April 18, 2005 | General


BioCycle April 2005, Vol. 46, No. 4, p. 42
Latest trends in North America and throughout the world show how the processing and recovery of organics in the waste stream lead to valuable bioproducts, renewable energy and economic vitality.
Jerome Goldstein and Nora Goldstein

OVER THE PAST 45 years, in bits and pieces … in small and large projects … in diverse and beneficial ways, composting and organics recycling have continued to exert a huge force in the waste-to-resource field. From setting recovery goals of over 60 percent to reaching out with Renewable Portfolio Standards, organics have become the recognized route to success in solid waste management. For decision makers in agriculture, horticulture, storm water management and erosion control, it means the path to compost and mulch products that build humus into soils, grow flourishing crops, reduce chemical inputs while protecting water and soil quality. For managers with responsibilities to generate new jobs, economic opportunities and profitable markets, it means achieving a useful product and commercial niche to replace a negative disposal fee. For executives with electric utilities and on site power customers, it means finding green alternatives and lower cost options, via such methods as anaerobic digestion and biodiesel production. And to fulfill the objectives of organics reuse, private companies provide the critical manufacturing prowess with the right equipment to collect, process, upgrade residuals for the right application at the right time and place.
As noted in the introductions to previous directories, these markets have been expanding dramatically – albeit not in as smooth or steady a process that would eliminate worries, head-aches and financial anguish. But progress has been most evident – even if it means dragging some policy makers, investors, and skeptics along. The major trends reflect the expansion of markets for compost and mulch products and renewable energy.
Last week, as a case in point, we talked with the Landfill Director in Seward County, Kansas – Mike Tabor – who sent information about his county’s decision to move beyond yard waste composting. “Many landfills and transfer station operations do yard waste composting on a small scale to avoid transferring or landfilling because it is ‘the thing to do’.” Seward County studied a more serious approach to composting yard waste and other waste streams but the bottom line showed us that the cost would outweigh the benefits. Revenues from compost sales would not cover operational costs, and landfill space saved would not make the project feasible either.
“National Beef approached us in 2000 and wanted us to consider composting their paunch materials (130ton/day) to save them money in trucking it to Texas. We were already taking 30 tons/day of a mixed paunch and manure from their cleanout operations. We looked at the cost of equipment, pad construction, personnel, etc. For us to take the material at a low cost, compost and sell it to break even was a risky venture. Experts told us this type of material would need to have a carbon source to make a quality compost; many facts were not known. We explored the farm market, home use and landscaping. In our area, transportation costs were a problem to have a competitively priced material.”
“We finally arrived at a cost figure for the operation which was about $4/ton. Based on 130 tons/day and 310 days per year, we arrived at an annual cost. That cost would save National about $100,000/year. We entered into a contract with National for that amount, knowing our operational costs were covered. What we didn’t know was what type of compost we could produce, how good the market would be locally, but we decided to compost the material as it was. We soon discovered it was hard to market as a fertilizer replacement for farm application. As part of our composting equipment, we obtained a bagger and also became familiar with the certification process. We obtained certification as a garden mulch compost and now focus on the home gardener, golf courses, ball fields, etc.”
“In 2004, we were redesigning our landfill closure plans and incorporating an alternate cover design consisting of three soil types. We did not have the type of material necessary to meet the cover soil requirements, and considered incorporating our compost with our native soil. This proved to be the most beneficial thing we had done. The material tested great, and suddenly we had a large market for our material. We became the largest market for our own compost. We now buy the compost from ourselves instead of an outside source. When National asked in early 2004 if we would take their material from another location, we gladly did. While we still aggressively market the compost to the public, we have a use for every bit we can make. We are now composting 200 tons/day of paunch material; it is certified as a garden mulch and our composting operation is now a revenue producing program for us.”
That composting case study from Mike Tabor and the Seward County Landfill tells a lot about how so many of the projects that are part of the organics recycling saga have evolved. The journey reflects commitment, a bit of luck and resourceful thinking, and much optimism.
As soon as we mention optimism, we always think of Clarence Golueke who was so closely associated with this journal since we began publication in 1960. He contributed mightily to the growth and maturation of composting as a concept and management method, both as part of the University of California Sanitary Engineering Laboratory and subsequently as vice president of Cal Recovery, Inc. Here is an observation he made in an early issue of BioCycle (then titled Compost Science):
“Composting is an excellent means of managing refuse, provided it be technically and economically feasible. Since its technical feasibility has been amply proven, a demonstration of its economic feasibility is all that remains to be done for composting to be widely accepted in this country for the large-scale treatment of refuse.”
Over the past 40-plus years, great progress has been evident in the equipment and systems designed for composting and organics reuse. Steadily and impressively, the “BioCycling” industry has blossomed. The Directory which begins on the next page lists hundreds of firms in categories such as aerated containers, agitated beds, bagging, biofuels, biosolids management, chippers and grinders, dewatering, erosion control, food residuals recovery, mixers, monitoring, odor control, screens, size reduction, spreaders, trailers and turners. As pointed out in a recent editorial, together, we all have come a long way!
Last month at the BioCycle West Coast Conference in San Francisco, sessions as well as a field trip verified the tremendous progress that has been made with diverting and composting food residuals at the municipal and commercial levels. Jack Macy of the city’s recycling program described how cocollection of food scraps and nonrecyclable paper are managed with three stream service for 150,000 households and a great many restaurants. Robert Reed and Chris Choate of Norcal Waste Systems described why a regional solid waste company targets food scraps management as a significant contributor to its revenue stream.
A nationwide program launched by Whole Foods Markets – reported by Tom Wright – provided lessons in separation, collecting and delivery to a compost site. Each store generates about 8 tons/week. Meanwhile other speakers addressed the challenges, of starting and maintaining a commercial organics collection program, as well as setting up an organics diversion program at the San Francisco baseball stadium and rolling out a regional program in Portland, Oregon to collect, transport and process source-separated commercial organics.
To stimulate the growth of food residuals composting – and provide a training manual that covers collection, methods, markets, etc., that can be used by cities, universities, public schools, institutions and food service industry – BioCycle editors are compiling a special report scheduled for publication in June, 2005. For publication and ordering details, contact Ann Miller at or call 610-967-4135, ext. 22.
The market for recycled organics continues to grow vigorously, especially as more emphasis is given to generation and utilization of renewable energy through methods such as anaerobic digestion, gasifiers and alcohol fuels. The latest progress in installations leading to a bioenergy-based future will be documented at the 5th Annual BioCycle Renewable Energy from Recycled Organics Conference which will be held Sept. 12-13-14, 2005 in Madison, Wisconsin. Current cosponsors include Focus on Energy and the Great Lakes Biomass Partnership.
Increasingly, waste management professionals are adopting conversion technologies as they fulfill emerging opportunities for energy generation. Conference sessions will discuss new equipment and systems that generate biogas; temperature phased digesters, microturbines and generators for use at landfills, compost sites, wastewater plants and in food processing. Statewide experiences with advancing ethanol production, developing fluidized bed combustion and gasification systems, creating buyback tariffs and power purchase agreements, and how green tags factor into the economics of biomass projects will be explored.
As we take a fresh look at how the composting and organics recycling industry is expanding … reaching varied feedstocks to process with significant reasons for recovery, we come to appreciate the essential nature of its role in society. We better understand how it got to where it is today and why it will continue future growth.
Here at BioCycle we have the privilege and honor of being at the center of this information generation and exchange. We relish this position and the opportunity to be in contact with our readers and advertisers who are making good concepts come to life. This Directory is one more way to understand how and why it’s all happening!

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