September 22, 2008 | General

Food Composting Infrastructure

BioCycle September 2008, Vol. 49, No. 9, p. 25
Second installment of BioCycle National Survey reports on food waste composting facilities and projects in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states.
Cristina Olivares and Nora Goldstein

ONE OF the first food composting facilities in the U.S. was located in Freehold Township, New Jersey. The company, American Soil, Inc. (ASI), started composting yard trimmings in 1988. In 1992, it received permission from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and Energy (now Department of Environmental Protection) to run a six month trial to compost food and paper from supermarkets and a food processor.
Ultimately, 1,200 tons of supermarket residuals were composted successfully during the pilot, notes a 1994 article in BioCycle (“Supermarket Stream Added To Composting Mix,” October 1994). Rob Young and his partner, Patrick Kennedy, owners of ASI, began pursuing a full permit for commercial organics while the pilot was ongoing, and by August of 1993, it began receiving an average of 10 tons/day from about 20 supermarkets. The facility processed commercial organics until 2000. Another commercial composting facility – Woodhue, which eventually was bought out and became Eastern Organics – operated in New Jersey for a number of years as well. It serviced supermarkets and other food waste generators. That site closed several years ago.
Today, New Jersey has one composting facility receiving food waste from the supermarket stream. Ag Choice LLC, in Andover, services several ShopRite (Wakefern Corporation) supermarkets. It composts those organics with horse manure; the site’s permitted capacity for food waste is 5,000 cubic yards/year. Recently, WeCare Organics, LLC, based in Jordan, New York, was awarded the contract to manage the Burlington County, New Jersey’s biosolids composting facility. When originally conceived by Burlington County many years ago, the facility was going to take source separated commercial organics as well as its core feedstocks, biosolids and ground yard trimmings. The site uses the IPS agitated bay composting technology, which would allow it to process commercial organics separately from biosolids.
“The facility is permitted to accept organic waste other than biosolids,” says Jeffrey LeBlanc, President of WeCare Organics. “The site is undergoing retrofits and upgrades, and will be back in operation in mid-November 2008. We have excess capacity for organic waste.”
The food composting experience in New Jersey has been mirrored in other Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states over the past 15 years. Private entrepreneurs have ventured into and out of the field, such as Capital Compost in the Albany, New York region. The only public jurisdiction in the region to invest in a composting facility for MSW organics during this period is Delaware County, New York, which opened its mixed waste composting plant in 2006. It processes 24,000 tons/year of mixed MSW, 6,500 tons of biosolids and 2,800 tons of organics from local dairy plants.
In short, few facilities – public or private – have opened with the capability to meet the growing demand for organics diversion in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. Looking at the data collected for this survey, there is about 300,000 tons of permitted processing capacity for food waste in this region, not counting colleges and universities. Two facilities -McGill-Sussex and Royal Oak Farm – represent 270,000 tons of that processing capacity (that includes their capacity for other organics processed). The Peninsula Compost project in Wilmington, Delaware is fully permitted and expected to open in May 2009. That will add about 150,000 more tons of annual capacity in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region.
For this national survey – which is appearing in multiple parts over the next several months – BioCycle is using the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s regional breakdown of the states and territories (there are 10 in total). EPA Regions 2 and 3 comprise states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. Region 2 also includes Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The only state within Regions 2 and 3 that does not have any food waste composting projects is West Virginia.
A total of 48 food waste composting projects were identified in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. Three are in the permitting phase at this time (all farms) and are expected to be taking food waste in the first half of 2009, which is why they are included in this report. As noted in last month’s survey article (“BioCycle National Survey: New England”), we are not listing facilities that manage food residuals from a single generator, e.g., correctional facilities. We do include colleges and universities, as this is one of the fastest growing sectors of food waste diversion in the country.
Table 1 provides a summary of food waste composting projects by sector. There are 23 college and university projects, 9 on-farm sites, 14 commercial (private sector) facilities and 2 public sector (one municipality and one county). Pennsylvania has the most facilities (21), followed by New York (15). Of the sites reporting annual tonnages composted (Table 2), 21 are in the 0 to 200 tons/year (tpy) range, 8 in the 200 to 1,000 tpy category, 8 in the 1,000 to 5,000 tpy range and 6 over 5,000 tpy. Not all projects provided an annual tonnage; four of those were colleges/universities and were added into the 0 to 200 tpy category.
Table 3 lists all the sites composting food waste in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. It also should be noted that there is a new facility – Converted Organics – in New Jersey that is permitted to process 78,000 tons/year of food waste. That site is not included in this survey as it utilizes an aerobic digestion technology.
The Borough of Columbia in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania recently completed a food waste composting pilot with three public schools, a local market and a restaurant. Preconsumer food waste was collected weekly over the course of a year; a total of 100 tons of food waste were composted at the borough’s yard trimmings composting facility, which is located on a farm. “The pilot was very successful,” says Ron Miller, Public Services Manager for Columbia. “It has created a lot of interest and there are much larger generators now interested in joining the program. We are applying for a General Permit, which would allow us to take greater quantities. We have the capacity and the materials to mix with the food waste. And we know the process we used works well.”
The composting method developed starts with a dedicated row of freshly ground wood chips. A trench is formed in the top of the windrow and food waste is emptied into the furrow and covered. “By the time we got to the end of a 200-foot row, we would start over again by adding more wood chips and then the food waste,” explains Miller. “We would build the pile up to four or five feet and then let it sit for a few days prior to turning the pile with our tow-behind Wildcat turner.”
He adds that after trying several different mixes, the borough had the most success with wood chips ground from tree trimmings and other green waste. “We have a Peterson grinder, and started using the ‘green’ wood chips, and adding the food waste to those,” notes Miller. “A tremendous amount of heat is generated in the piles.” Based on their pilot experience, he believes that the yard trimmings composting site could take on 10 to 12 times the amount of food waste handled during the pilot using the same amount of manpower and equipment. “Extra caution is needed when composting food waste versus only yard waste, as there is the added risk of vectors and odors. But the composting method we developed generated no leachate or odors and didn’t attract any vectors.”
At the other end of the spectrum, the source separated organics composting facility being constructed in Wilmington, Delaware is going inside and under cover. Located in an industrial area at the Port of Wilmington, the closest residence is about a half-mile away. But given the volume of materials to be composted (the 500 tons/day includes food waste along with amendments), Peninsula Compost did not want to take chances with outdoor operations. “We are building a 16,000 square foot tipping building with overhead doors, multiple air changes/hour and an engineered biofilter,” says Nelson Widell of Peninsula. “We will have a slow speed shredder inside, and then a picking line to remove plastic, and install magnets to remove metal. Material coming off the picking line will be put into the GORE covered composting system, where it will go through an 8-week process.”
Estimated capital cost for the plant is $25 million. The tipping fee for food waste will be in the $40/ton range; the fee for woody wastes will be in the $30/ton range. “Right now, we are targeting commercial and institutional organics from throughout the Delaware Valley area,” adds Widell. “We will accept compostable products as well.”
A number of people contacted while conducting this survey for the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states noted that there is tremendous demand for composting services, but that the process of getting sites permitted to receive these materials can be costly and drawn out. “It is not easy to get sites permitted,” says Mike Giuranna, Solid Waste Specialist for USEPA Region III, which has been very supportive of food waste composting initiatives. “A facility that closed recently in Maryland was essentially told it needed to get a wastewater permit for its storm water runoff. That is a very expensive undertaking.”
Some states, such as Pennsylvania, have been focusing on getting farms permitted to take food waste. The state Department of Environmental Protection created an on-farm composting permit that allows farms to take up to 500 tons/year of this organics stream. As encouragement, this permit is designed to be easier to obtain than a General Permit (although the food waste quantity allowed is significantly less). See, “Connecting Food Scraps To Sustainable Agriculture,” BioCycle July 2008.
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) also is taking steps to streamline permitting of facilities to receive food waste, says Craig Coker of Coker Composting & Consulting in Vinton, Virginia. “Virginia regulators are very enthusiastic about food waste diversion and are actively looking to modify the regulations to facilitate getting a permit without creating any risk to the public health or the environment,” says Coker, who is assisting Poplar Manor Enterprises in Riner, Virginia to permit its farm to receive food waste. “If a site is composting less than 2,800 tons/year of compostable food waste and bulking agent, they can get a permit by rule [PBR] designation, which is much less paperwork and much less costly than a full-blown permit. The facility still needs to meet the state’s composting requirements.”
He adds that DEQ is considering raising the PBR limit from 700 tons/quarter to 3,000 tons/quarter, or 12,000 tons/year. “They are doing this to encourage on-farm composting of food waste,” says Coker. “The DEQ understands that the composting infrastructure is so thinly spread that to get food waste diversion in any quantity, they need to create capacity on farms.”

Sign up