Composting may solve small-town waste problems
GARBAGE: Local system could provide disposal model for smaller communities.

Chilkat Valley News

(Published: May 9, 2003)

HAINES -- A new garbage composting system here is being watched closely by small towns around the nation as a possible solution to solid waste disposal.

Haines Sanitation's in-vessel composting system could reduce by two-thirds the volume of garbage and sewage sludge buried at the landfill, company president Lynda Walker said. Eventually it will also produce salable compost.

Walker and partner Tom Hall say the new facility amounts to a large-scale, mechanized version of a backyard compost pile.

Equipment includes two 40-foot-long, 15-foot-diameter rotating drums. One prepares a mixture of garbage, sludge from the city sewage treatment plant and water. The second separates material after it "cooks" in four shipping container-sized composting vessels.

Compost happens when the mixture cooks for three days at 165 degrees, reducing the overall volume and destroying biological pathogens. Air and liquid byproducts are filtered and cycled back into the vessels.

The compost is screened and separated from inorganic material in the second drum. The uncomposted material will be taken to the landfill and covered with the compost.

The composting system should be able to handle twice the company's average current volume of three tons of trash per day. "We built it for the future, not the short term," Walker said.

Walker doesn't envision raising rates for residential customers, she said, and doesn't plan for eventual municipal takeover of the system. "We certainly didn't build it with that in mind."

The company's aim is to reduce landfill use and eliminate its recent reliance on shipping garbage Outside for disposal.

"We were separating out and landfilling what we could, but we were spending more and more on shipping. It's money that should be staying here and paying for this instead."

The system cost about $300,000. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Juneau Economic Development Council's Southeast Alaska revolving loan fund provided the financing.

Minnesota composting expert Jim McNelly helped design the system. McNelly, whose company, NatureTech, pioneered in-vessel composting in larger towns, said Haines Sanitation's success would be groundbreaking.

"The intent here is to make the case that this kind of program is the best way to manage municipal solid waste in small communities. There are a lot of people watching this project," he said. "If we show that this can be done in Haines, it can be done in rural communities all over the world."

The state is also watching Haines Sanitation's efforts.

Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation solid waste regulator Ed Emswiler said in-vessel composting could be used for sewage sludge and garbage disposal in the Bush, where other options are limited.

Distributed by The Associated Press.