Food Scraps Recovery In Ohio

State agencies convened stakeholders in 2007 to advance Ohio’s recovery of food waste. Almost five years later, collection and processing options abound.

Joe Goicochea and Angel Arroyo-Rodriguez
BioCycle February 2012, Vol. 53, No. 2, p. 22

IN 2007, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) and Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) hosted the first Ohio Food Scraps Recovery Stakeholders meeting. The state agencies invited composting and anaerobic digestion facilities, haulers and businesses that generate food waste to explore opportunities to advance Ohio’s recovery of this feedstock.

At this first meeting, participants identified barriers or areas for improvement to further food scraps diversion. The most significant barrier at the time was very limited processing options. Only three composting facilities were accepting food scraps. No anaerobic digesters with biogas recovery were built or permitted to accept food scraps. The lack of processing infrastructure resulted in long transportation distances and higher costs, which did little to encourage waste haulers to focus on collecting food scraps and other organics. This lack of hauling capacity was identified as another top barrier.

On the regulatory side, the applicability of the state disposal fee ($4.75/ton) to food scraps and organics other than yard trimmings, even if composted, was identified as a disincentive to diversion. (That statute was updated in 2010 and clearly exempts all wastes accepted at composting facilities from state disposal fees.) Participants also indicated that funding for site improvements and processing equipment upgrades would help accelerate establishment of a processing and hauling infrastructure.

Growth In Infrastructure

In the four years since that first stakeholders meeting, Ohio has seen a growth in food scraps composting facilities from 3 to 27. The ODNR has provided significant grant funds to both public and private sector food scraps recycling programs. Five Ohio universities are registered with the state; many more send material to commercial facilities. One correctional facility registered with the state. The Ohio Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations is exploring opportunities to expand these programs to other facilities in 2012.

In 2008, the Ohio Grocers Foundation published a Composting and Diversion Guide, funded by an ODNR grant (available at www.ohiogrocers.org). Since 2008, for example, the Kroger Company has enrolled 62 of its Columbus Division stores in the company’s composting program, which has recovered more than 6,000 tons of food scraps. Overall, the organics diversion programs launched by Kroger and then Walmart established permanence in food scraps collection. As a result, the composting industry responded to the capacity needs that are projected as more businesses enroll in these programs. During this period of time, the recovery programs have expanded to include food banks and community agriculture partnerships.

Streamlining Bioenergy Regulations

Four anaerobic digesters currently accept food waste in Ohio. Three — in Akron, Columbus and Zanesville — are permitted as wastewater treatment works with the option to add food waste. The fourth one is established at the Ohio Agricultural Research Development Center in Wooster (part of The Ohio State University), and primarily manages waste from the research farm. Construction is planned for at least eight additional digesters in the next two years.

In September 2011, the Division of Materials and Waste Management of Ohio EPA adopted a policy for streamlining regulation and permitting of facilities that utilize thermal and biological conversion technologies to convert solid waste to fuels. This includes anaerobic digestion. In accordance with the policy, Ohio EPA will not regulate these conversion facilities as solid waste facilities under the State’s solid waste laws unless they are also operating as solid waste transfer sites. The Agency will regulate thermal or biological solid waste-to-fuel conversion facilities under the State’s existing applicable air and water pollution control laws.

The new policy removes dual permitting of anaerobic digestion facilities. Essentially, any project that includes biosolids requires Ohio EPA Division of Surface Water permitting; any on-farm (without biosolids) is permitted by Ohio Department of Agriculture; and any stand-alone facilities without biosolids that are off-farm are permitted as solid waste facilities (there are no projects of this type to date). The digestate is considered a solid waste, unless otherwise permitted for land application under applicable permits.

Thermal and biological solid waste-to-fuel conversion facilities are currently subject to Ohio EPA’s air pollution control requirements and may require a permit for emission sources and material handling operations. In addition, if these facilities have wastewater discharges, they are required to obtain appropriate permits or authorizations for these discharges. Ohio EPA’s storm water permitting program may also help ensure that adequate controls are in place to prevent contaminated runoff from outdoor material handling or storage.

In addition, activities related to processing of solid wastes, such as magnetic separation, wet separation, picking, drying, pressing, baling and crushing, that typically occur at legitimate recycling facilities, are similar to those that would occur at thermal or biological conversion facilities. Operations at legitimate recycling facilities are currently exempted from Ohio’s solid waste regulations unless the facility is also operating as a solid waste transfer facility. Legitimate recycling facilities are required to demonstrate processing of a minimum of 60 percent of the waste received each month. As necessary, Ohio EPA and local authorities can still use solid waste and public nuisance laws to address nuisances and open dumping issues at waste-to-fuel conversion facilities.

2011 Stakeholder Summit

The Ohio Food Scraps Recovery Initiative held its fifth annual stakeholders summit in Columbus last November. About half of the more than 70-plus stakeholders attending the summit were there for the first time and represented organizations and sectors that have not been previously involved, such as several state rehabilitation and correctional facilities, community gardens, national fast food chains, animal feed producers, Ohio Department of Development, hospitals, medical supply manufacturers, solid waste management districts, consultants and city planning departments.

This fifth annual summit focused on the higher tiers of the US EPA food scraps diversion hierarchy (recovery of edible food and donations). Presentations and discussion led by the Mid-Ohio Food Bank and the Cleveland Food Bank shed light on the pressing need to reduce hunger by diverting food that would otherwise be wasted. They also brought to attention the often unnoticed reality that food banks are food scraps generators too (unfortunately not all donated food can be consumed) and they need assistance from waste haulers and food scraps processors to reduce their waste management costs.

Another discussion focused on a brownfield redevelopment project in the historic Weinland Park neighborhood of Columbus. The project, funded by a Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Community Challenge Grant, is a two-year planning initiative to develop an “urban agrarian zoning overlay” to coordinate programs designed to improve neighborhood employment opportunities, nutrition and access to fresh, affordable food, as well as support land remediation and sustainable practices. The physical elements of the urban agrarian overlay will include neighborhood gardens, retail and educational facilities, food business incubators and organic waste management areas. Discussion focused on generation of food scraps throughout the different aspects of the projects and considerations for planning and designing buildings and layout to facilitate collection, storage, transport and management of food scraps and other organic wastes.

The 2011 Summit ended with Ohio EPA announcing its interest in developing a statewide strategy for recovery and diversion of food scraps. This strategy is intended to further the goals of the State Solid Waste Management Plan adopted in 2009 of reducing organic wastes from landfills by addressing food scraps reduction, donations and stimulating market development for recycling of organics through composting, anaerobic digestion animal feed and other feasible alternatives. Groups were formed to identify and discuss all issues that need to be addressed and considered when developing the strategy, as well as to identify additional stakeholders that need to be engaged in the process.

Joe Goicochea is an Environmental Supervisor in the Ohio EPA’s Solid Waste Compliance and Inspection Support Unit, Division of Materials and Waste Management. Angel Arroyo-Rodriguez is an Environmental Planner in the Ohio EPA’s Solid Waste Management Planning Unit, Division of Materials and Waste Management.

Paradise Composting — Wooster, Ohio

Paradise Composting Co. is actually a side business to Paradise Lawn Care, Inc., which has been serving the Wayne County area since 1984 (the composting component has been operating since 1991). The company also provides municipal and residential leaf removal and accepts tree trimmings and grass clippings. “We grind and compost,” says owner Bart Morr. “We also produce a double-ground hardwood mulch.”

Morr was encouraged to accept food waste after learning about Ohio EPA’s and Ohio DNR’s push to keep organics out of the landfill. Food waste customers include a grocery store, college and a Smuckers jams and jellies processing plant. Clients are responsible for delivering organics to the composting facility. “We’re probably producing about 6,000 yards of leaf compost and about 2,000 yards of food waste compost,” says Morr. “We sell to residents and landscapers. The leaf compost is going in gardens and is also used as top dressings for residential lawns and athletic fields. The food waste compost usually goes into soil blends.”

Food waste is windrowed with all green waste and woody debris that is not mulched. Frequency of turning depends on ambient temperature, internal pile temperature and moisture content but averages once a month at the outset to once a week as the compost gets closer to maturity. Total retention time for the food waste compost is about nine months; the leaf compost typically matures in about five months. “Everything we sell goes through a McCloskey screener,” Morr says, adding that the leaf compost tends to be a finer product more suitable for top dressing. Equipment includes a Wildcat FX700 compost turner, a Caterpillar loader with a 3-yard bucket, a Bobcat loader with two smaller buckets, a Vermeer horizontal grinder and a Royer topsoil shredder.

The tipping fee is $24/ton, which Morr says is still $2 more than some of the local landfills. “We’re in a very rural area and could probably get a little bit more if we were near Cincinnati or Cleveland where the landfill tipping fees are higher.” Basically, customers have to want to go green, he adds. Paradise services about a 25-mile radius, mostly in county for leaf and yard waste, and for selling compost and mulch, and about a 10-mile radius for taking in food scraps. “We have people that return all the time because it is a good product,” says Morr. “That is what drives me to make the best product I can, and that’s what we want to be known for.”

Marvin’s Organic Gardens — Lebanon, Ohio

Marvin’s Organic Gardens is a full-service nursery, retail garden center and landscape design company located between Cincinnati and Dayton. The business was started by Marvin Duren, who built, owned and managed about two dozen Waffle Houses in the region prior to opening an organic garden center and landscaping business. Duren was always an enthusiastic gardener and composter, says his son Wes Duren, and each Waffle House was fitted with a 96-gallon toter to collect coffee grounds, egg shells, salad scraps and other organic residuals. Materials were brought to Duren’s 64-acre property in Lebanon, Ohio, where he had developed several composting areas. “The recipe also included some livestock manure and yard waste,” recalls the younger Duren. “Back then the finished compost was strictly for sharing with neighbors and friends and for using in our organic vegetable gardens and at the Waffle House units.”

Composting continued when the garden center, landscaping and nursery business opened in 1999. In 2010, Marvin’s Organic Gardens began partnering with organics waste hauler Future Organics Inc. to take in food waste from a dozen Walmart and Sam’s Club locations between Columbus and Cincinnati. That number will increase to 30-plus in February. Future Organics services 160 Walmart affiliated stores in the region. “Right now we are receiving about 15 to 20 tons per delivery, two or three times per week,” says Duren. “It’s strictly food waste and mostly produce but also juices and breads as well as some meats.”

Other customers include Whole Foods, Chipotle, Keep Cincinnati Beautiful, Luxottica Group, Proctor & Gamble, Mitsubishi, Xavier University, Westin Hotels & Resorts and the Cincinnati Reds. While Walmart utilizes 3 cubic yard bins, sometimes up to three in a single location, other client’s organics collection containers range from 96-gallon totes to 12- and 30-yard compactors. Marvin’s also receives“zoo doo” from the Cincinnati Zoo.

Even though landfill tipping fees are quite low, says Duren, most clients are realizing about a 10 to 15 percent cost savings by composting versus disposal. Organics recycling has become so successful that the local landfill — which Duren says has no interest in getting into the composting business — has formed a partnership of sorts with Marvin’s and is now offering customers a “green alternative” by composting the organics portion of their waste stream through the garden center.

A matching grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources enabled Marvin’s to purchase large commercial composting equipment a year and a half ago. “That really opened a lot of doors for us as we were able to process and mix a lot more material,” says Duren. Equipment includes a Vermeer 6000 630 HP horizontal grinder primarily for carbonaceous material (but occasionally for grinding food waste and paper waste) and a Wildcat 516TX Cougar Trommel Screener capable of processing 40 to 60 yards of material an hour.

Incoming food waste is blended with equal parts finished compost, yard trimmings such as leaves and wood chips and manure/bedding materials to help absorb moisture from the food waste. Unloading and mixing take place in a semicircular bermed catchment area to capture leachate. “We currently have two catchments ponds at our 10 acre composting facility, both with 20,000-plus gallon capacity,” he explains.

Blended material is moved to an active composting area where it stays for three to six months; a loader with a 4-yard bucket turns the windrows up to several times a month. Material is then cured for about six months, after which it is screened and stored in a pole barn. The landscaping portion of Marvin’s Gardens is by far the largest user of the 5,500 to 10,000 yards of compost produced annually. Compost is sold to residential customers and other landscapers.

Rosby Resource Recycling — Brooklyn Heights, Ohio

The Rosby Companies are a group of agricultural, horticultural and recycling operations serving customers in Ohio and surrounding states. Its main facility is situated on 70 acres overlooking the Cuyahoga Valley, five miles from downtown Cleveland. Business operations include a full-service garden center, a 16-acre berry farm and a resource recovery facility. Rosby produces its own soils, mulches, organic humus and compost and also recovers construction/demolition debris from the waste stream. It obtained a Class IV yard trimming composting license in the mid-1980s, and in 2009, reinstated its Class II license to recycle food waste. In 2010, the company received a $250,000 ODNR grant in 2010 to purchase a windrow turner.

“We have been continually growing for the past two-and-a-half years or so,” says Ian Rosby. “We went directly to generators and said, ‘We think we can provide you a composting service that is competitively priced with refuse disposal.’ We ended up buying our own collection trucks and containers.” Rosby Resource Recycling operates rear-load refuse trucks that service 35-, 65- and 95-gallon carts. “We also handle some customers who use open-top roll-off boxes or receiving boxes,” he adds. Residents and businesses must bring yard trimmings, which are composted separately, to the facility on their own.

The food waste stream is unloaded and covered immediately with yard trimmings. “We then run the newest portion of the windrow through our Doppstadt slow-speed shredder, which tears up the waxed cardboard and compostable clamshells and gets the end-grain exposed in order to move the process along,” explains Rosby. The material is shredded with some of the yard trimmings that also are used for cover. “We have to keep the Class II and the Class IV materials and processes separate,” he adds. “So while the shredder is used to process both materials, they are done at separate times and separate areas on our site.”

Other processing equipment includes two Scat [a company now owned by Vermeer] windrow turners, a Doppstadt trommel screen and a Terex Warrior three-product screen plant. Temperature is monitored daily. “In the summer we turn as often as every three days; this slows down in the colder months,” says Rosby. “It takes 60 to 120 days from receiving the food waste to a screened product, depending on weather conditions.” All compost is sold in bulk, although the company purchased a small Rotochopper bagging machine and will retail some of the approximately 1,500 yards of food waste compost produced annually. “It’s a really nice all-purpose soil product, and has more nutrients across the board compared to our yard waste compost,” says Rosby.

The food waste recycling program has been a steep learning curve, he adds. “Doing composting is one thing, but adding trucks and collection routes, we’ve have been learning our way through that. We’re definitely starting to be well received in the community, and people think what we’re doing is exciting.” Critical to making the economics work is getting more businesses on board so that routes within the five counties served can run more efficiently. “We need 300 stops to run these trucks,” says Rosby. “We are currently operating five rear-load trucks that pick up at about 175 service locations at least one time per week. We started out operating two trucks, employing two drivers — at a total loss. But the commitment to service is important. We needed redundancy of equipment and people so that no matter what, we picked up the food waste as scheduled. That meant at a minimum we needed two trucks and two drivers even though we only had a few customers and were initially collecting about 2 percent of the equipment’s capacity.”

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