January 25, 2011 | General

Townships Partner To Compost Leaves

BioCycle January 2011, Vol. 52, No. 1, p. 26
Municipality saves money while residents reap “black gold”.
Dan Sullivan

Largely to reduce costs associated with hauling leaves to a composting facility elsewhere in their county, two southeastern Pennsylvania townships teamed up to do their own composting. According to Haverford Township Manager Larry Gentile, approximately $450,000 in infrastructure investment will be paid for in realized savings inside of two years. The townships of Haverford and Marples had both been hauling leaves to a 9-acre facility managed by the Delaware County Solid Waste Authority, with Haverford alone estimating its annual costs for tipping fees, fuel, vehicle wear and dedicated employee hours to be around $130,000.
Somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 tons of leaves get collected between the two townships annually, says Gentile, adding that leaves are the only feedstock going into the compost. “We’re in our second year of running our own facility, and it’s been a little bit by trial and error,” he explains. “I don’t regret getting involved, I just didn’t expect the amount of work involved. But it has been a big success and is saving us hundreds of thousands of dollars.” The initial investment paid for a Vermeer elevating face compost turner and a 3-acre concrete compost pad located at the Haverford Township public works facility. A grant for the project funded a Wildcat trommel screen.
Gentile lamented that the partners didn’t do a bit more research and seek out training before embarking on the project. “Our biggest mistake, and one which nearly killed the program, was not turning as often as we should have in addition to having such a bad first winter,” he says. “When we started turning, the odor was just atrocious. I live a mile away and I could smell it. I said to my wife, ‘We’re in a lot of trouble here – we could lose this program.'”
The two townships turned to Craig Coker of Coker Composting & Consulting in Vinton, Virginia, who visited the facility and recommended a weekly turning schedule, showed operators how to use a compost thermometer and schooled them on optimal temperature ranges. Coker contracted to come back for twice-annual site visits and arranged for several employees to attend composting school. Other initial problems had included piling the windrows too high – Coker recommended the 10-foot by 10-foot configuration – and drainage issues before a dirt pad was regraded and paved.
“We’re off to a much better start this year,” says Gentile. “For somebody who had no experience in composting, we are putting out an excellent product. There’s still a little bit of odor, but I’d say it’s reduced by 98 percent from what it was last year. And it’s not a bad smell, it smells like leaves.”

Gentile has been quite satisfied with the quality of the compost, as have been the end users. “Our No. 1 customer is our residents,” he says. “We want to give the compost back, free of charge, to the residents of Haverford Township.” After a sample has been sent to a lab and the results analyzed by Coker, the finished compost gets dropped off at five different sites throughout the township where residents can help themselves. “The leaves are collected in the fall, composted and delivered in late spring and into the summer,” explains Gentile. “All compost is depleted by the end of the year before a new collection of leaves starts again in the fall.”
For those without the means to pick it up, a 5-yard dump truck will deliver the finished compost to township residents for a $50 fee. The operation has one commercial client picking up surplus compost and a few others interested, but nothing is formalized. “Any additional money we can make from what’s left over just adds another star to the program,” says Gentile. “Our initial goal was to reduce fuel costs driving the leaves to the city of Chester and to eliminate the tip fee, vehicle wear and employee time. We’ll pay for the [compost turning] machine by the second year. I’m excited about the program. If I had to offer a critique, it would be that we should have done a little bit more research [into to the basics of composting] before getting started.”

Sign up