September Biogas Talk

by Tim Truscott


On Friday, February 5, Save the Pine Bush hosted a presentation by Peninsula Compost Group’s representative, Ken Sauter. Within the past few months Peninsula opened a new food and yard waste composting facility in Wilmington, Delaware with a capacity of 500 tons per day.

The Wilmington Organic Recycling Center (WORC), located at the Port of Wilmington, is described by Peninsula as being the largest state-of-the-art food and yard waste composting facility on the East Coast. WORC “provides economic benefits to businesses in Delaware and the region by lowering waste disposal costs compared to landfills and provides significant environmental benefits including completing the organics lifecycle and reducing green house gas emissions”.

Peninsula’s Wilmington facility uses the GORE™ Cover System Technology to convert clean, source-separated food discards and yard wastes into high-value compost and organic soil products. W.L. Gore and Associates of Newark, DE, the suppliers of the system, are better known for their Gore-Tex fabric used in outdoor wear.

In brief, the Gore method of composting uses the typical windrows of compost material, but they are covered by tarpaulins made of the Gore material. The tarps help to control the moisture and temperature of the compost material as the bacteria act to break down the organic material. The Gore method also helps to avoid production of any odors, a common problem with composting.

The Gore system has the ability to produce high-quality, stable compost in just eight weeks, and has low energy requirements, low operating costs and requires a short construction time. The system has proven to provide a low-risk, low-cost solution which can sustainably process a wide range of organic waste in the most varied climate conditions while controlling odors and emissions.

One of the most unusual features of the Wilmington facility is that it was built and operates without any city or state funding. It operates entirely on the revenue derived from its tipping fees and the sale of its resulting compost product. At present, its compost is sold only in bulk (only the truckload), but Peninsula may get into retail operations at some future date.

What is the relevance of a large-scale compost facility to the Capital Region? Every community generates organic waste, whether it be household food waste (e.g. vegetable peels), supermarket fruit and vegetable spoilage, waste food from institutions (such as colleges and universities, public school systems and health care facilities) and food processors. Organic waste also includes all the yard waste we generate (grass and hedge clippings, weeds, twigs and branches).

When organic waste is placed in a landfill, it undergoes an anaerobic process of decomposition and methane is produced. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas which promotes global warming. It wastes valuable landfill space.

So why don’t we just put all this stuff in an incinerator and burn it? We could but, like landfilling, it wouldn’t be the best way to dispose of it. Organics typically have a high water content and a great deal of thermal energy would be consumed just getting rid of the water before the material could burn; in other words, it would be thermally inefficient. Burning also creates materials which end up in the air and are unhealthy for humans and other living creatures. Finally, the carbon and other materials found in organics were derived from the earth and should be returned to the earth. It is unsustainable to continually remove materials from the soil and turn them into energy, a process which will never return them to the soil.

Composting must be done by people who know what they are doing and using the proper technology. Otherwise, a poor product and undesirable odors will result. Poor product quality and odor are two of the main reasons composting facilities go out of business.

There is a constant demand for good-quality compost in our region, and large-scale composting of organic waste could help to meet this demand. A large-scale composting facility such Peninsula’s Wilmington facility, could be very beneficial to the Capital Region.

Published in the March/April 2010 Newsletter