Composting center plans to profit from food waste

Wed Jan 13, 2010 12:08pm EST
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By Jon Hurdle

WILMINGTON, Del. (Reuters) - On a windswept industrial site near the Port of Wilmington, a front-end loader tips a fetid mass of half-rotted food and plastic bags onto a 20-foot heap inside a large blue shed.

It's the start of a process that will turn thousands of tons of rotting food, yard waste and paper products into rich compost that will be used to help farmers grow crops and homeowners nurture their shrubs.

The compost also reduces the volume of landfill waste, saves waste-disposal fees, cuts emissions of climate-changing methane, generates carbon credits for businesses, and returns soil nutrients to their source of origin.

Composting, long valued by gardeners, is just beginning to be adopted on the industrial scale exemplified by the Wilmington Organic Recycling Center, which claims to be the biggest of its kind on the East Coast of the United States.

The $20 million center opened in November and aims to produce 100,000 tons of compost annually when it becomes fully operational in April. The compost will be derived from 160,000 tons of waste that will be diverted from bulging landfills.

Institutions such as schools, stores, supermarkets, and hospitals will pay less to compost their waste than to throw it in a landfill.

The center, built on a 27-acre brown-field site, charges clients $50 a ton to dump their waste at the compost plant, less than the state-wide rate of $61 a ton to dump waste in one of the three landfills in the state, said Scott Woods, chief executive of Peninsula Compost Group, which manages the facility.

"We are providing optimal conditions for backyard composting," said Woods.   Continued...