Composting Roundup

BioCycle July 2012, Vol. 53, No. 7, p. 10

Boston, Massachusetts: State Inches Closer To Organics Disposal Ban

According to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), less than 10 percent of more than 1 million tons of food waste in the state currently gets composted or otherwise diverted from disposal. The agency’s goal by 2020 is to divert an additional 350,000 tons annually. To help reach that goal, the state plans to ban disposal of commercial and institutional organics by summer 2014. “We continue to work on a number of pieces to support the ban,” says John Fischer, Branch Chief for Commercial Waste Reduction & Waste Planning at MassDEP. The department is currently addressing public comments regarding draft regulatory revisions and incorporating them into a final document, he says. “The goal is to get them promulgated by the end of the summer.” The revisions include changes to solid waste regulations on the siting of anaerobic digestion and composting facilities, adds Fischer.

In tandem, the Organics Subcommittee of the state’s Solid Waste Advisory Committee continues to develop strategies for the future. “We’ve been holding monthly meetings to develop our Organics Action Plan and the framework for how we’re going to move forward to achieve the goal of diverting organics from the waste stream,” he says. (The plan can be viewed at www.mass.gov/dep/ public/committee/orgplanf.pdf.) The framework-and-guidance document will be the basis for draft regulations for the disposal ban on commercial and institutional organics. “We’re aiming to have those regulations promulgated by summer 2013, with an effective date of summer 2014,” notes Fischer. “Disposal” in terms of the draft ban includes not only landfilling, but also municipal waste combustion or transferring the organics out of state. “We have a lot going on with efforts to move forward to increase capacity, both in terms of anaerobic digestion (AD) and composting,” he adds. “The regulations are only one piece.” For instance, MassDEP is working with other agencies, including the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, to identify state properties potentially suitable for organics recycling projects and is also reaching out to municipalities as well as the private sector. At this time the state does not have plans to ban residential food waste.

Charleston County, South Carolina: Commercial Food Waste Program Approved

In September 2010, the South Carolina Department of Heath and Environmental Control (DHEC) approved Charleston County’s request to implement a Food Waste Composting Pilot Demonstration project. It was the first such approval ever granted in the state. By the end of August 2011, 1,859 tons of food waste had been processed under the program. This June, DHEC made the program permanent by granting a modified permit to the Bee’s Ferry Compost Facility (colocated at the Bee’s Ferry Landfill) to accept and process up to 1,000 tons/week of food waste. The composting program supports Charleston County Council’s 40 percent recycling goal and allows the Environmental Management Department (EMD) to receive an economic benefit by selling the finished compost. Prior to the program launch, a waste composition study had indicated that 22 percent of the county’s waste stream consisted of organics, including food and yard waste. (Since 2009, 100 percent of the county’s yard trimmings have been recovered for composting.)

To increase the food waste flow, Charleston County is implementing a Commercial Food Waste Recovery Program that includes helping to connect commercial generators with private haulers, says Carolyn Carusos, Charleston County’s Recycling Program Manager.

Both pre and postconsumer food waste is accepted, including cooked meats/fish, egg and dairy products, food prep and plate scrapings, fruits and vegetables, bread/dough/bakery items and pasta/grains as well as waxy produce boxes, food soiled paper, coffee grounds and consumable liquids. At the Bee’s Ferry Composting Facility, yard trimmings are ground using a Doppstadt slow-speed shredder and a Doppstadt horizontal grinder. Food waste is mixed with yard trimmings in a 1:3 ratio (by volume) using a front-end loader. Piles are formed and then turned with a Scarab to size reduce the food waste and eliminate round (rolling) objects. Windrows are capped with a layer of unscreened composted yard trimmings to help control odors. The existing site accommodates 70 windrows. Finished compost may be purchased at the facility, either by the bag or in bulk. In March 2011, Charleston County received the Carolina Recycling Association’s Outstanding Composting or Organics Recycling Program Award.

New York, New York: School Composting Success

A cafeteria composting pilot in eight public schools on Manhattan’s Upper West Side concluded successfully June 27, the final day of the 2011/2012 academic school year. Launched exactly four months earlier, the pilot was designed to test the viability of separating and composting organic waste, including meat and dairy, kitchen scraps and food trays made from sugar cane. The program successfully diverted 450 lbs/day of food waste from disposal and reduced the volume of cafeteria garbage by 85 percent across eight pilot schools serving a total of 3,628 elementary and middle school students in Manhattan’s District 3. The pilot was started and managed by five public school parents who met through the all-volunteer District 3 Green Schools Group in 2009. All chair their schools’ Green Teams and had been instrumental in a successful campaign to replace Styrofoam cafeteria trays with a compostable sugar cane alternative, paid for with PTA funds.

The next step was to “close the loop” and compost the hundreds of sugar cane trays disposed each day. IESI, a private waste hauler, donated collection and composting services. Each building in the pilot program was given 64-gallon totes, compostable liners, signage and digital scales. The pilot team weighed the schools’ compost, garbage and recycling for one week each month to collect metrics about how much waste — by weight and volume — was being diverted weekly from landfill or incineration. “…We’re hoping that in the fall, when the new school season starts, we’re going to have 20 schools in this district mirroring what was accomplished here,” said NYC Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty June 19 at an awards ceremony honoring NYC Department Of Education (DOE) custodial, School Food and teaching staff involved in the pilot.

Ulster County, New York: Focus On Large-Scale Generators

Ulster County kicked off a food waste composting pilot project on July 1 to evaluate all aspects of collecting and processing food waste from large quantity waste generators in the county and determine the feasibility of a much larger composting operation, says Michelle Bergkamp, Recycling Coordinator for the Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency.

A waste characterization study showed that discarded food comprises about 15 percent of the county’s commercial waste stream. Organics will be taken to the county’s materials recovery facility and transfer station. “Our permit was modified to include yard waste and food waste,” says Bergkamp. It authorizes processing of 1,000 cubic yards (cy) of food waste and 10,000 cy of yard trimmings on site. Ulster County is using an aerated static pile method developed by O2 Compost. “Once we show the process works and we’re creating a great quality product, the NYSDEC will modify the permit to accept more material,” she adds.

Currently, all solid waste generated in Ulster County is exported more than 250 miles one way to a landfill in the northern part of New York state. “That is a substantial amount of money for transfer and disposal,” notes Bergkamp. “Our goals are to divert 15 percent of our municipal solid waste, turn it into a useful and environmentally beneficial product and make it available to the community, cut greenhouse gas emissions both in terms of transportation and landfill disposal, save money and hopefully realize a profit.” Private haulers collect and deliver the organics to the county composting facility, which charges $50/ton compared to the $100/ton charged for landfilling.

Williston, Vermont: Persistent Herbicides Plague Vermont Composter

Green Mountain Compost and the Chittenden Solid Waste District (CSWD) have suspended the sale of all compost products following reported crop damage and subsequent detection of low levels of two herbicides, clopyralid and picloram, in samples of bulk and bagged compost produced at the facility and sold to local gardeners. The herbicides in question are used on nonresidential turf and on rangelands to control thistle, clover and other annual and perennial broadleaf weeds. The chemical compounds were detected at levels between 1.7 ppb and 15.3 ppb, lower than would cause risk to human health, but high enough to damage susceptible food crops. At press time, the source of the herbicides was unknown. “While many customers are reporting no evidence of the presence of persistent herbicides, we are concerned about the impact on those whose gardens have been affected,” says CSWD General Manager Tom Moreau. “We are working with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture to determine how these herbicides, which are regulated by the state, have entered feedstocks in our compost program in apparent violation of their label requirements, and how to prevent it from occurring in the future.” Moreau says the state is conducting additional tests to verify initial lab results.

BioCycle has been reporting on persistent pesticides in compost, clopyralid in particular, for more than a decade. The manufacturer of clopyralid, DOW AgroSciences, voluntarily withdrew that chemical compound for residential lawn use in 2002. Picloram is a restricted-use product and can only be used by licensed applicators. According to the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, there was no reported use of picloram in the state on any potential composting feedstock between 2009 and 2011.

Symptoms of herbicide contamination include cupped leaves, twisted stems, distorted growing points and reduced fruit set on broadleaf plants such as tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, beans, peas, peppers and sunflowers. The issue surfaced in late June when CSWD began fielding reports from staff and customers of symptoms indicating a problem. Compost sales represent more than 80 percent of  Green Mountain Compost’s revenue stream.

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