March 1, 2004 | General

Composter Expands to Process Bagged Yard Trimmings

Larry Trojak
BioCycle March 2004, Vol. 45, No. 3, p. 26
Leaves are generally collected in plastic bags; and plastic bags are invariably a headache to composting professionals. Given all that, Long Island Compost, Inc. could have given itself a migraine when it signed contracts in 2003 to service municipal programs that collect leaves in plastic bags. Until last year, the company only accepted materials in bulk from landscapers. At peak periods, the 65-acre Yaphank, New York-based operation was processing more than 1,600 cubic yards of bagged leaves every day.
Established in 1991, Long Island Compost set out to provide the more than 1,200 landscapers on the island an alternative method for using their green waste and, at the same time, provide them and the island’s farmers with a material that could enhance growth, according to Arnold Vigliotti, the company’s vice president. (See “Veteran Composters Are Anything But Static [Piles!]),” September 2003.)
“We established a transfer station in Westbury, Long Island where landscapers can bring their green waste,” says Vigliotti. “At the same time, we set up what we feel is one of the more innovative programs at work today – the On-Farm Composting Program, an effort that is truly at the heart of what we do here.”
The program involves taking material from Long Island Compost’s Westbury and Yaphank locations, and transporting it to any one of nearly 40 different farms on the island that “host” the material as it is turned into high-quality compost. Before transport to the farms, yard trimmings go through an extensive sorting and screening process at the Yaphank site. As little as a year ago, that process was challenging the company’s efficiency.
Prior to April 2003, Long Island Compost only took material from landscapers. Vigliotti says contracts to accept bagged leaves and grass from area municipalities came up every couple years or so but, until this past year, the timing and the logistics never seemed right. “This time around, however, we looked at the contracts that were out there and saw it as a good, solid opportunity. We were already doing some significant volumes in our operation but choosing to accept bagged material would, effectively, double those numbers. So in April, we signed the contracts and started taking in the bagged waste from nearby Brookhaven, Oyster Bay and Hempstead.”
Vigliotti and his team began looking into equipment that could effectively debag the material in as efficient a manner as possible. They selected a Model 737 Trommel/Debagger and Picking Station from Morbark. The unit has a 37-foot long, seven-foot diameter trommel tube with 660 sq. ft. of actual screening area. Knives in the tube slice open bags as they tumble, freeing up the contents and passing them – and the plastic bag – along to the adjacent picking station. Workers pull out the bags and any other impurities that might be mixed in with the green waste. An antiplugging device helps eliminate overloading when incoming material is wet and heavy.
The municipal contracts took effect in April, but for a number of reasons, the debagging system wasn’t in place until last November. “During that seven-month period, we spread the bags out on the ground and had a fairly sizeable crew of workers opening the bags manually,” says Vigliotti. “Again, we knew it was just a temporary situation but, manual debagging was a definite logjam for us. We pride ourselves on being an efficient operation and, while effective, that was far from efficient.”
The new set-up enables Long Island Compost to effectively debag 1,600 yards of material daily (over 60,000 tons a year) during its peak period from November through early March. The yard trimmings are shipped to area farms to begin their conversion to compost. The on-farm concept has proven extremely popular with farmers on the island. “Few people realize it but Long Island is heavily agricultural in nature,” notes Vigliotti. “And here, on the eastern part of the island, Suffolk County is actually New York State’s largest agricultural county. So, from the outset, we tried to make the program work for our farmers. As it stands today, each farmer provides us with one acre of land to be made available for composting. We manage the full spectrum of the process – testing, turning, aerating, watering, etc., and in return, the farmers are compensated with both a host fee and 500 yards of compost for use in their own operations. It’s proven so popular that we now have a rather sizeable waiting list of farmers wanting to become host farms.”
After a nine-month period at the remote locations, material is hauled back to the Yaphank site for additional curing, screening and processing until it is made available – either bagged or in bulk – as a mature compost product. Long Island Compost has developed a number of additional products and businesses, all designed to enhance the feeling of a “one-stop shop” for the needs of everyone from area landscapers, to nurseries, to horticulturalists, to weekend gardeners.
“Our product offering has grown over the years,” he adds. “Anyone coming to our site has access to everything from any number of grades of topsoil, potting soil, and compost to potted plants, tools – even snow blowers. There also are several areas on-site where we grind – and sometimes double grind -brush and landclearing material to create a mulch product that has been very successful for us. But the overwhelming majority of our focus is on the composting operation. At the end of the day, when all is said and done, I’m a soil manufacturer; everything else is just in support of that.”
Larry Trojak of Trojak Communications focuses on marketing developments.

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