Low-cost composting of fruit processing wastes in Hungary

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Courtesy of ORBIT e.V.

Aim of the project

The research described in this paper was undertaken in order to assess the economic and environmental viability of composting fruit juice wastes from the RAUCH Hungaria Kft. fruit processing plant in Budapest, Hungary.

Hungary is a rapidly emerging economy in middle Europe, currently with a 4.6% growth rate according to the Hungarian Central Statistical Office (KSH, 1999). The country is amongst the 6 'fast-track' nations set to enter the European Union, and may do so as soon as 2005 (Walker, 1999). The Hungarian government is committed to harmonising all environmental legislation with that of the EU, and has framework legislation in place based on the EU waste management hierarchy, i.e. placing prevention of waste above recycling of generated wastes, which is itself placed above disposal (MERP, 1995). More specific waste management legislation is expected to reach the statutes by the end of 1999. However, despite attempts to harmonise with waste management policy and practice within the EU, Hungary at present is one of Europe's highest per capita producers of municipal solid waste (MSW), at 1.67kg-1person-1day-1, whilst recycling or recovering less than 10% of total MSW, the remainder going to landfill for final disposal (REC, 19951, REC, 19952).

Despite rapidly rising costs of waste disposal in Hungary, landfill disposal (at between EUR 4/t and EUR 8/t), and incineration (at around EUR 40/t in Budapest only) remain relatively inexpensive compared with disposal costs within the EU. Obviously, within these economic constraints, if Hungary is to begin recovering, recycling and composting its wastes, alternative routes will have to be very cost-effective.

RAUCH Hungária Kft.

Within the current climate of waste management RAUCH Kft., Hungarian sister company of the Austrian firm RAUCH Fruchtsaefte GmBH, decided to embark on a trials programme to assess the costs and viability of composting part of its fruit processing wastes from its fruit juicing factory in Budapest. The Budapest fruit juice plant, situated on the eastern side of the city, processes 60 000 to 70 000 tonnes of fruit per year, giving rise to 5 500-7500 tonnes of fruit waste and up to 13 200 tonnes of compostable residues per year (Hayes, 1999). The amounts of organic wastes arising can vary by up to 50% per year, depending on the current year's fruit harvest. In 1998 disposal costs of fruit residues cost RAUCH on average EUR 1.00/t, using a range of disposal routes, although the zero-cost of apple pomace disposal distorted the real costs of the other waste management routes. Disposal costs of fruit residues vary greatly, both according to the specific waste and according to the season. Currently, approximately 6000 tonnes of apple pomace are disposed of to local farmers for cattle feed, this disposal route currently being very inexpensive for the company, but the future of this disposal route is uncertain, seasonal, and unlikely to grow with any future expansion in output of the plant. Other outlets or disposal routes for organic wastes from the plant are either becoming more expensive or more uncertain, or likely to become substantially more expensive in the mid-term future, as waste regulation tightens in Hungary. Within the present circumstances, it is most important for RAUCH to maintain a wide range of waste management options, in order to spread out the risks arising from current uncertainties.

Composting trials programme

In 1998 RAUCH kft. decided to embark on a composting trials programme in collaboration with the Institute of Environmental and Landscape Management at Gödöllö Agricultural University, Elemental Composting Services (a British/Hungarian composting consultancy) and Agrikola Kft., a privatised agricultural cooperative. The purpose of the trials was two-fold. Firstly, to explore the economic viability of composting fruit juice wastes from the Budapest factory, and secondly, to provide data to the local environmental inspectorates, which would serve as a basis for a longer-term application for permission to compost fruit processing wastes. As composting of organic commercial and industrial wastes is essentially novel in Hungary, providing experience to increase the confidence of the environmental agencies in composting as a sustainable waste treatment route for organic solid wastes was an important element in the decision of the company to embark on the trials programme.

A limited budget was available to monitor the environmental impact of composting. It was decided to concentrate on monitoring the heavy metal content of the compost product, and the impact of soil-base composting on the soil quality, in terms of heavy metal contamination.

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