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Composting Municipal Green Waste at Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Authority

WH-MR-7-Composting Municipal004by Al Dorantes

Composted yard waste at Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Authority (OHSWA) begins with the residents of Oneida and Herkimer counties. It is from their homes and businesses that green waste ends up in the recycling center in Utica, NY, That is, once the waste has been collected by municipalities. Day in and day out, trucks enter OHSWA loaded with grass clippings, leaves, limbs and branches and some food waste as well to begin a composting process that has become a regional success story. Each year, OHSWA keeps thousands of tons of brush and yard waste out of local landfills by producing certified compost.

Once green waste arrives at the OHSWA, it is shredded. OHSWA uses a Morbark 1300B Tub Grinder for that process because the grinder’s 10 foot diameter tub allows OHSWA to handle everything from leaves and branches up to trees and stumps. Since a 700-horsepower motor powers the grinder, more than just yard waste sometimes goes through the machine. Heavy equipment operator Steve Brockett said, “We’ve had all sorts of stuff go through the grinder. Sledge hammers, manhole covers; you name it. When that happens, there’s not much left when they come out.”

OHSWA uses a CAT 950K Wheel Loader to move material once it is ground. From there it is placed in windrows where it breaks down into the rich material people want for their gardens, lawns and flowers. Operators also use the 950K to prepare the deck of the 13-acre facility and to do other heavy lifting jobs at the compost site as well.

Operators use a Scarab Windrow Turner to turn and aerate the compost piles on a regular basis. While the almost gangly looking machine straddles the windrow and uses a flailed drum to turn the material that adds the needed oxygen to produce quality compost. Steve Brockett said, “It’s almost like a big tiller only above ground.”

The composting process is simple. Organic material like green waste and food waste containing carbon, along with oxygen, moisture and temperature in the proper proportions, allows material to decompose thoroughly over the needed amount of time. OHSWA strives to achieve the ideal carbon to nitrogen ratio, which is 30:1, while they monitor their windrows for moisture and temperature to prevent overheating or other temperature-related damage. According to Director of Recycling David Lupinski, for optimum composting, the compost temperature should be 90° to 140°.

Once the material has finished composting, it is run through a McCloskey 621 Trommel Screener, a unit powered by a CAT 174 horsepower engine. Lupinski said it takes approximately 1 year to make compost from the time the green waste enters the site until it is ready to sell. OHSWA uses a half-inch screen set in the trommel to produce a high quality, consistent final product. The six-foot diameter, twenty-one foot long drum gives the compost ample time to produce a material that is ideal for gardens and landscaping applications.

After time and nature runs its course on the compost, some of it is bagged for sale with a Rotochopper, Go-Bagger 250. The Go-Bagger’s 20.6 horsepower diesel engine allows the OHSWA crew to efficiently bag and seal compost for easy use by end users.

OHSWA’s compost has a myriad of uses from lawn care, flowerbed and garden soil, to landscaping. Compost is available in bulk for $15.00 per cubic yard loaded in a customer’s dump truck. A pick-up truckload runs $15.00 per pick-up truckload, while a larger pickup load would run $20.00 per load. Bags are available at $2 each or 3 for $5.

Lupinski said OHSWA was formed because of a request by Oneida and Herkimer counties. With a 25 million dollar annual budget and that funding coming from tipping fees and the sales of recyclables, OHSWA manages the region’s waste and preserves the environment via recovery and disposal in a profitable way. Overall, OHSWA’s comprehensive solid waste management system includes; recycling, waste reduction, and waste disposal.
As one component of this waste reduction process, OHSWA operates a 13-acre regional composting site. The Compost Facility is in its 20th year of operation. This facility serves about 17 area municipalities as well as private haulers, businesses, institutions, and landscapers. With all of that going on, there are but two full-time employees in the compost facility. While the compost facility has a $290,000 yearly budget, OHSWA brings in about $210,000 from compost sales alone. In total, they sell between 5,000-10,000 cubic yards of compost per year and roughly about 10,000 bags of the bagged material per year as well.

OHSWA’s compost is certified by the US Composting Council under its Seal of Testing Assurance Program. That assures consumers that they are receiving consistent, high-quality compost and it means the Authority’s compost has been tested by third party laboratories to ensure that it meets all state and federal environmental requirements. It costs OHSWA approximately $500 per sample to send the compost to the independent labs; however, it is worth the added expense.

Lupinski said, “Certification leads to more business because once the compost is certified, customers like the NYS Thruway Authority and other state and federal organizations are able to contract use the compost because of the high standards they require.” He added that the compost is tested hundreds of times during the year to ensure it is meeting the high standards.
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