January 12, 2012 | General

Composting Roundup

BioCycle January 2012, Vol. 53, No. 1, p. 14

Hood River, Oregon
Small-Scale Startup Composts Food Waste

Dirt Hugger opened its new composting facility in the Columbia River Gorge to fill a growing need for local composting services. Tri-Counties Recycling (a collaborative government organization) commissioned a study to inventory disposed organics and concluded no local processing capacity was available. In response to this study, Pierce Louis and Tyler Miller quit their day jobs in the aerospace industry and set up a pilot project in Miller’s yard. From studying the industry, they realized they lacked both startup capital and large feedstock volumes, leading them to create a business model based on small-scale processing in a rural environment. This model required relatively little capital and could function at smaller volumes versus existing urban processing sites the two had visited. They successfully won four grants totaling $65,000, took six months to complete their permitting process, incorporated as Dirt Hugger in March 2010 and started accepting feedstocks.
Local refuse companies began by bringing Dirt Hugger yard debris from their transfer stations, saving the haulers time and money. (The material used to be trucked more than 70 miles, versus the mile or so trip to Dirt Hugger.) Initially, the garbage companies declined to set up a food scraps route for restaurants and groceries. Undeterred, the Dirt Hugger cofounders applied to city councils for hauling franchises, bought a used truck on Craigslist and started a route. After about two months of collection and seeing the potential benefits of hauling organics, a local garbage company took over the route. Feedstocks comes from Oregon Cherry Growers (about 15 tons/week of cherry sludge and stems), fruit packing houses collecting unusable fruit (about 250 tons in 2011) and in the form of food scraps from grocery stores, restaurants and other local businesses. In less than a year, Dirt Hugger went from an idea and a test pile in Miller’s yard to a fully permitted, facility whose compost is listed by the Organic Materials Review Institute for use in organic production.
The composting site, previously a lumber mill, has a 1-acre paved pad that meets the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s regulations for a permitted facility. Incoming feedstock is stored on the compost pad, and a Case 621D front-end loader is used to turn the piles. A Morbark 5600 Wood Hog horizontal grinder works in tandem with a Wildcat 516 trommel screen to help process the compost. Dirt Hugger had originally worked out an agreement with a neighboring construction company to borrow excavators and front-end loaders, but used some of the grant money to purchase its own used equipment. This fall Dirt Hugger completed the transition to aerated static pile composting for the active curing phase (post PRFP). The company sold out of compost twice during 2011 and is hoping to double capacity this coming year in order to meet demand.

Edmondton, Alberta, Canada
Eradication Plant Pathogens During Composting

A cross-disciplinary team of scientists recently published a literature review in BioCycle’s sister publication Compost Science & Utilization (Autumn, 2011, page 244) entitled “Plant Pathogen Eradication During Composting.” According to the paper’s abstract, “The process of composting, when managed in such a way that adequate temperature conditions are achieved, can lead to significant reductions in the levels of many plant and human pathogens.” The authors — Kristine Wichuk, Jalpa Tewari and Daryl McCartney of the University of Alberta, Edmunton, Canada, —explored literature and various organizational standards across the U.S., Canada and Europe in order to evaluate time and temperature conditions necessary for eradicating various types of plant pathogens during composting, noting that varying time-temperature conditions have been suggested in the literature and by compost standards organizations to treat plant pathogens in compost. Data from the European literature and suggestions for conditions adequate for the eradication of phytopathogens were compared with the time-temperatures specified by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) and US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) for human pathogens.
“Most bacterial plant pathogens and nematodes, and many fungi and fungus-like organisms (including the oomycetes and plasmodiophoromycetes) are likely to be eradicated if compost operations adhere to the human pathogen time-temperature guidelines set out by the CCME and USEPA [55°C for at least three days; European guidelines and standards vary between 55-65°C and 3-14 days ],” the paper states. “Other fungi and fungus-like phytopathogens, and a number of viruses are more heat resistant. Results in the literature have been inconsistent for some hardier species, with some studies showing eradication during composting and others finding that these same species were still viable in finished products.”
The higher temperatures and longer exposure times suggested in European guidelines and standards are likely to be effective against a broader range of phytopathogens than the CCME and USEPA requirements, according to the report. “In general, most researchers agree that commercial-scale composting, if monitored and controlled properly, will likely eliminate most phytopathogens, with the exception of a few hardy viruses and fungi/fungus-like organisms such as tobacco mosaic virus, Fusarium oxysporum, and Plasmodiophora brassicae. The report also states that bench-scale time-temperature studies using pathogen suspensions or cultures on media did not often reliably predict what would happen in full-scale composting systems. “If particular pathogens are of concern in a region, either pilot or full-scale studies should be done to evaluate their fate within the composting process used locally, or a more consistently predictive bench scale procedure should be developed.” To request a copy of the 22-page literature review in its entirety, email.

Jordan, New York
Growing Compost Markets

Editor’s note: In our November 2011 annual survey of mixed waste composting facilities, we erroneously stated that compost being produced by the Delaware County (New York) Department of Public Works Solid Waste Division was marketed by WeCare Environmental, when in fact it is brokered by WeCare Organics. The latter company’s Business Development Director Charles Duprey caught the error and called to set the record straight. Since we had him on the phone, we asked Duprey what he saw as current and potential drivers of growth for compost products.
“WeCare Environmental LLC is the company that operates the Marlborough, Massachusetts co-composting facility and operates separately from We Care Organics LLC,” says Duprey. “Compost marketing is a key service of WeCare Organics, and we appreciate this being cleared up for potential clients and current users of the compost.” As far as trends in the marketplace, Duprey pointed to “compost as an input for green infrastructure solutions such as green roofs and other applications that require engineered soils.” While compost is currently underutilized for these types of applications, drivers such as intended bans on organics in landfills in Massachusetts and elsewhere could help fulfill its potential in the long run, as will quantifying the benefits of such applications in real-world, large-scale situations. In the Northeast, he cited examples of New York City and Philadelphia and their intention to manage Combined Sewer Overflows (CFOs) through added green infrastructure that would return rainwater and snowmelt to the ground rather than the sewer system. He also highlighted Onondaga County, New York, where a similar plan was launched in January 2008, with 50 related projects in the works, as a stellar example of this approach. If proven on a large scale, he says, such applications could be a boon for the compost industry.
“WeCare has done two or three green roofs in that area, and we’re providing the soil to a couple of different blenders — probably 800 to 1,000 cubic yards cumulative,” Duprey says, adding that including compost in best management practices could be the next critical step. “There is exponential potential for growth, replacing existing soils with engineered soils that have a high percentage of compost — not just backfilling but looking for solutions that involve compost.”

Vestal, New York
Grant For Educational Gardens

Binghamton University’s (BU) office of Recycling and Resource Management will revitalize one campus garden and build a brand new one to provide environmental learning opportunities for university students as well as for children at the Campus Pre-School & Early Childhood Center. The project received a grant from the New York State Association for Reduction, Reuse and Recycling (NYSAR3). According to BU’s Environmental Program Manager Martin Larocca, the first garden, newly constructed at the Pre-School, “will teach the children the process of decomposition, while developing a deeper understanding for our need to reduce and reuse ‘waste.’” An existing student garden at BU’s Harpur College of Arts & Sciences will be restored. Compost for the gardens will come from BU’s current program that processes organics from the Campus Pre-School at an offsite location. Another component of the program will be planting vegetables, fruits and ornamentals in both gardens and the creation of a seed bank.
NYSAR3 established the grant program in 2005 for the purpose of providing start-up money for recycling/waste reduction programs in New York public and private schools, according to long-time board member, Meg Morris. “Since that time, over 75 schools and school districts have benefitted financially from the grants, instituting recycling and waste-reduction programs in schools,” she says.

North Syracuse, New York
OCRRA Receives State Environmental Award

The Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency (OCRRA) was one of five organizations recognized in December for pioneering environmental projects during the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC’s) 8th Annual New York State Environmental Excellence Awards ceremony. OCRRA was selected for the award based on its innovative, commercial food waste composting program that efficiently turns refuse into a resource. Through extended aerated static pile composting, OCRRA processes food waste in a fraction of the time and with less energy than traditional composting systems. According to the agency, this approach also reduces greenhouse gas emissions compared to other methods. OCRRA offers this composting service to large-scale food waste generators including food distributors, grocery stores, hotels, restaurants and institutions.
Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, Onondaga Community College, Oncenter, Ramada Inn, Saint Camillus Rehabilitation Center, Syracuse Banana, Syracuse University (SU) and Upstate University Hospital were early adopters of the composting program. In 2010, SU diverted more than 7 tons/week of material from its dining halls. In total, the university diverted more than 137 tons of food waste from the landfill and saved more than $4,500 in disposal costs. In 2011, SU more than doubled its capture rate to 300.61 tons of food waste.
DEC established the Environmental Excellence Awards Program in 2004 to recognize innovation, sustainability and creative partnerships that achieve exceptional environmental, social and economic benefits for New York. OCRRA’s food waste composting project was lauded for serving as an environmentally sound, cost-effective model for other municipalities and for generating jobs, reducing disposal costs and helping New York State achieve its “beyond waste” goals and objectives.

Columbia, Missouri
Closing The Loop With Compost

University of Missouri Columbia students and faculty throw tons of dining hall food waste away annually. Tim Reinbott is director of the Bradford Research and Extension Center and university farm, where faculty conduct research on everything from crop pests to aquaculture. Two years ago, Reinbott began conversing with the university’s director of Campus Dining Services about the millions of pounds of pre and postconsumer food waste going to the landfill each year. Reinbott envisioned a closed-loop farm-to-cafeteria-to-farm system whereby the farm would collect and compost the food waste, then use the compost to grow more vegetables to be sold back to the dining facility. (The farm has been selling produce to the dining hall for the past seven years.) Students and faculty would also be able to utilize the system as a living laboratory. “We are using the On-Farm Composting Handbook [Northeast Regional Agricultural Engineering Service, 1992] as our guide,” says Reinbott.
A pilot program using an aerated static pile system has been underway since mid-November, with all nine dining halls coming online by mid-January. “We were going to go with a commercial system but thought we would let the students figure it out instead,” says Reinbott. The food waste is pulped, then mixed with horse-stall bedding from other locations around the land-grant university. “We are using a Knight Reel Mixer to blend the raw materials before we put them in the aerated composting bays,” he explains. The compost facility is a 30-foot by 80-foot shed equipped with four 10-foot by 30-foot bays to accommodate the composting process. “Students are determining the precise amount of aeration to use for each bay,” adds Reinbott. Funding for the project included $35,000 from the Mid Missouri Solid Waste Division in Columbia, matched by $35,000 from Campus Dining Services, which contributed an additional $5,000 for food waste containers and other supplies related to collecting the organics at the dining facilities.
To make this system “totally green with a zero carbon footprint,” Reinbott plans to turn the 3,000 gallons of waste vegetable oil the dining facility uses annually into biodiesel that will run the organics collection/produce delivery trucks and farm and composting equipment. He hopes the project will ultimately save the university thousands of dollars in landfill disposal costs.

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