November 24, 2008 | General

Food Composting Infrastructure

BioCycle November 2008, Vol. 49, No. 11, p. 38
Fourth installment of BioCycle National Survey reports on food waste composting facilities and projects in the Central and Mountain states.
Cristina Olivares and Nora Goldstein

THE Harvey County, Kansas landfill closed in October 2001. Since that time, trash is hauled to a landfill in Reno County, about 90 miles round trip from Harvey County’s transfer station. Residential, commercial and institutional waste generators are charged a solid waste fee to cover transfer and disposal costs. The first three tons are accepted at $37; the remaining waste is $37/ton, plus the tipping fee of $28/ton at the transfer station.
Three years ago, the local Wal-Mart store decided it wanted to reduce its solid waste costs and began separating food waste to be composted. The county composts biosolids, using sawdust as an amendment. “From June 1, 2007 to May 31, 2008, Wal-Mart sent us 160 tons of food waste,” says Roy Patton, Harvey County Solid Waste Superintendent. “They weren’t assessed the $37/ton solid waste fee, resulting in significant savings.”
The food waste is blended with sawdust, and added to existing windrows on the composting pad. The compost is used as cover material on the county’s C&D landfill, as well as for final grading of the closed landfill. “We plan to focus on schools and hospitals next for food waste diversion,” adds Patton. “We’ve approached them in the past, but they felt it wasn’t economical. Now, having an example like Wal-Mart – showing what they are saving each year in solid waste fees – should have an impact on their decision.”
BioCycle’s National Survey of food waste composting facilities and projects is being conducted region by region across the U.S. This month’s survey article – the fourth in our series – covers states in the Central and Rocky Mountain regions. BioCycle is using the USEPA’s regional breakdown of states to report our data findings. States covered here are in USEPA Regions 6, 7 and 8. The final article in this series, to appear in the December 2008 issue of BioCycle, covers USEPA Regions 9 and 10 – the western states along with Hawaii and Alaska.
Municipal, commercial and farm-based composting facilities processing food waste are included in this survey, along with colleges and universities. There are 15 states in the three EPA regions; BioCycle identified food waste composting projects in 11. Table 1 summarizes the distribution of food waste composting facilities by sector. There are 16 commercial composters, 11 municipal projects, 7 college and university sites and 2 farms that are involved with food waste composting. Only 14 projects provided food waste tonnage data (Table 2). Of those, 7 process under 200 tons/year (this includes some pilot projects) and 6 process over 5,000 tons/year. Fifteen projects indicated that they were not under any regulatory restriction regarding the quantity of food waste processed annually, however they didn’t report current tonnages composted.
Table 3 lists all commercial, municipal, farm and colleges/universities composting food waste in the Central and Rocky Mountain states. Unlike the other regions covered to date, many more municipal projects – 11 of the 36 – were discovered. In Texas, for example, the cities of McAllen, Plano and Wichita Falls all compost food waste along with yard waste. Plano and Wichita Falls include manure and soiled paper in their mix. In Iowa, the City of Dubuque composted 104 tons of food waste in 2007. The city offers residential curbside collection to a portion of its households. In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the Linn County Solid Waste Agency composted 100,000 tons of food waste, yard trimmings and brush/wood in 2007. Residents have a “Yardy” cart set out weekly for collection and are allowed to include fruit, vegetable peelings, coffee grounds, tea bags and soiled paper along with their yard trimmings and garden wastes.
In the August (New England), September (Northeast, Mid-Atlantic) and October (Southeast, Upper Midwest) survey articles, there was a much higher number of college and university projects (17, 23 and 11, respectively) than those listed in Table 3 (total of 7). In fact, in the Southeast and Upper Midwest regions, more college and university projects were identified than any other sector (23 out of 48 total projects). Interestingly, farms were the leading category of food waste composters in New England (18), whereas in the Central and Mountain regions, only 2 farms were identified.
All three previous survey articles reported that state permitting and regulatory requirements are a significant hurdle to establishing food waste composting projects. While hurdles may exist in some states in the Central and Mountain regions, they are not the reason for a lack of infrastructure in Kansas, says Ken Powell with the Kansas Department of Health & Environment’s Solid Waste Facilities Unit. “Permitting-wise, the only difference between our yard waste composting and food waste composting permits is the need for an engineer to stamp the plans,” explains Powell. “That costs $3,000 to $5,000. In our state, the issue is infrastructure. Sites don’t have the equipment, a large enough pad and/or the dry material to mix in with the food waste. If we can ever get a full-scale project off the ground here and show people how it can be done, I don’t think composting sites will stop after that.”
Recently, Powell was contacted by a large hospital system and a large retail operation about composting food waste from their facilities. “The hospital was looking at diverting material system-wide, while the retailer was looking mainly at its grocery and garden shop waste. After several years of encouraging composting facilities in the state to take food waste, it looks like the real driver may be the generators.”
The City of Olathe, Kansas has a pilot program that is expected to become permanent in 2009. The secondary schools and a number of the elementary schools in the city are involved in the pilot. All food is prepared in a central kitchen and then sent out to all the schools. Kitchen prep waste from the central kitchen is being composted with yard waste at the city’s facility, which processes 12,000 tons/year of yard trimmings. “To conduct a pilot project, all a facility has to do is write a letter saying what they are planning, and give the state assurance that it will take the steps necessary to properly manage the food waste,” says Powell.
He adds that facility operators are reluctant to compost food waste, citing odor concerns. “A lot of sites handle around 1,000 tons/year of yard waste. They don’t have much equipment or personnel – things that go with a bigger site that would take this material.”
Like other states, e.g., Ohio, Georgia and Massachusetts, Kansas plans to hold workshops for food waste generators and composters in 2009. “We need to connect the city, county and private composting facilities with the grocery chains, schools, food service operations, hospitals and others so that both sides are talking to each other,” notes Powell.

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