts, and instead of hauling it to our MRF to be baled, taking it to a farm for composting,” explains George Murray, WSWMD’s Executive Director. “Although we had historically preferred to recycle OCC back into fiber, we recognized that we could probably increase our overall diversion rate by capturing more OCC, plus waxed corrugated, if restaurants and cafeterias could include food waste in their dumpsters.”
While the impact on OCC recycling has been negligible, overall increases in diversion from the cocollection program have stagnated and the District and Triple T are trying to determine how to encourage more users to take advantage of the program. Triple T only provides organic materials collection where it makes economic sense, and to date, most of its 70 service locations for organics customers are in more densely populated Massachusetts, which are closer to the Martin’s Farm compost facility. (Martin’s Farm also has been developing this route for a much longer period of time.) Triple T collects 155 to 170 tons of organics each month for composting at Martin’s Farm, with only 8 to 24 tons/month coming from WSWMD. “We have not had as much growth in the program in Vermont as we would like, but it is an entirely new concept for businesses to embrace,” says Gaskill. “With time and education we believe that there will be more widespread acceptance of separating organics from the waste stream.”
In 2004, WSWMD – with its recycling rate stalled at around 30 percent – applied for and received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Services and the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources to increase diversion through a combination of increased education and organics composting. Project COW (commercial organic waste) grew out of recommendations of a 1999 feasibility study that determined area businesses were interested in diverting organics in order to save costs, as well as for environmental and community benefits.
The District provides the educational component and on-site training at the food waste generator, and the generator contracts directly with Triple T for collection and disposal. Sterling handles most of those educational efforts for the District. Potential participants receive a letter describing the program, and a DVD showing the program at a number of participating restaurants and a grocery store. Acceptable materials, including food waste, nonrecyclable paper and yard waste, are listed. The same list is provided as laminated signs to be posted within the establishment, with bright red letters at the bottom – “No straws, plastic wrap or aluminum foil.”
Since Triple T collects with a front load truck, each participant has to have sufficient space to locate a dumpster. Once the program is going, many of the participants find they need to swap containers with the larger dumpster for organics/cardboard collection and the smaller container for rubbish.
“We did a survey and identified 135 restaurants in Windham County, and 15 of those said they would participate,” explains Sterling. “We have also identified other schools, supermarkets and nursing homes that could participate but it has been slow to get them into the program, or in a few cases, they have dropped out or the program was discontinued by Triple T and Martin’s Farm due to excessive contamination.”
The District continues to educate its COW participants in an effort to minimize inorganic contaminants such as film plastic, rubber gloves, glass/plastic containers and utensils. “Film plastics and bags wrap around hammers in Martin’s tub grinder, and there has been an occasional large object that has jammed the grinder,” says Murray. “A related problem is film plastic blowing around the site when turning windrows and screening compost.”
So far, there are six accounts in the District that are diverting their organics (primarily preconsumer food scraps) and OCC. These include a small grocery store, two restaurants, an elementary school, a private educational institution and the local Humane Society. Two accounts – the Putney Food Coop and the World Learning Center in Brattleboro -include postconsumer materials from their café and cafeteria, respectively. Both have installed user-friendly recycling stations with signage and an exhibit about the composting program.
According to Murray, the COW Program in Vermont is only diverting about five to six tons per week in the summer, and two to four tons per week in winter. The World Learning Center diverts the most material of the six program participants. “We serve three meals a day to 125 residents, as well as another 125 staff that eat here, and we have been able to reduce our trash production to just one haul per month of our 15 cubic yard compactor box,” says Andy Martyn, Sr., Director of Facilities. “We collect food waste, waxed corrugated and soiled paper from our kitchen, the cafeteria and the dorms, producing one ton per week. We use regular plastic garbage bags as liners for the trash cans, and empty the organics out of the bags into our 10 cubic yard dumpster behind the kitchen and cafeteria where it is collected twice a week by Triple T Trucking. Combined with our recycling program for plastic, glass, and metal containers, as well as office paper, we now have much more material being recycled than we do as trash for disposal.”
Bob Martin, a former USDA extension agent, bought his farm in 1981 and started a vegetable growing operation. He also had hogs, beef cattle, horses and some chickens, so he started composting animal manure and yard trimmings in order “to sell another product in addition to vegetables,” he recalls. “I also started a collection program for organic waste, working with some of the supermarkets in our area, particularly Big Y and Stop & Shop. As we continued to add organic waste customers, I had to spend more time with the composting operation, so when Norm Mallory offered to buy my front-load hauling business, I agreed. Now I spend more time operating the composting site, and manufacturing a high quality compost product for sale.”
Martin also continues to offer roll-off collection and hauling, with two trucks to serve trash customers plus a few organics accounts of his own. “I haul trash up to Triple T’s transfer station in Brattleboro, and on the return pick up organic waste for composting, just as Triple T hauls organics to me and then picks up trash from their regular accounts on the way back to Brattleboro,” he adds. “It is this ability to collect materials both ways that makes the program cost-effective for both companies.” The composting operation usually requires a six-day work week, and keeps Martin, his son Adam, a truck driver and a part-time mechanic, busy year round.
Martin’s Farm is registered as an agricultural composting site with the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, which limits receipt of off-site generated food waste to 15 tons/day. Martin’s 20 plus years of composting experience have identified procedures and recipes that are friendly to his neighbors, and make valuable products. After food waste and cardboard are tipped, they are spread out with the loader or excavator and inspected for contaminants, which are removed. The materials are then loaded with the excavator into a Dura Tech tub grinder to reduce particle size for more efficient composting. A Kuhn Knight feed mixer blends shredded food waste, OCC, yard trimmings and manure.
Martin builds 500-foot long windrows with a Knight Pro Twin Slinger, which has a side discharge conveyor. Windrow dimensions are 5 feet high and 11 feet wide so they can be turned with Midwest Bio-System’s Aeromaster PT 130 compost turner that operates off his 150-horse power tractor with creeper gear. “I wish I had purchased the windrow turner sooner than just a year and a half ago since it really makes a better compost product,” says Martin. “I found it was difficult to get sufficient air into the piles when I turned with a loader bucket. Now, we turn each pile every day for the first three weeks, achieving 150°F within a day of turning. We then go to two to three times a week turning until temperatures do not increase. I can also add organic material to the sides of each pile with our Knight Slinger. We then incorporate it into the windrows with the turning machine.”
To reduce excessive moisture in the windrows, Martin covers them with gas permeable fabric covers from Midwest Bio-Systems. He has found that the covers work well to keep moisture out of the piles during rainy periods, but they also help maintain moisture in the piles so that they do not dry out too fast.
Compost is screened with a 25-foot long Power Screen trommel with 3/8-inch holes. To screen loam, a 5/8-inch screen is put on the trommel. Martin has sold compost and manufactured loam in bulk. This year, however, he started using a modified Knight feed mixer to fill breathable bags and intends to sell one cubic foot bags of compost, as well as a 50/50 compost/wood mulch product. “Over the years we’ve done lots of advertising for our bulk products so people know our materials, and hopefully will buy it in bags,” he explains. “I have several garden supply stores that have agreed to sell our bagged products.”
Martin agrees that contamination has been one of the biggest problems, something that requires constant vigilance to keep under control. “It can be a serious financial matter when someone throws an electric motor in the food dumpster, which happened to us,” he recalls. “Fortunately, that has not happened again but we carefully inspect the contents of each load after it is dumped, and we use our excavator bucket to load the tub grinder.”
Given demand for organics processing, Martin is considering whether to expand his permitted capacity by applying for the next level of approval from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection for up to 50 tons/day. “But, I need to make sure that I do not adversely impact my neighbors with odor or any part of our operation,” says Martin. “My family lives in a house on the property so we can keep track of odor, and so far, except for a couple of times, we do not have offensive odors leaving our site. I am fortunate to have a cooperating neighbor who calls me if there is a problem so I am able to address the situation before it gets more serious.”
Martin is optimistic that his son Adam will have a long-term business to operate. “I’ve slowly grown my compost business over the last 20 years, and we will continue to grow, but I don’t want to grow too fast,” he says.
Robert Spencer, a Contributing Editor to BioCycle, is an environmental planner in Vernon, Vermont.
VERMONT’S SOLID WASTE VISION
IN JANUARY 2008, the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) issued its “Solid Waste Report to the Vermont Legislature,” which recognized that the state’s goal of diverting 50 percent of municipal solid waste by 2005 through reuse, recycling and composting has not been achieved. According to the report’s Executive Summary, “Over the past five years the diversion rate has only reached about 30 percent. A new strategy is needed to improve how solid waste is managed in Vermont.” The report recommends reorganization of the state’s various solid waste programs through a new Center for Climate Change and Waste Reduction. The intent is “to allow more flexibility among programs and facilitate work to be conducted using a multidisciplinary approach.”
George Crombie, Secretary of the ANR reiterated his agency’s support of composting to more than 100 attendees of the Vermont Organics Recycling Summit held in Randolph Center on April 1, 2008. The bulk of Vermont’s food waste composting depends largely on farms; there are 22 “categorical” permit composting facilities that are allowed to accept up to 7 tons/week of food waste or animal offal/carcasses.
Crombie, who managed a composting facility earlier in his career, presented the following “Top Seven” issues for composting: Run a good operation, “it’s a science”; Research the common threads of success by visiting other compost operations; Keep the mass balance in check in order to provide required pathogen kill temperatures, and to control moisture, “our greatest enemy since it reduces temperatures and generates leachate”; Bulking agents are “the key”; Siting challenges and community acceptance; Leachate runoff is a major concern, and covered and enclosed compost systems may be required; and, Insure a good compost product through quality assurance procedures.
Crombie also described ANR’s creation of the Climate Change Center, which will be charged with solid waste management and recycling. He concluded by saying that the state will be looking to composting and anaerobic digestion to reduce carbon in the atmosphere.
SUBSIDIZED ORGANICS COLLECTION
A MAJOR challenge facing rural Vermont’s food waste recycling programs is the high cost of collection, which was the focus of a presentation at Vermont’s Organics Recycling Summit by Donna Barlow Casey, Executive Director of the Central Vermont Solid Waste District. Casey explained that the District has successfully established food waste diversion programs at many restaurants and schools in central Vermont with material going to three farm-based composting facilities. The District subsidizes the program by providing education and training, five-gallon buckets for each food station and wheeled carts for collection by the District’s truck.
Casey reported that the District’s collection costs are “extremely expensive” at $230/ton, due largely to low route density of generators, and long distance from generators to compost sites. “We intend to lower collection costs by expanding our customer base, and once we get it down to $140/ton we estimate that food waste diversion will be at a cost comparable to landfill disposal,” she said. “Then, as we add more customers, we expect we will be able to drop the cost for collection and disposal to less than $100/ton.”