Lansing, Michigan: Landfill Yard Trimmings Ban Update
The Michigan House of Representatives voted March 15 to overturn a ban on landfilling yard trimmings that has been in place for 18 years. The measure is now before the state Senate, where, according to at least one member of that legislative body, it may languish for awhile. Sen. Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell, told the news website Michigan Live (mlive.com) that there are economic and environmental arguments on both sides of the debate. According to the same published report, Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell, a champion of sustainability measures, sent a letter to Hildenbrand urging him to oppose the legislation because it would fill “precious landfills with otherwise reusable material” while causing undo economic hardship to Michigan cities. “The city collects and causes the composting of yard waste at a lower rate than the cost of disposal at the waste-to-energy incinerator,” Heartwell wrote to Hildenbrand. The repeal would only apply to landfills equipped with methane gas capture, and separation would still be required at the curb.
Elsewhere in Michigan, other cities face similar economic challenges should the yard trimmings ban be overturned. In December 2010, the Ann Arbor City Council voted to outsource its municipal and commercial composting operations to Jordan, New York-based WeCare Organics. Under the contract, the city paid WeCare a $19/ton tipping fee for the first year (2011), with that fee declining incrementally over the next few years to settle at $17.50/ton in 2015. The city receives $1/ton for materials coming into the facility from area business and 50 cents/ton for finished compost going out. WeCare charges commercial clients a tipping fee that under current conditions is competitive with the landfills, including those owned by Granger and Waste Management. Both of these companies — with seven and eight gas-capture-fitted landfills, respectively, across the state — support the yard trimmings ban repeal.
A spokesman for WeCare told BioCycle that if the ban is overturned, it could upset the fragile economics that make the Ann Arbor deal a win-win for the company and the city. “Right now, we have a viable public-private partnership between the two of us,” says Mike Nicholson, senior vice president of WeCare. “If that viability changes because of a change in the law, we may have to go our own way. We gave pricing based upon estimated market value. Who is going to win a price war with Waste Management or Granger?” While some who support the repeal have said the free market should call the shots, Nicholson adds, “sometimes you have to take bigger issues in light,” like what is the right thing to do environmentally and the fact that hundreds of Michigan small businesses have their life savings invested in the organics recycling infrastructure.
Montpelier, Vermont: New Composting Regulations
Vermont recently adopted new composting regulations. The revision process began in 2008, following a series of stakeholder meetings and assembly of a legislative Compost Study Committee by the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR). Carey Hengstenberg of ANR’s solid waste program explains that the new regulations are more comprehensive and restrictive than the previous ones. They also establish a category of small composting facilities that do not need state certification as long as they follow “Accepted Composting Practices” spelled out in the new rules. The previous rules, which had been on the books since 2006, had two tiers: a categorical certification where less than 7 dry tons/week of off-site food waste or animal offal and carcasses are processed, and a full certification for larger quantities of those materials, as well as “any composting facility that ANR believes needs oversight.” The new organics management regulations are based on size of facility and types of feedstock.
The new tiers divide operations into small, medium and large. “Small Composting Facilities” are defined as: composting 5,000 cubic yards (cy)/year or less of total organics, of which not more than 2,000 cy/year or less are food residuals or food processing residuals; managing 10,000 cy/year or less of solely leaf, yard and untreated wood residuals; not composting animal mortalities, slaughterhouse waste, or offal; and, having a compost management area of 4 acres or less in size. “Medium Composting Facilities” are defined as having a compost management area of less than 10 acres in size and composting more than 10,000 cy/year of leaf and yard waste, or composting 40,000 cy/year or less of total organics of any of the following feedstocks: not more than 5,000 cy/year are food residuals or food processing residuals; not more than 10 tons/month of animal, animal offal and butcher waste. “Large Composting Facilities” are defined as all those that do not qualify for medium composting certification. These facilities must obtain a full certification under the state’s Solid Waste Management Rules (www.anr.state.vt.us/dec/wastediv/solid/home.htm), as well as other permits related to Vermont’s environmental impact law (Act 250), storm water management, compliance with regional solid waste management plans and local zoning.
Pathogen testing is required under the new rule if compost is to be distributed for sale. Additionally, facility operators must attend a one-time eight-hour training course sponsored by ANR or an approved equivalent. ANR conducted its first operator training course in December 2011 though a contract with the Highfields Center for Composting in Hardwick. In 2011 there were 19 state-certified composting facilities in Vermont; 11 are approved to process food waste and seven for animal mortalities/offal. To further increase organic waste recycling, the Vermont legislature is developing comprehensive waste management and recycling legislation, which includes a phased-in ban on disposal of organic waste starting in 2014 for large quantity generators and eventually residential food waste in 2020.
Lamont, California: Composting Facility Issued Substantial Fines
A composting facility where two young workers died in October 2011 following exposure to hydrogen sulfide gas in a confined space was issued 16 citations by Cal-OSHA, all related to not having adequate safety measures in place. The facility, Community Recycling and Resource Recovery, is still fighting to stay open after appealing a unanimous decision by the Kern County Board of Supervisors to close the operation and fine it $2.3 million. A Cal-OSHA spokesperson said facility operators have indicated they also intend to appeal the state agency’s fines that total $166,890.
Cal-OSHA initiated its investigation immediately following the accident that killed Armando Ramirez, 16, and his brother Eladio, 22. The two workers had been clearing debris from an obstructed 10-foot shaft that was part of a storm drain system. After Armando was overcome by the poisonous fumes and lost consciousness, his brother attempted to help him and also lost consciousness. The younger brother was pronounced dead at the scene. Eladio died after being taken off life support.
“These young workers’ deaths were completely preventable,” Cal-OSHA Chief Ellen Widess noted in a prepared statement following announcement of the fines. “Hydrogen sulfide is a fatal and common by-product of the composting process. Yet Community Recycling and Resource Recovery failed to have proper procedures in place — identification and posting of all confined space hazards, training workers and supervisors, testing for dangerous levels of gas, and effective rescue procedures. These could have saved both workers, who were not trained or provided adequate protection.”
Following the accident and a half-dozen other confined space fatalities in the state, Cal-OSHA launched a Confined Space Emphasis Program in February to raise awareness of the issue for employers and workers. Community Recycling has now implemented a Confined Space Entry Program that meets Cal-OSHA requirements. In February, a Kern County Superior Court Judge ruled that the facility could remain open pending final resolution of the county supervisors’ ordered closure. He also ordered facility operators to move forward with a county ordered environmental review expected to cost the company nearly $300,000.
Wausau, Wisconsin: Growing Ginseng Into A Composting Business
A farmer’s desire to grow ginseng in a traditional forest setting led him to establish a successful composting business. Paul Hsu started Hsu Ginseng Enterprises in the late 1970s as a small mail order operation selling ginseng root products grown on his family farm in Wausau. The company grew into an international enterprise that sells ginseng, health supplements, cosmetics, skin care products and small kitchen appliances geared toward Asian and Asian-American customers. Hsu had been growing cultivated ginseng in modern farm fields under simulated shade. In the early 1990s, he began experimenting with growing ginseng in its traditional, native setting, the hardwood forest. “In the early 1900s, the fur trappers and woodland growers always spoke of the ‘leaf mold’ that was needed to promote and protect their ginseng plants,” says Hsu representative Sylvia Slivicke. Hsu met with local wild ginseng foragers, diggers and dealers to learn which conditions were most conducive to growing wild ginseng. He used this information to develop a leaf mulch, which then led to the start of a new business, Hsu Greenhouse and Landscape Supply, a division of Hsu Ginseng Enterprises. “After we began using leaf compost as a ‘vitamin’ for our woods-grown ginseng, we found an increasing demand for high quality compost in the consumer market,” explains Slivicke.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) licensed Hsu’s first composting facility (Brokaw) in 1994, and then a second facility in 1997. The combined composting area is about 30 acres and both operations are permitted to process leaves trucked in from around Wisconsin, and yard trimmings and clean wood (chips, sawdust) brought in by landscape contractors, tree services and other commercial contractors. They also take leaves in the fall from five municipalities. All materials are composted in aerated windrows turned with a Scarab. The Brokaw facility is also licensed to compost fruit and vegetable residuals collected from central and northern Wisconsin grocery stores in cooperation with Sanimax USA, Inc., of Green Bay. Compost is sold in bulk and bags at retail, wholesale and distributor levels. It is also the base ingredient for Hsu’s bagged potting and nursery soils and amendments. The leaf compost is STA-certified through the U.S. Composting Council and is certified as 100 percent Biobased through the USDA BioPreferred program. Hsu also offers contract services to process organic wastes and custom-blends potting mixes for greenhouses, nurseries and landscapers as well as engineered soils for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) and the DNR.
Carson City, Nevada: Full Circle Food Waste Recycling
“We’re trying to pioneer recycling in a state that doesn’t understand it,” says Craig Witt of Full Circle Compost, who, together with son Cody, hopes to eventually be recycling 1,000 cubic yards a week of food waste into soil fertility. Recently, Full Circle added Atlantis Casino Resort to its food waste recycling portfolio, bringing it about 80 cy/month closer to its goal. Last year the company, which also counts Carson City’s Walmart among its food waste customers, averaged 53 cy/week. Six years ago upon invitation, Witt moved his composting operation from the family farm to the state prison farm, where inmates train wild mustangs for an adoption program, thus providing another ready feedstock. In total, about 2,700 cy of compost are produced annually.
One of the challenges of running a commercial composting facility in this region is the logistics of working with contracted haulers such as Waste Management, says Witt. “These companies that want food waste recycling get on board, Waste Management provides the hauling service and then the process of working together at a composting site with a separate hauler can be difficult.” Another challenge is the cyclical nature of feedstock type and volume in an area catering to tourism (Full Circle is located near Lake Tahoe. “It all takes teamwork,” concludes Witt.