August 15, 2004 | General


BioCycle August 2004, Vol. 45, No. 8, p. 29
Composting programs have linked several Walla Walla Valley, Washington agencies in a collective effort to manage organic residuals.
Russ Davis

THE charming town of Walla Walla, Washington has earned quite a reputation over the last century or so. It was first known for its onions – the world famous Walla Walla Sweet. Then, it won a “Great American Main Street Award” from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Following that, it was selected by Sunset Magazine as its “Best Main Street in the West.” Walla Walla is now enjoying international acclaim as an area where some of the world’s best wines are produced. But why stop there?
Located in the southeastern corner of Washington State, Walla Walla County has a population of around 55,000 – half of whom live in the city of Walla Walla. Visitors to the area in spring and summer are often surprised by the number of trees in the city, which produce a substantial amount of leaves in the fall, according to Hal Thomas, Public Works Director. “We love the trees, but we needed to have a plan for the 1,600 or so tons of leaves we receive in the fall. We had tried a yard waste only facility, but found that there was more we wanted to do.”
The city decided to coordinate its composting efforts with Walla Walla County and the Washington State Penitentiary. Sharon Johnson, Solid Waste Coordinator for the county, had been working for quite a while on a plan that could involve multiple agencies and knew that more could be done. “Our planning paid off, and we were able to secure funds from various sources – including the Washington Department of Ecology – to help us build a facility close to the prison.” The tip station, located adjacent to the penitentiary, accepts yard trimmings and leaves from landscapers, the city and its residents. The actual composting facility is on the prison grounds.
Washington State Correctional Industries was able to secure funds from the state Department of Corrections to recycle its food residuals – about two tons/day from the prison alone – in an effort to keep them out of the landfill. Responsibilities of the various agencies involved breakdown as follows: The city is responsible for collection of the leaves and yard trimmings, and also communicates about the diversion program through its mailings to residents. Correctional Industries is responsible for permitting and is currently operating the facility — both the compost area and the receiving part. The County has primarily been involved in funding, material logistics and overall regional involvement. A private consulting company, Organix, is responsible for the formulating, and sales/marketing, of finished materials.
Steve Harvey, Recycling Coordinator for the penitentiary, is pleased with results so far. “There were several separate efforts underway to recycle organic wastes. It just made sense for us to pool our resources. If we can show we can compost our own, then it’s just a matter of expanding our site to accommodate area restaurants, schools and colleges. The volume of tipped material is increasing daily and the customers seem to like our approach.”
The tip area is restricted during receiving hours only to the public and site personnel. After hours, a gate is opened and select inmates are allowed to transfer materials from the tip area to the processing facility — located inside the penitentiary gate on prison grounds. The tip area contains bins for unloading, an attendant and a loader for transferring materials.
The composting site has a paved surface. Equipment includes a 250hp BioGrind horizontal grinder, an Orbit screen, a Lucknow mixer and a John Deere 544E loader. Food residuals are mixed with ground yard trimmings and loaded into four bioreactor vessels supplied by Engineering Compost Systems (ECS). Each vessel handles about 12 tons of material per batch. Each batch is processed for 21 days, after which the compost is put into aerated static piles (using five, 5 hp fans) for finishing and curing. Yard trimmings and the occasional loads of manure/straw mix from the Walla Walla Fairgrounds are composted directly in aerated static piles. Prison labor is available to mix, grind, sort, screen and move around the material at the processing site, but the tip site area is off limits during business hours to the inmates.
Although the first batch of finished compost has yet to be marketed, the compost group has contracted with Organix, Inc. to assist in the sales, marketing and operations of the facility. Until finished material is ready for market, compost produced at regional dairies under the supervision of Organix, Inc. is available for purchase at the tip station. Organix expects the facility will be able to supply some very high quality compost once a market assessment is done.
The entities involved have created a Compost Advisory Group to monitor progress of the composting program. The group meets regularly to discuss ways of improving as they go. “We have a lot happening with this project,” says Thomas. The county, Correctional Industries, the city and Organix are all part of the process so all views can be considered prior to making decisions.
Russ Davis is president of the Northwest-based consulting firm, Organix, Inc. E-mail:
AS long as parties can agree on the overall goal — as simple as meeting recycling mileposts — a team effort of public and private entities joined to maximize environmentally sound residuals management and build end product markets can pay off. Collaborators can include counties, correctional industries, cities, dairies and feedlots – all entities under regulatory pressure to deal with organic residuals. The following pointers are valuable when working with diverse agencies and organizations:
Agencies get funds for different reasons, but they may be complementary to each other. A prison may have funds for waste management and a city may have funds available for landfill diversion.
Establish a team mentality early on in the process.
Getting permits seem to be easier when there is a comprehensive plan that solves multiple problems.
Confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) can get funds to pool and often have a motivation to compost. They also may have an interest in animal feed from fruit, vegetable or brewery residuals.
Consider solutions that create energy, like biogas. Cities are already using this technology in wastewater treatment plants and may consider this as a tax or green tag incentive.
Cities and counties often have a drop box truck fleet available for hauling compost to customers after making an organics waste drop.

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