BioCycle September 2003, Vol. 44, No. 9, p. 56
This update of two composters previously profiled in BioCycle highlights tapping erosion control markets, fine-tuning equipment schemes, and managing multiple sites without multiple headaches.
THE piles may be static, but the composters and wood processors behind them aren’t. That is best way to sum up answers to the question, ‘what’s new,’ that we posed to several veteran composters. And perhaps what is most interesting (and exciting) is that in every case, these companies are selling the bulk of their products into high-value markets.
Grind-All LLC in Midlothian, Virginia near Richmond was formed in 1998 to process wood resulting from land clearing jobs. The company invested in a mobile CBI grinder that it could take from job site to job site. Its primary approach was to leave ground material at those land clearing sites, then come back and screen it as needed to meet product sales (see ‘Wood Grinder Finds Niche In Contract Work,’ October 1999). Not long after, realizing it had grinding capacity available, it began marketing mobile grinding services. One of the first contracts secured was with the Central Virginia Waste Management Authority, which had set up a number of sites in the Richmond area to receive yard trimmings from residents and landscapers. Primary products from all operations were mulch and fines, with the latter being sold to topsoil blenders.
Eventually, Grind-All merged with East Coast Wood Recycling, and formed Yard Works LLC, a retail and marketing division, which has grown into three retail locations in the Richmond area. The company currently has three of its own production sites, in addition to managing seven different locations under contract. ‘We are projecting sales of 400,000 to 500,000 cubic yards of all of our products this year,’ says Robbie Urbine, president of Yard Works. ‘That includes mulches, colored mulches, compost, leaf mulch and soil mixes.’
After grinding, all materials are put into static piles that are usually about 10-feet high. The piles are turned occasionally with a wheel loader or excavator. The amount of time material stays in the static piles depends on its end use. The company has both a CEC multi-deck (split) screen and a Screen U.S.A. star screen, which also are mobile. ‘We use the star screen mostly for leaf compost, while the deck screen is mostly for the soils operations and yard waste compost,’ says Urbine. ‘The county sites we service usually separate leaves and yard waste. We have found that the leaf material isn’t as sticky, so we don’t need to use the split screening process.’
The deck screen yields three distinct products, he adds. ‘The first split is a very fine grade, about half-inch minus. We use that for topdressing and bed mixes, our highest value markets. The middle split, ranging from a half-inch to two-inch minus, is great for our erosion control products. The overs are mixed in with new material to help jump start the composting process. Roughly, about 60 percent of the material put into the screen ends up in the fine compost split; of the remainder, about 15 to 20 percent are the middle fraction, and overs are about 15 to 20 percent as well.’
In terms of managing multiple sites and mobile equipment, Grind-All has found the key is to take a material from start to finish at the site where it is initially delivered. ‘The goal is to get a finished product before the material is moved off-site,’ notes Urbine. ‘Otherwise, your trucking costs per cubic yard (cy) jump up incredibly. For example, say you grind an incoming load of yard waste, and haul 200 cy to a different location for composting at a cost of $2/cy. By the time it cooks down, you end up with 100 cy, and then after screening, you may only have 50 cy that are sellable. So the per cubic yard hauling cost for that material in essence has doubled or tripled. It is better to haul out what you can market for that $2/cy cost. We have found that it is less expensive to move equipment to the material versus moving material to the equipment.’
Yard Works began selling a line of colored mulches about three years ago. Ground brush and logs are used for these mulches, versus stumps. The company has been using a mobile service to color the wood, typically dying 5,000 to 6,000 cy at a time. ‘We didn’t want to buy our own machine until we reached a certain yardage capacity,’ says Urbine. ‘We have reached that point. We’ve been testing a Becker Underwood unit with an atomizing system that uses about half the amount of water as a nonatomizing unit and yields a drier product. We expect to be testing other systems as well.’
EROSION CONTROL MARKET
Several years ago, Yard Works participated in a demonstration project with the Virginia Department of Transportation to determine the effectiveness of compost for erosion control (see ‘Compost Filter Berms And Blankets Take On The Silt Fence,’ January 2001). Favorable results of that project, which tested compost for mulch blankets and as filter berms, helped the company decide to join forces with Filtrexx International, an Ohio-based company that specializes in the use of compost in erosion and sediment control and storm water management applications. Yard Works is a certified Filtrexx installer and offers a full range of products, including the patented filter socks (typically filled with a compost/mulch blend) that can be used at the top and bottom of slopes, as ditch checks, for stream bank fortification, etc. The company has two Blo-Tech (now Peterson Pacific) blower trucks to do installations and fill the socks.
Urbine has found that the middle split from the CEC screen (the half-inch to 2-inch minus fraction) is ideal for the filter socks. In some cases, the fine compost fraction is added into the mix, depending on the job. ‘If it’s a ditch check, we will go with a coarser blend,’ he says. ‘In other cases, where we are really trying to contain the flow, we will add in the finer product so the sock can hold back the water as needed. With the compost blankets on roadside applications, a mix of fine and coarse materials are good for holding them on the slope.’ The company also has done some Living Walls, which are installed on very steep slopes (e.g. 1:1 slope). ‘In those cases, we use the 18-inch sock with the fine compost,’ Urbine adds. ‘We start with a sock at the bottom, and install the rest in a step-like fashion going up the slope. The installation is then planted with a creeping, cover plant that gets put right into the socks.’
The company’s erosion control market is growing. It recently added a full-time salesman to focus on marketing, especially now that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Phase II storm water management rules are in effect. (See ‘Compost And Storm Water Management – Tapping The Potential,’ August 2002 and ‘Phase II Storm Water Rule In Effect,’ April 2003.) Essentially, Phase II requires smaller communities and construction sites that are one to under five acres to have an NPDES permit to address storm water runoff. Compost-based systems have been found to be very effective in meeting the requirements of the rule. ‘We are putting a lot of emphasis on this market because of Phase II,’ says Urbine. ‘For example, we were contacted by a contractor building a new shopping mall, and they needed to stabilize both 2:1 and 1:1 slopes. They were considering hydroseeding, but from experience, knew that could wash out pretty badly. We proposed using a nonseeded compost blanket covered by a layer of mulch and showed photos of similar applications that held on the slope. They decided to go with our proposal. It really came down to an issue of performance.’
As demand for compost and mulch products for these applications grow, Yard Works and Grind-All feel confident they can keep up in terms of supply. ‘There are a whole lot of other clean feedstocks that could be diverted from landfills to operations like ours for processing and finishing to create more yardage to meet demand,’ he explains.
MOBILITY TO THE MAX
Long Island Compost Corp. in Westbury, New York has built a sizable compost sales operation on a decentralized composting concept. The company works with over 30 farms that serve as the processing sites for leaves, grass and brush. Landscapers and other yard trimmings generators bring their material to either a transfer station in Westbury operated by Vigliotti Recycling Corporation (which also owns Long Island Compost) or to a facility in Yaphank, New York that is used to cure and screen the finished compost. Wood wastes, including land clearing debris, shrubs and bushes, are processed at the transfer station. The Vigliotti family got involved in composting about ten years ago when it opened a site on the east end of Long Island.
‘The company that originally ran our operation did not invest enough into its machinery,’ says Ed Warner, operations manager of the Yaphank facility. ‘Grass started to pile up over a period of time and we started getting odor complaints from the neighboring community. We very quickly took back the day to day operation and invested money in new equipment to keep up with the workload, but the damage was done.’ The company explored the idea of shipping yard trimmings from Long Island to composting facilities in New Jersey, then hauling the finished product back. ‘Moving anything off-island is difficult because you have to go through New York City, and we didn’t think that would make it cost-effective,’ Charles Vigliotti said in a BioCycle article that appeared in March 2000 (see ‘Taking A Decentralized Route To Yard Trimmings Composting’).
Vigliotti learned about an on-farm composting program established on eastern Long Island by Cornell Cooperative Extension in Riverhead, New York. Michael DesGaines with the extension service had set up a network of farms to compost the volume of yard trimmings that several centralized facilities were having difficulty managing. ‘We took what there was with that program and started On Farm Composting,’ said Vigliotti. ‘The extension program as it was set up was lacking materials handling, equipment mobility and the ability to handle all sorts of weather. That’s what we were able to bring to the farms.’
Lease agreements are set up with participating farms to rent land and run the operations, including testing, turning, and aerating the material. In addition, each farm receives 500 cy of compost to use on their own acreage. Leaves and grass are unloaded and formed into windrows by a Komatsu wheel loader. After about a month, crews come back to turn each row using a mobile Allu windrow turner.
The wheel loader unit is moved from site to site either on a low-bed trailer or is driven between farms. The original wheel loader used in this application had an ‘in-line core radiator’ installed because of potential overheating problems related to the dust and harsh conditions experienced with composting, explains Warner. While it made it easier to keep the radiator clean and the machines running, the maintenance costs were higher. ‘Because of that situation, our Komatsu dealer equipped our newest wheel loader with a reversible hydraulic fan that blows out the dust, eliminating the need for the special radiator,’ he says.
After three to six months of composting, material is hauled to the Yaphank processing plant. During the season when compost demand is the highest, about thirty 50-cy dump trailers transport compost from the farms to the Yaphank site. Finished compost is screened, then either bagged or sold in bulk. Bagged product is sold at home and garden centers, including the ‘big-box’ stores like Home Depot and Frank’s Nursery. The company also sells a variety of mulch-based products as well as blends. All together, the company annually processes over 60,000 tons/year of leaves and grass clippings and over 100,000 cy of wood waste.