Save the Pine Bush

by Tim Truscott


ALBANY: We enjoyed two presentations after the July 15 Save the Pine Bush dinner.

The first presentation was by Jeff Heath of Stearns & Wheler Consulting Engineers, which is headquartered in Cazenovia, NY. Jeff’s presentation was on the Delaware County Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) composting facility, located near Walton, NY.

Delaware County is a mostly rural county with no cities, only eight incorporated villages and 50,000 people. Because of its rural nature, most of the solid waste generated in the county is residential in nature. There is little commercial and industrial MSW.

Around 1988-89, long before the existing landfill approached capacity, county officials made two conscious decisions: One was that they were going to have a goal of recycling 65 percent of their municipal solid waste. The other decision was that whatever facility they developed would be for waste generated in Delaware County only; no waste would be brought into the Delaware County facility.

By the time the county issued their Request For Proposal (RFP) in 1996, they had increased the recycling and re-use goal to 70 percent (In 2007, a diversion rate of over 80 percent was actually achieved). One of the county’s concerns was that a landfill containing a lot of solid waste would produce risks of leachates entering streams in the county. Since most of the county’s area drains into either the East Branch or the West Branch of the Delaware, and since both the East Branch and the West Branch flow into New York City water supply reservoirs, landfilling was not a reasonable option for the county to follow. Also, since something needed to be done with the solids from the wastewater treatment plants of villages near the Delaware River’s two branches, county officials thought a non-landfilling method of disposal of wastewater treatment solids was best.

A mechanized composting facility was proposed by Stearns & Wheler, based on designs which had been used in Germany for several decades. The result was a three-acre building which utilizes a steel drum 14 feet in diameter and 157 feet long.

Municipal solid waste, after it is sorted in a materials recovery facility (MRF) to remove inorganic materials such as plastic and metal, is fed into one end of the drum and, as the drum slowly rotates, the composting material slowly works its way along the 157 foot drum and comes out the other end as pretty high quality compost. The material being composted in the drum is controlled for temperature and humidity.

The composted material is cured for another 56 days in another area outside the drum. The compost is then screened to remove any remaining large materials. All compost is treated and stored inside the building so that air quality is controlled and contaminated air is not allowed to escape to the atmosphere.

This facility cost Delaware County approximately $23 million. It has a capacity of treating 35,000 tons per year of MSW and 6,700 tons per year of sewage sludge. The facility became operational in 2005 and has been successfully operated since that time. The county does not fund the operation by using tipping fees, instead using a sales tax to generate revenue. The total cost to the county for operating its recycling program and composting facility is approximately $58 per ton, a very reasonable sum.

Jeffrey Budzich of We Care Organics, based in Sherrill, NY, west of Utica provided the second presentation. This presentation involved vermiculture, i.e. using worms to decompose solid waste. This system is designed for MSW volumes smaller than those for which composting is used, and is especially good for disposing of waste food. The end product of the vermiculture method is a very high quality compost material which can be sold for as much as $100 per ton. (ordinary compost sells for around $5-10 per ton).

We Care Organics is currently in talks with a large Western New York supermarket chain to use vermiculture to dispose of their food waste, such as outdated produce, etc. Mr. Budzich also said that Cornell University is conducting studies to document additional benefits of using vermiculture to dispose of solid waste.




Published in the August/September 2009 Newsletter