October 19, 2011 | General

Composting Roundup

BioCycle October 2011, Vol. 52, No. 10, p. 12

Prince William County, Virginia
One of only three composting facilities within striking distance of the Washington Beltway, the Balls Ford Road Compost Facility (BFRCF) has been processing yard trimmings, garden debris and leaves from its rural jurisdictions as well as neighboring Fairfax County to the tune of about 40,000 tons/year since 1994. In February 2011, BFRCF began a pilot program taking in preconsumer food waste from area school cafeterias, restaurants and grocery stores. The volume has increased from one hauler delivering 3 to 5-tons/week to two haulers delivering around 50 tons/week.
“We thought we would have trucks lined up at the gate but were met with a lukewarm response initially,” says Prince William County Recycling Coordinator Scott MacDonald. Haulers for stores such as Harris Teeter, Wal-Mart, Giant, Whole Foods and Wegmans that had initially expressed interest are finally starting to come on board, he adds. “In just the past few weeks, it’s starting to take off, with the right kind of folks contacting us having the materials we need and can use at this facility.”
The pilot program evolved out of the county’s participation in an EPA Region III sponsored Organics Composting Forum, which included the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and the Alice Ferguson Foundation. “The region recognized the need for capacity for food waste collection and processing in order to help communities increase their landfill diversion rates,” says MacDonald. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, which had also been looking to do a pilot in the region, quickly got on board with the project. “Within a month we had a pilot,” he says, adding that so far there has been no grant money involved. “We’re doing it all on tipping fees.” The BFRCF charges $34/ton for bulk yard trimmings and leaves, $36/ton for bagged debris and $34/ton for food waste. “From an operator’s standpoint, bags are a nightmare,” explains MacDonald. A $50,000 litter fence was recently installed to keep plastic from straying off the property.
Eastern Clearing, contracted to run the BFRCF, grinds and composts the material – bags and all – and screens plastic out on the back end. Compost is sold to local landscapers. Processing equipment includes a Diamond Z horizontal grinder and a Morbark tub grinder. Windrows are turned two to three times a week with a track excavator. Total processing time is nine months. With 2,700 to 3,000 tons of leaves and yard debris coming through the facility each month, the food waste so far is a drop in the bucket, says MacDonald. “It’s still reducing the amount of organics going to the landfill.”
Columbus, Ohio
This past summer, BioCycle began reporting on Imprelis, a lawn herbicide that included label restrictions warning professional applicators not to compost grass clippings coming off of land where the chemical had been sprayed – and to tell their clients not to compost them as well. Then trees in proximity to where the herbicide had been used began dying by the thousands. In August, the USEPA ordered the product off the market; dozens of individual and class-action lawsuits had been filed and DuPont promised full restitution to customers who waived their right to litigate.
Prior to the tree deaths, Ohio State researcher Fred Michel predicted problems with Imprelis (see “DuPont Label Says ‘Do Not Compost’ Grass Clippings,” June 2011) due to the active ingredient aminocyclopyrachlor’s tenacity in the environment. Now Dr. Michel is offering advice on how to make sure Imprelis hasn’t made it into backyard or municipal compost piles: “The most sensitive plants to Imprelis we have found are beans,” he says. “A simple test would be to plant four bean seeds in a Styrofoam coffee cup containing potting media. Then plant four seeds in potting media plus 2%, 10%, and 50% of the compost being tested. Repeat with a similar compost known to be herbicide-free.”
“In our tests when we sprayed grass with Imprelis as directed, cut the grass within seven days, composted it with leaves for 200 days and did as described above (with 2%, 5% and 10% compost), all the bean plants in media containing compost showed herbicide injury after about two weeks. If herbicide injury is seen in the tested compost and not the clean compost treatments, then it could be concluded that there is a problem.”
Mansfield, Connecticut
The University of Connecticut’s (UConn) 10,000-square-foot covered composting facility has been operating for a year at the land-grant institution’s Spring Manor Farm. The project was an initiative of UConn’s Office of Environmental Policy, established in 2002, in partnership with the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR). A primary goal was to improve nutrient management practices, reducing and eventually eliminating the practices of stockpiling and land applying manure while also decreasing farm waste volume. Additional goals included providing research and education and outreach opportunities for CANR and UConn’s extension program and adding the ability to compost campus leaves and landscaping waste.
The university estimated that it would receive 10 to 15 14-cubic yard trucks/week of dry manure, and 1 to 2 tanker trucks every other week of liquid manure. An 83-foot-wide by 120-foot-long ClearSpan Hercules Truss Arch Building was installed. “We chose a fabric structure because of the affordable cost and ability for expansion,” says Environmental Compliance Analyst Paul Ferri. “Our site was designed to include a second structure in the future. The facility can grow as our needs grow.” Full-scale operations began in October 2010, and volumes of feedstocks received were higher than expected. “We originally anticipated that this size facility would handle approximately 25 percent of our farm waste, but we are actually composting about 40 percent,” Ferri says. About 650 tons were composted in the first year.
The covered facility is constructed on an asphalt pad with a 2 percent slope running toward a bioswale, which allows UConn to control the moisture levels in the compost, making the operations more efficient and preventing anaerobic decomposition (and related odors) in the windrows as well as runoff. A payloader shapes the solid manure and leaves into windrows and a liquid tanker truck equipped with a swingbroom adds liquid manure when moisture is needed. A Komptech TopTurn X53 was selected to maximize turning capacity within a limited footprint. “Windrows are turned more often in the beginning of the composting process and turned less frequently as the material ages,” he says. “It is temperature driven. The average is once every 7 to 10 days.”
Palo Alto, California
A measure that would repurpose 10 acres of designated open space in Palo Alto for a state-of-the-art composting facility will be decided by voters in November, reports the Palo Alto Daily News. In August, the Palo Alto City Council unanimously approved language that will appear on the ballot to decide the controversial proposal. A group called Palo Alto Green Energy and Compost collected the requisite number of signatures required by the city charter to bring the question before voters. The 10-acre proposed site is part of 126 reclaimed acres already dedicated to expanding a local public park following closure of the Palo Alto Landfill. If the compost facility is not built, proponents of the plan argue, the city’s organic recyclables will have to be trucked out of town. Opponents counter that the facility will be expensive and that the city shouldn’t give up already designated parkland.
Though the city council hasn’t taken a position on the measure, Vice Mayor Yiaway Yeh made a motion, seconded by a councilwoman, to have the council draft an opposition statement to the initiative. Other council members countered that this would not be an appropriate action for the council to take, after which Yeh withdrew his motion. “I think that the city ought to remain neutral on this,” councilmember Larry Klein said. “It is a divisive issue that was really brought to us by members of the public.”
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Apartment dwellers in Philadelphia now have a place to compost their food scraps – in a back alley behind a retail store. Judah Press opened the store, Save Some Green, in March 2010. The store sells reusable sandwich wraps, placemats and water bottles; bowls made from recycled chopsticks; compostable plates, cups and cutlery; recycled paper products; biodegradable trash bags; bamboo fiber babywear; and numerous other green products. “All of the products are either recycled, recyclable, biodegradable, compostable, reusable, organic, sustainable, low-energy, all-natural, less-wasteful, local or a combination,” Press says.
The store began accepting food scraps and small amounts of yard trimmings from the public about a year ago. Press had already been composting food scraps at home. “It took me a while to get the hang of it, and I realized it would be even harder for people living in apartment buildings, which is where most of my customers live,” he says. “I figured they can have a little compost bucket in their kitchen but probably would not have anything to do with it after that. We started taking hard-to-recycle items at the store such as #3 through #7 plastics that are not recycled by the city, batteries, cell phones and light bulbs, so we figured ‘why not food scraps as well?'”
Bethlehem, New Hampshire
The White Mountain School, an independent boarding school for grades 9 to 12, established a Sustainability Studies Department in 2001. “This program has allowed the school to build a strong academic program called Leadership for Global Sustainability and empowered students to reduce their impact on the earth,” says Elizabeth Aldrich, chair of the Department. In 2010, students helped plant and harvest 2,670 pounds of vegetables, 11 gallons of syrup and several hundred eggs from a garden, chicken coop and sugaring house on campus. The garden is nourished with compost from the campus’s food scraps, and syrup is boiled with fuel from the campus woodlot.
The Fred Steele Science Center built in 2006 features composting toilets and roof-mounted solar panels. An Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant awarded through the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act combined with assistance from the New Hampshire State Office of Energy and Planning funded insulation and energy efficiency improvements in several dormitories, says Aldrich. The school’s main building will soon be heated with wood pellets. “These improvements were made after an energy audit and student-led greenhouse gas inventory of the campus,” she explains.
The White Mountain School earned an outstanding achievement award from the National Association of Independent Schools’ Leading Edge Program in 2007, and the Edward E. Ford Foundation provided $50,000 in annual scholarships for sustainability studies.
Chicago, Illinois

The Chicago Food Depository acts as a middleman to get usable food nearing its sell-by date to the hungry. “Our drivers, licensed in food sanitation, visit dozens of stores on a daily basis to pick up meat, produce and other items,” explains Bob Dolgan, director of communications at the depository. “On the same day, using our refrigerated trucks, we transport the food to pantries, soup kitchens and shelters in Cook County.” The trucks work with chains like Jewel-Osco to pick up an array of items, including packaged produce, meats, poultry, canned goods, dairy and bakery products. Last year, the Depository helped turn 5.3 million pounds of food into meals for Cook County’s hungry and rescued 3.8 million pounds of meat.
Ken Dunn, founder and director of the Resource Center in Chicago, collects compostables from local restaurants that identify with his mission to grow and compost locally and organically. Dunn says he collects and composts everything that was once alive -from wooden crates and paper napkins to animal products. His City Farm project uses the finished compost to grow food for restaurants on vacant lots. Chef Bruce Sherman of North Pond Restaurant (along with many other local sustainability-minded chefs) “complete the cycle by sending his scraps back to us, which still contain nutrients and which we use to grow produce that we can then sell back to him.”

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