Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Channeling More Recyclables Into The Circular Economy

With the exception of the footprint of my house and five strips of lawn for accent, 83% of my .3 acre lot on a forested ridge two miles from Durham, North Carolina’s city center is natural area.

However, this doesn’t mean it requires less upkeep.

We share this space with a grove of 100+ trees, a combination of mature hardwoods and pines, with about another 100 understory trees, shrubs and bushes.  Each year at this time, about 3 tons of leaves, needles and cones are scooped up from the 86% that is not densely ivy covered and taken for composting.

This is followed by redistribution of about 8 to 9 tons of fresh hardwood mulch.  I love working this landscape but I obviously leave a task of this magnitude to professionals.  It is my contribution to Durham’s urban forest.

I wish my community’s yard waste was composted but it is hauled several miles away northwest to another county where a company converts it into enzymes.  There are more progressive communities in this area such as Goldsboro, which is about 78 miles southeast, that do this kind of composting.

There, about about 9 dry tons a day is fed into a biosolids composting facility where after 30 days followed by 40 days of curing time, the output is screened in two sizes of mulch.

Some is sold to landscapers and golf courses with the remainder resold by garden centers as well as used in parks.

After visiting this facility in 2004, Mont-de-Marsan, a similar-size community in southwest France, built a similar facility that processes five times more or about 48 tons per day.  I hope Durham officials paid a visit as they hoped when I brought Goldsboro’s facility to their attention.

According to this EPA fact sheet that describes the process, it includes yard waste, wastewater solids, residential and commercial food scraps and agricultural by-products.  Before the recession, more than 3,500 cities and counties in the US were composting.

A national survey by Harris Interactive released last December found that 7-in-10 Americans are not composting food waste, but two-thirds would if it was more convenient in their community.  A quarter strongly agreed compared to 13% who strongly disagreed.

More telling, among Millennials (ages 18-39,) that proportion increased to 3-in-4 with 8-in-10 saying they would use the resulting products compared to two-thirds of the general population.

Policy-makers should use this generation when planning to recycle food waste.  Even in the South which has the lowest level of composting, 8-in-10 residents understood the importance of recycling food and yard waste, higher than the general population.

Unfortunately, three in five Americans don’t want to pay for it, the result, I believe, of the reluctance of elected officials to link public services with costs over the last four decades, gradually reducing services instead.

In Seattle, a city two and a half times the size of Durham, residents are offered curbside recycling of food scraps, by placing the food scraps in approved paper bags and then in their yard waste cart.

Durham currently has an RFP out on something related, but unlike Durham, Seattle requires this and other types of recycling by apartment dwellers as well.

Seattle sends the yard waste and food scraps from curbside and alley collections to two composting facilities operated by Cedar Grove in Everett and Maple Valley which collectively compost 350,000 tons of residential and commercial yard and food waste annually.

Branded, Cedar Grove resells the recycled materials by the bag or in bulk for gardens, potting, top soil, lawn and mulch to farmers, residences, landscapers and other users.

The family-owned business expanded into composting in 2003 and uses the GORE™ Cover System rather than the in-vessel approach used by Goldsboro.

Hopefully, Durham will soon move toward curbside collections of food scraps along with aggressive composting of these items along with yard waste, waste water solids etc.

Based on the Harris survey, Americans increasingly understand the importance of the “circular economy.”

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