Ohio Takes Aim At Food Waste Composting

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Courtesy of BioCycle Magazine

WHILE RECYCLING of paper and yard trimmings have grown rapidly in Ohio in the last 30 years - now up to 50 percent for paper and 62 percent for green materials, the recovery rate for food residuals is at less than three percent of nearly 96 million tons generated annually. To turn things around, the Ohio EPA and its Solid Waste Management Division have teamed up to get the word out about community and business food scrap composting.

Categorized as preconsumer (trimmings from food preparation) and postconsumer (leftovers from meals), food residuals are high on Ohio's list of management options. A waste audit at Youngstown State University (YSU), revealed that 35 percent of the University's waste consisted of food residuals. With support from the Mahoning County Solid Waste District, YSU invested in an in-vessel composting system, expanding the project next fall to include all meals served. Expansion will divert more than 20 tons of food residuals from landfills with the compost used by the grounds department.

Ohio EPA categorizes composting facilities into four classes based on materials the facility can accept. Class II sites are eligible to receive and process residuals from external sources as well as yard and animal waste. Class I can accept all MSW; Class III - yard trimmings and animal waste; Class IV - yard trimmings only. After obtaining a registration, license and financial assurance, Class II facilities may begin accepting and composting feedstocks by using an approved composting method, developing a contingency plan, and keeping a daily log of operations.

Paygro is a major supplier of compost and mulch products based in South Charleston, Ohio. At its Class II composting site between Dayton and Columbus, Paygro feedstocks include yard trimmings, manure and food waste (grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy products and meats). Its new grinder is a 900-HP electric model, chosen for its low environmental impact and is currently online. The system allows Paygro to receive food waste mixed with biodegradable packaging or food residuals that need to be ground before composting. Doug Alderman of Paygro directs operations at the site.

The Garick Corporation is a mulch, compost and soil amendment production and sales company that markets products throughout the U.S. The Paygro division of Garick was initially developed by in-vessel composting pioneer Carl Kipp, Jr. in the late 1960s to compost manure from the adjoining Ohio Feedlot. The Paygro facility currently processes approximately 75,000 yards of biowaste each year consisting of livestock manure, food residuals, yard waste and sawdust. A staff of 30 operates the facility, including two engineers who supervise composting operations. The products are sold in bulk and also bagged on site and marketed throughout the eastern US.

Paygro performs static pile composting at the Ohio Feedlot manure storage facility and in-vessel composting for food wastes and other materials at their indoor facility. Composting takes place in two aerated concrete beds (vessels) that are 400 feet long, 20 feet wide and ten feet deep, with a combined capacity of nearly 6,000 cubic yards. Fans located every 40 feet provide aeration at a maximum rate of 5,000 ft3 per minute (CFM). Materials in the in-vessel system are sufficiently composted within two to three weeks to then be moved to curing piles. This method is ideally suited to the processing of somewhat variable food wastes, because forced aeration and mechanical turning are combined in one process, allowing maximum interaction between air, feedstocks and microorganisms.

Paygro has been successfully recycling over 300 tons of food waste per week from Ohio sources including a packaged salad plant, a frozen pizza manufacturer, a livestock feed producer, and an upscale grocery chain. Paygro is also receiving food waste from the Ohio State Fair, and expects to begin food waste projects with a sausage producer, a large cafeteria food service provider, a major university, and a large manufacturing plant with several organic waste streams.

In 2006, Paygro received a Market Development Grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for installation of a food waste grinding system. This system will allow the throughput capacity of the current in-vessel composting system to be maximized so that an additional 5,100+ tons of food waste per year can be processed. (Note that because food waste must be composted with a bulking agent/carbon source, the additional 5,100 tons of food waste will translate into approximately 10,000 tons of total material per year.)

All food waste arriving at Paygro is unloaded in the “salad bowl”, a large concrete-lined leachate containment area. Because any food waste can soon become an odor problem if not handled properly, the material is covered as soon as possible with bulking agent, primarily ground yard waste and sawdust. Leachate and stormwater from this area flow to a filtered drain that leads to a pump station. The leachate is then pumped to the aerated primary settling lagoon. Decant water from this lagoon flows to a secondary polishing pond, where additional solids settling occurs. The lagoons will eventually be pumped to land application.

Garick charges tipping fees for all food waste streams it receives. It purchased New Milford Farms in December 2006 from Nestle USA, and also owns and operates other facilities in the eastern U.S., including Smith Garden Products in Cumming, Georgia (near Atlanta), Tarheel Bark in Harrisburg, North Carolina (near Charlotte), a bagging operation for mushroom compost at Loudon, Tennessee, and a barge terminal at Perryville, Tennessee. Garick's administrative offices are located in Cleveland, Ohio.

“Just in the past year or so, we've seen a major shift in thinking on the part of food waste generators. They are now interested in diverting food waste away from the landfills,” says Alderman, Director of Agricultural and Environmental Business. “Contamination of the food waste with plastic bags and other items has been an issue for us. We recently created a Foreign Materials Policy that states we have the right to charge tipping fees equal to those of local landfills if we continue to receive contaminated material. We've seen much cleaner food waste as a result.”

Beneficial reuse of food waste is all about logistics-How to collect it, keep the contaminants to a minimum, transport it without leakage and at low cost, process it quickly, minimize the odor, and handle the moisture. “It may not be rocket science, but it's definitely a challenge, and we like a challenge,” sums up Alderman.

Other food scrap composting sites in Ohio are located at: Barnes Nursery, Inc. in Huron; Gorman Heritage Farm in Cincinnati; Hirzel Farms Organic Composting in Pemberville; Price Farms Organics in Delaware; Columbus Academy in Gahanna; and Youngstown State University in Youngstown.

The Columbus Academy Composting project was launched last October by seniors Joe Sanfilippo and Richard Bracken who used the Mansfield Middle School in Connecticut as a model. The Academy uses a four-bin system made from recyclable plastic lumber which receives about 400 cu ft of discards from the cafeteria. Students and faculty separate food into compostable and noncompostable waste; finished compost is applied to the 231-acre campus by the Facilities Department.

“We're taking steps to increase food waste composting in the state,” says Ohio EPA specialist Angel Arroyo-Rodrigues. “We're promoting the concept with large generators as well as smaller ones.” Ohio residents throw away an estimated average of 474 pounds each year.

Located in Erie County (north central Ohio), the Barnes Class II site recycles more than 20,000 tons of yard trimmings, food, farm and industrial residuals into quality compost. The Barnes facility accepts source separated yard debris including tree, brush, garden trimmings and wood chips.

Food waste accepted includes - but is not limited to - fruit and vegetable trimmings, outdated bakery goods and dough, dairy products, seafood, coffee grounds, tea bags, floral waste, egg shells, slurry from the pulper, meat and liquids (beer, wine, juices, etc.)

In 2007, Erie County landfill rates went to $40.75 per ton. Barnes' composting tip fees are about $26 per ton. As cost differential between landfilling and composting increases. more generators are shifting the financial advantage to food diversion.

Composting facilities must register with Ohio EPA and the local health department at least 30 days before the start of composting. There is no fee for registration.

“In the past three years, Ohio has received interest from schools, universities, small restaurants, hospitals. festival planners and others that generate food residuals,” writes Joe Goicochea of Ohio EPA Composting Programs in Columbus. In June 2007, the agency launched its initiative with a Food Scraps Management web site. Next goal is to bring stakeholders together and start identifying benefits and barriers, he says.

Many successful projects have been jump-started through grants by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources - such as Paygro. Barnes, Ohio University and Kurtz Bros. (anaerobic digestion in Columbus). “It's ultimately the composting industry and businesses that generate food residuals that will push this initiative to the next level,” emphasizes Goicochea. “Ohio EPA and ODNR are here to connect the dots. One of our biggest challenges is to establish a composting facility infrastructure throughout Ohio since commercial facilities are limited. There is interest among yard waste composting facility operators to change their classification in order to accept food residuals.”

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