June 18, 2008 | General


BioCycle June 2008, Vol. 49, No. 6, p. 6

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its Food Waste Management Calculator, which evaluates the competitiveness of alternatives to traditional food waste disposal, such as composting, source reduction, donation and recycling of fats, oils and grease (FOG). It determines a new food waste management scenario, based on inputs such as type of organization, types and quantities of food waste, availability of recovery methods and preferences. The calculator then compares the costs of disposal with estimates of the alternative scenario to demonstrate that environmentally and socially responsible food waste management is also cost-effective for many facilities.
The more information known about waste management costs, the more accurate the calculation will be. However, default values are provided for several variables if specific data is not known, such as regional average waste disposal fees, composting costs and transportation fees. The Food Waste Management Calculator can be downloaded at
Officials symbolically shredded a $3.7 million mortgage for a Gallatin County, Montana composting facility that processes waste from Yellowstone National The West Yellowstone-Hebgen Basin Composting Facility processes more than 3,000 tons of municipal solid waste a year from the park and surrounding area. The money was appropriated by Congress, which gave the NPS the authority to pay off the loan.
The New Zealand government recently gave Envirocomp, owned by Karen and Karl Upston, the Green Ribbon Award for their system to compost disposable diapers using a HotRot in-vessel composting unit, made by R5 Solutions. Approximately 450,000 used diapers were successfully composted in a five-month trial last year. When the system is in full operation by the end of 2008, it will be able to process 15,000 diapers per day, or 3,000 metric tons per year. Disposable diapers and green waste are processed in the HotRot unit for two to three weeks, and then plastics from that diapers that cannot be processed are screened out. Envirocomp plans on offering curbside pick up to several communities, based on three-month contracts, and will sell compostable bags to participants. For more information, visit
The Composting Association in the United Kingdom announced a name change. As of August 1, 2008, it will be known as the Association for Organics Recycling. “This change reflects our response to, and evolution of, the changing nature of waste management and reinforces our role as the leading UK organization in raising awareness of the benefits of recycling biodegradable resources,” says a release from the Association. “The biowaste industry is undergoing significant expansion and development, using a diverse range of technologies for the treatment of biowastes. The name change will better reflect the organization’s values, membership activity and portray more accurately the activities of its core membership.” For more details, visit
Researchers at the University of California (UC) Davis have found that organically grown tomatoes are richer in flavonoids than those that are conventionally grown. A news report on National Public Radio described research at the University of California Davis that has been comparing organic and conventional tomatoes grown in neighboring plots. So far, researchers have found that the organically grown tomatoes have almost double the concentration of two types of flavonoids – quercetin and kaempferol – which are considered to be healthful plant compounds with potent antioxidant activity. Stephen Kaffka, an agronomy professor at UC Davis, suspects that these increased levels have to do with the differences in how the plants are fertilized. Conventionally grown tomatoes get fertilizer made from soluble inorganic nitrogen that plants absorb quickly. The organic tomatoes receive nitrogen from manure and composted cover crops, which release nitrogen more slowly. Alyson Mitchell, a food chemist at UC Davis, suggests that limited nitrogen may cause the plants to grow more slowly, allowing time to allocate resources toward making secondary plant metabolites, such as flavonoids. Evidence is incomplete however, says Kaffka, with additional research and controlled studies needed.
Source reduction, recycling and composting took on even greater significance with the release of a new research study, Stop Trashing The Climate. Issued on June 5th – World Environment Day – the study concludes that increased recycling and composting are easily-achievable and essential measures to help meet greenhouse gas reduction targets being debated in the U.S. Congress. “Along with waste prevention, expanded recycling and composting can have the same climate protection impact as closing 21 percent of the nation’s 417 coal-burning power plants,” says Brenda Platt of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and a coauthor of Stop Trashing The Climate, noting that coal combustion is the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. “Recycling is as important for climate stability as improving vehicle fuel efficiency, retrofitting lighting, planting trees and protecting forests. By avoiding landfill methane emissions, composting in particular is a vital tactic in the battle to stop Arctic ice melting. Biodegradable materials are a liability when buried and burned, but an asset when composted.”
Key policy recommendations include setting local and national zero waste targets, focusing on 20-year plans; eliminating subsidies to landfills and incinerators; and expanding the national reuse, recycling and composting infrastructure. “A zero waste approach is not only good news for climate stability, it’s also good news for America’s businesses and economy,” says Eric Lombardi of Eco-Cycle, another coauthor. “The time to act is now. We cannot afford to pass up this opportunity to create local jobs and new enterprises, while reducing global warming and our reliance on imported goods and fuel.” David Ciplet, the third author of Stop Trashing The Climate, is U.S. coordinator for the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA). He adds that incinerator and landfill companies have “lobbied hard to promote waste disposal technologies as sources of renewable energy and as a solution to climate change. As a result, they have gained access to valuable taxpayer subsidies in energy policies. In reality, these disposal systems gobble up taxpayer money and compete against wind and solar projects, while burdening local communities with pollution and debt.” BioCycle will publish an article based on the report in an upcoming issue, providing more details on the calculations and analysis related to composting and landfill methane avoidance.
A former lumber mill in Fort Bragg, California, 130 miles north of San Francisco, is infested with dioxin. The bioremediation method being proposed, according to a recent New York Times article, involves using mushrooms that have successfully treated oil spills. Fort Bragg was home to the second-largest redwood mill in the U.S., which closed in 2002. Owned by Georgia-Pacific, the mill has several toxic hot spots with high levels of dioxin that the mill says were ash piles when it burned wood from Bay Area landfills. Fort Bragg must clean up the contaminated coastline this year or risk losing a $4.2 million grant from the California Coastal Conservancy for a trail.
Typically, contaminated soil is hauled off, buried or burned. But, using an alternative known as the “mushroom method,” plots of contaminated soil are strewn with straw and mushroom spawn. The spawn releases a fine, threadlink web called mycelium that secretes enzymes that break down molecular bonds, causing toxins to fall apart. “The less recalcitrant toxins could be broken down within 10 years,” says Paul Stamets, author of Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save The World. At least two dioxin-degrading species of mushroom indigenous to the Northern California coast could work: Turkey tail and oyster mushrooms.
On June 1, 2008, China officially banned plastic bags. China’s l.3 billion people use about 3 billion bags each day, which take approximately 37 million barrels of oil per year to manufacture. So far, shopkeepers are barred from handing out free plastic bags, particularly ones less than .025 mm thick, except for fresh and cooked foods. Local environmental groups are promoting and giving away reusable cloth bags in schools. What remains to be seen is how the ban will be enforced, particularly in large cities like Beijing.
The Northwest Biosolids Management Association is hosting its 21st Annual Conference, September 7-9, 2008 in Skamania, Washington. This year’s theme is Biosolids “Pride & Prejudice,” highlighting the pride in the vital work the biosolids profession does – treating wastewater and recycling treated resources back into the water and soil – and the prejudice the industry sometimes faces with respect to public perception. BioCycle is a cosponsor of this year’s conference, with sessions on September 9th focusing on the use of biosolids in energy production, and innovations in anaerobic digestion. For details and on-line registration go to:
California’s already strained water supply is being worsened by a drought. Water pumped from the Sacramento San Joaquin River-Delta has been cut by one-third in an effort to protect endangered fish species in the Delta. This is approximately 660,000 acre-feet less water than last year, equivalent to the annual water consumption of nearly 5.3 million Californians. With emergency supplies low, California water agencies have implemented public education programs, water restrictions and rate increases.
Farmland in San Diego County receives 60 percent of its water from the Delta, and has been greatly affected by the cutback. Eric Larson, Executive Director of San Diego County’s Farm Bureau, highlighted the ability of compost and mulch to alleviate some of the burden of this water crisis in a presentation at BioCycle’s West Coast Conference in April. He notes that compost used as soil amendment increases the water holding capacity of the soil and stabilizes the moisture content, while mulch reduces surface moisture loss from soil, and also aids in the retention of rainwater.
Buildings that carry the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED or the federal Energy Star certifications have higher occupancy rates and lease for more dollars per square foot than similar conventional buildings, says the CoStar Group, an information service provider for commercial real estate companies. “Nongreen buildings are going to become obsolete,” says CoStar, which completed a study of commercial buildings this spring. Results of the study were reported in the May 2008 issue of Environmental Building News (
Industries most active in leasing space are law firms, financial institutions, business services firms and insurance companies. Los Angeles, Houston and Washington lead the list in total commercial green real estate in CoStar’s database. The real estate market ties green performance with value. “It’s easy to understand why owners and tenants are placing a premium on green buildings,” says Brendan Owens of the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED certified buildings had an occupancy rate of 92 percent; rental rate per square foot was $42.38, with a sale price per square foot of $438, as of the first quarter in 2008, according to CoStar. By comparison, non-LEED buildings had an occupancy rate of 87.9 percent, rental rate per square foot of $31.05, and sale price per square foot of $267.

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