Growing A Commercial Organics Composting Company

BioCycle January 2006, Vol. 47, No. 1, p. 20

From optimizing collection routes to best ways for serving generators, a North Carolina firm figures out how to recycle and market organics.

Dean Brooks

OUR COMPOSTING facility based in Goldston, North Carolina started in the late 1980s when we were dairy farmers and looking for another income source. We determined that large-scale composting would provide a promising future, and Brooks Contractor was incorporated in 1990 and started full-time in 1992. By the mid-90s, we decided that something significant had to be done with all the food waste being generated in the growing Triangle Area. Dumping this organic material in landfills would eventually become a huge problem. Realizing this, we set up a program to divert large amounts of this excellent nitrogen source to our composting operation.

Our first truck that we designed and built ourself had limitations; we could only haul about six to seven tons per day. We were offered a grant from the North Carolina Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance, allowing us to purchase a larger truck in 1998 equipped with an aluminum water-tight bed. We quickly decided to purchase another identical truck, and we still operate both trucks today. We soon upgraded them with high pressure, hot water, and digital scales. Although sanitation and thorough cleaning is left to the individual customer, we rinse the containers to the best of our ability. Now we can collect 12 to 14 tons with each truck per day – running one six days/week and the other about four days/week. We offer collection of food residuals and waxed cardboard to grocery stores, restaurants, microbreweries and cafeterias. Food collection expanded from 700 tons the first year to more than 3,200 tons presently from Orange, Wake, Durham and surrounding counties.

These trucks have the capability to dump 65-gallon roll-around carts that we predominantly use – and also have fork attachment on the rear to handle six and eight cubic yard dumpsters. Originally, we would go into stores and train workers, but now we go in and train the managers. Contamination can sometimes be a big issue, but food waste is a great amendment to a compost facility, as it adds micronutrients and trace elements.

Our business started out small and was mostly operated by family members, but throughout the years we have expanded to include about a dozen employees in addition to the original five family members. Those include myself, as Vice-President, who oversees all operations and provides the entrepreneurial vision; Judy Brooks, President, who oversees office management; my oldest son, Alan, who is compost site manager; Jonathan, our hauling coordinator and mechanic; and Amy, who helps out in the office while a college student getting her degree in Natural Resources, Soil and Water.

We feel that experience is the key to an efficient operation. With a very low employee turnover rate, you could say that our business is in the process of fine-tuning and expanding the programs that we currently have. Meanwhile, research is being conducted within some of the newest facets of our business. We will eventually get newer and larger trucks to take on more food residuals, and feel that what we’re doing now is just the tip of the iceberg for food waste diversion.

In the last few years, we have incorporated a roll-off service that provides 25, 30, and 40-yard roll-off boxes to some of our larger generators and horse farms. Roll-off boxes provide our customers with an efficient way to take care of large quantities of carbon sources, which in turn benefits our operation.

FROM FEEDSTOCK TO FINISHED COMPOST
From the time that we receive a raw material to the time it is sold as finished compost usually takes from 12 to 18 months. Materials, including the food residuals, yard trimmings, animal manures, egg shells, wood and crop residues, are composted in windrows and turned with a Scarab turner. We do a tremendous amount of compost sales to landscapers and large retailers in the Raleigh-Durham, Greensboro area, distributing more than 55,000 tons each year. Blends made with our completely organic compost are extremely popular with our landscape customers, especially a blend we refer to as 50/50.

Our site is getting quite large, with about 30 acres in use. Storm water is getting to be an issue and we are in the process of revamping that. We’re researching a combination of constructed wetlands and/or irrigated tree farms, which would make excellent use of the remaining 375 acres of available farm and woodlands. Most of the time we reuse our wastewater back on the rows, but during the wet months we need to find an alternative solution.

About three years ago, we decided to explore alternative, renewable energy sources, specifically biodiesel. We have determined that we would like to be a supplier of feedstocks, basically used cooking oil. A grease trap pumping company just hauled 9,700 gallons of used cooking oil to our facility that was recovered from the North Carolina State Fair. We’ve added a 300-gallon tank inside one of our food waste trucks, and when we go around to our restaurants we can also get their used fryer oil. And we’ll take it at no cost because we’re already there and getting paid to pick up their food waste. Another renewable energy source we’re working on is a nearby hydroelectric plant that we purchased about 2-1/2 years ago, and we’ve been renovating and trying to get it on-line in order to sell power to our local power company.

One has to constantly think about what the next big environmental issues will be. A company has to ask itself: “What other services can we offer our existing customers? What else can we do for the environment?” With the upcoming family generations, Brooks Contractor will continue to be a driving force in this industry.

Dean Brooks is Vice-President of Brooks Contractor. This article is based on his presentation at the BioCycle Southeast Conference last November.

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