Last time, I focused on some of the barriers to expanding composting capacity and infrastructure with a focus on odor control. These topics were addressed in detail at the recent 1st Annual Composting and Organics Recycling Program at WasteExpo in New Orleans.
Our lineup of world class speakers did not disappoint. Speaking a to standing room only audience of more than 200 attendees, Paul Sellew, CEO of Harvest Power, led off with a “big picture” perspective on Organics Recycling in the US: Current Status and Outlook for the Future. He presented an integrated perspective of organics management including extraction of biogas and energy from organics using anaerobic digestion (AD), composting the residuals, and creating and marketing soil amendments and mulches to improve soils and grow healthy plants. Paul also discussed why AD is expected to grow in the U.S. which was echoed by a number of other presenters on AD technologies and projects. Reasons for expected growth of AD include (1) that the technology is proven, (2) AD allows for maximum recovery of energy from many organic materials, (3) AD permits a high degree of odor control since the process is enclosed, and (4) AD is a source of renewable energy.
Since it’s difficult to cover the scope of topics discussed during three days of sessions, I will focus on one theme in this article, that the organics industry is growing and policies and programs are being put in place to increase organics diversion from landfills, especially food residuals.
The need to increase diversion of organics to their highest and best use was highlighted by Kathy Kellogg Johnson, VP of Sustainability for Kellogg Garden Products, who presented Branding and Marketing Compost Products. With an impassioned discussion on the importance of returning organics to the soil, she referred to the family business’ 80 year history of sustainability and of developing and marketing quality compost products. Kathy also referred to her father, “Hi” Kellogg, an icon in the organics industry, who said “It ought to be a crime to landfill organics. Our soils are starving for them….” (“Hi” Kellogg, circa 1970).
It was brought out that currently composting of food residuals is abysmal at less than 3% of the more than 30 million tons generated in the MSW stream (US EPA). Zero waste programs continue to be adopted and trends appear to be in place to increase diversion of food residuals to anaerobic digestion and composting. Bob Gedert, Director of Resource Recovery, described the City of Austin’s zero waste plan and specified the challenges being addressed, including the collection of organics and opportunities for haulers to diversify their collection practices.
Opportunities for collection abound for haulers and manufacturers and suppliers of certified compostable products. Opportunities and challenges for haulers were addressed by Kevin Tritz, President of Specialized Environmental Technologies (SET), a veteran of the hauling business and owner of seven compost facilities. Anne Ludvik, also from SET, followed up with a discussion of education and training of hauling company personnel for developing organics programs. In addition to composting and organics attendees, more than 40 hauling companies attended the session.
A session dedicated to organic recovery methods covered system designs for recovering organic materials for anaerobic digestion and composting, collection strategies to cost effectively recover organics, and economic indicators for large scale community organics recovery.
In addition, a session was devoted to the role of compostable plastics in diversion of food residuals. This topic will be addressed in greater detail in a webinar scheduled for June 26 at 2pm EST.
These are just a few of the highlights from this year’s composting and Organics Recycling Conference Program. These and other topics will be explored in greater detail in future columns. The 2013 conference sessions are available in the Waste360 On Demand Library.
Next year, we will continue to present cutting edge topics by world renowned speakers. Additional speakers, exhibitors, and sponsors have already expressed their interest in participating in this event. Watch for the soon-to-be released Call for Speakers and plan to join us for the 2nd Annual Composting and Organics Recycling Program at WasteExpo in Atlanta, GA, April 28-May 1, 2014.
Stuart Buckner, Ph.D., is president of Buckner Environmental Associates, LLC, a consulting firm specializing in organics management.
The author welcomes comments from readers. E-mail him at [email protected].