March 1, 2004 | General

Integrating Projects In An Old Whaling Town

Marsha Gorden
BioCycle March 2004, Vol. 45, No. 3, p. 57
New Bedford, Massachusetts is well known as America’s home to the whaling industry with its Whaling Museum as a tourist beacon. During the period 1780 to 1880, it was the greatest whaling port on the globe. Herman Melville’s Moby Dick chronicled its adventurers and at its peak in the 1850s, a fleet of over 300 vessels called it home. But as oil from new petroleum products gradually replaced whale oil in the city’s lights, its fame diminished. In reality, though, new boats designed for new fish stocks continue to ply the local waters and elsewhere to preserve the city’s heritage and its source of prosperity.
In 2002, the National Marine Fisheries Service listed the old whaling port’s fish landings at 109 million pounds with a value of $169 million, the highest dollar value in the nation. Bolstered by the scallop, lobster and yellowtail flounder catch, the fishing industry continues to build the economy of this city of almost 100,000. Encouraged by the landings and a good supply of fresh water, fish processors also moved in to clean and gut, package and sell the catch. The old primary wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) gave way to a new secondary facility in 1986, designed to treat the nutrients going into the prime Buzzards Bay recreation area. The new plant was a success, designed to capture over 95 percent of the solids but at a higher cost for the fish processors. With a new surcharge on their suspended solids loadings, another solution was needed for the fish wastes (called gurry) going into the WWTP and also illegally into the local landfill.
During 1997, over 1,000 citizens in this community began to meet regularly to discuss the condition of the Massachusetts “South Coast” and the economy, the environment, education and other common concerns. The Regional Congress was searching for community-based answers and a subgroup, The Business Network, focused on issues of education, lower business taxes and sustainability. In 1999, these meetings at the New Bedford Area Chamber of Commerce led to the formation of Sustainable Greater New Bedford (SGNB), a new committee on job creation and economic growth through sustainable business practices.
SGNB became a working group whose members represented the city of New Bedford, the town of Dartmouth, NB Economic Development Council, Greater New Bedford Regional Refuse Management District, Southeastern Massachusetts Regional Planning & Economic Development District, University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, SE Massachusetts Agriculture Program, NB Area Chamber of Commerce plus local businesses and consultants. They regularly invited regional experts and businesses to describe alternatives for material use and reuse, water and energy consumption, waste reduction and recycling.
The goals were to: Increase the number of companies in the region that improve their efficiency through pollution prevention; Create the ability to provide technical assistance to individual companies; Take a step to create southeastern Massachusetts’ virtual ecoindustrial park by surveying companies regarding waste and material flows; and Establish an integrated sustainable development strategy for the Greater New Bedford region.
SGNB took on the job of organizing the goals into a proposal for the grant program at the Chelsea Center of Recycling and Economic Development, part of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. Its targeted area was New Bedford and Dartmouth as they both contributed to the local Crapo Hill Landfill managed by the Greater New Bedford Regional Refuse Management District. The landfill is stressed by turning away almost daily quantities of solid waste above its 400 ton daily limit. Over 40 percent of the total disposed comes from commercial solid waste.
The proposal’s goal was to “increase economic development in the region through transformation of waste streams into business opportunities which expand, increase or retain jobs while ensuring landfill capacity for future growth.” An early survey of major local businesses, waste streams and disposal practices identified three waste streams for attention: Food wastes from local fish processors, institutions and restaurants; Rubber scrap from manufacturing and used tires; and Wood wastes including building materials and pallets.
At the start of this project, the Department of Public Works: Waste Water Division confirmed the continuing WWTP problems with gurry. They estimated the number of fish processing companies at 35, and that an average fish processor discharged 10,000 gallons/day with suspended solids loadings of 55 lbs/day and a BOD of 83 lbs/day. All gurry suspended solids discharges over 50 lb/day were subject to surcharges from $0.05 to $0.10/lb or $100 to $200/ton above the cost of wastewater treatment.
The work included identifying the key players in the materials flow from the fish landings to the processors and then to disposal. We visited the community solid waste transfer stations and the landfill. Next we went to the WWTP and learned about its pretreatment program. The Public Works department was planning for the proposed introduction of solids separation equipment at the major fish processors that could then bring the solids back legally to the landfill. We met with fish processors and waste haulers and visited their facilities. We also found that there was gurry illegally discharged at the local landfill with the fees up to $100/ton plus transport and other costs.
Many of these meetings were in the Chamber’s conference room where the SGNB meetings are held – a nonconfrontational location where everyone feels free to speak. We began considering possible conversion products such as a high-value compost, a low-value compost or a value-added concentrate that could reach markets including park and garden mulch, animal or pet food, aquaculture fish food and a high-value agricultural fertilizer. We were searching for a “New Recycle Solution.”
At an SGNB member’s suggestion, we met Dartmouth native Lewis Spencer, a founder of Advanced Marine Technologies. AMT is a new small local business that developed an enzymatic cold process digestion to produce a high-grade fertilizer from gurry. The process uses proprietary enzymes that accelerate optimal digestive conditions and control the factors that could potentially denature enzymes and proteins. Their product is Organic Gem, an “organic biostimulant” with low odor that is absorbed to increase plant yield and pest resistance. AMT started experimenting with different digestion methods over five years ago building its technology upon natural processes and accelerating them when possible. The first products included nutraceuticals such as sources for chondroitin sulfate that continue to be made and exported. The product is made from the digested residuals after the nutraceuticals are separated.
Figure 1, “SGNB Project #1, Reuse of Fish Processing Wastes” illustrates how AMT can change the limited range of options for gurry. It can provide a sustainable solution for the fish processors and their approximately 25,000 tons per year of gurry. Both of AMT’s cofounders have extensive experience with nutraceutical extractions and different fertilizer and other formulations from fish wastes. As a biostimulant, Organic Gem outperforms nonorganic fertilizers producing both plant and soil benefits with little or no nitrogen loss through soil leaching, an important issue on the South Coast. New research is needed to show how Organic Gem interacts with the soil to prevent the leaching of nitrogen. During the last three years, AMT tested the product on a variety of plant species and collected growth reports.
Presently, its markets include golf courses, turf, vineyards, hops, fruit trees, potatoes, cranberries, home gardens and other crops. With use of an innovative processor supply chain approach that includes a specialty hauler, AMT anticipates servicing 100 percent of the local gurry in less than a decade. They now are close to processing 10 percent of the approximately 25,000 tons of fish waste generated annually. That can raise their number of local, full-time employees from three to 18.
As part of our work establishing local contacts and a local profile, SGNB identified local agricultural groups that could lead to research grants and demonstration projects. We introduced AMT to the mayor of New Bedford who helped organize local fertilizer applications on city property. The University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth also set up a test site comparing Organic Gem with a nonorganic fertilizer on campus. The Chamber announced a new Sustainability Award to AMT as a record of their achievement. Today, the community and local press continue this relationship, because as AMT expands sales of Organic Gem, the city’s fish processors become more sustainable and Buzzards Bay gets cleaner.
Marsha Gorden, the principal at The Resource Technologies Group in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is the project consultant for the Sustainable Greater New Bedford program. She can be reached at and additional information is available at
SUSTAINABLE Greater New Bedford next turned its attention to the scrap rubber produced by local businesses. New Bedford is home to two major manufacturers of rubber products: Precix Inc. (formerly Acushnet Rubber) and The Acushnet Company with its Titleist Division. Their products include automotive, electrical, and other parts such as O-rings, process seal rings and fuel system seals plus golf balls. Mixed scrap rubber from these manufacturing facilities totals over 1,500 tons/year and is mostly taken to landfills at costs approaching $100/ton. We visited their plants, spoke with their employees and reviewed their previous attempts to reuse or recycle their scrap. A typical manufacturer of elastomer products has a mix of different scrap materials, some “off-spec,” each with its own properties, and quantities of any one may be too small to economically recycle.
In reviewing manufacturers’ waste streams, there was one that was uncured and recycled at a profit as a filler for plastic formulations and another, molded scrap, used as cow mattresses. But these opportunities couldn’t be expanded to include other scrap. There was another scrap material, however, that appeared to have options. It was a fine granular powder that was a grinding waste (swarf) from the golf ball production facilities. In examining these options, the swarf appeared to be uniform, but also had moisture content. That could protect it from spontaneous combustion, but it could limit its reuse. In reviewing the recycling literature, there was one use for scrap tires that seemed feasible for the swarf available in quantities of 500 to 1,000 tons/year. Perhaps it could be mixed with asphalt for paving, if we could find a nearby state that permitted the use of rubber-modified asphalt on their roads. SGNB discussed the options and the University of Massachusetts (U Mass) Dartmouth representative suggested that their parking lots needed repaving and were not under state highway jurisdiction. Then we discovered that the Rhode Island Department of Transportation was using rubber-modified asphalt on their roads.
A sample of the swarf was taken to the Hudson Asphalt Group in Providence, Rhode Island, a major New England producer of liquid asphalt for paving roads. One of their products is a rubber-modified asphalt that contains approximately 10 percent rubber. Presently they import crumb rubber made from scrap tires in Ontario, Canada and they’re seeking other, less expensive sources for their expanding product sales. Now, Titleist is examining its supply chain to determine an appropriate price for a potential new product, and Hudson Asphalt is testing its swarf in asphalt batches to evaluate its value as an asphalt modifier. Simultaneously, the Advanced Technology and Manufacturing Center’s pavement testing lab, a branch of UMass Dartmouth, is testing these local rubber-asphalt mixtures to determine possible product specifications for its parking lots. We anticipate results from these three groups by the start of the next paving season in late March 2004.

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