Co-composting facility helps county meet goals
Adams County is a rural county in south-central Pennsylvania, known for its historic attractions such as the Gettysburg National Military Park and the Eisenhower Farm Historic Site. Although largely agricultural, the county is one of the fastest growing in the state and produced more than 45,000 tons of garbage and more than 8 million gallons of non-industrial sludge and septage during 1995.
The last waste disposal facility in the county, a privately owned and operated landfill, was closed in 1990 and shortly thereafter declared a Superfund site. Thus, when the county updated its Solid Waste Management Plan in 1989 to comply with Pennsylvania’ Municipal Waste Planning, Recycling and Waste Reduction Act, it was necessary to rely on out-of-county disposal facilities for the county’s waste.
However, the county began to have reservations about its dependence on out-of-county sites, its lack of control over escalating disposal costs and the inherent liability of landfilling its wastes. Thus, disposal contracts were developed with enough flexibility to permit the county to pursue any feasible in county processing options.
In June 1992, the county commissioners established the Solid Waste Advisory Committee (SWAC), which identified the following tasks to be performed:
* determine the feasibility of waste-processing technologies that are well suited to process the highly degradable organic portion of the county’s waste stream
* provide a long-term solution to the disposal of municipal wastewater treatment plant sludge, as well as septic tank pumpings collected by private septic haulers. Many of the county’s municipal sewage treatment plants have difficulty securing adequate permitted acreage for long-term land application of sludge, and septage haulers have reported a crisis in disposing of septic tank wastes. The SWAC was insistent that the technology should be capable of handling all or most of the county’s sludge and septage and be flexible enough to handle growing demands;
* develop strategies to increase recycling and beneficial reuse;
* address ways to reduce costs in hauling wastes long distances to out-of-county sites. The SWAC determined that a centrally located in county facility could offer significant hauling-cost savings to most municipalities in the county; and
* develop a long-term waste management strategy sensitive to the overall needs of the county’s citizens. An in-county facility could create a system that would respond to and serve the county’s needs while at the same time reduce projected waste disposal costs to residents.
With these tasks identified, the county began a feasibility study in 1992. The SWAC evaluated different solid waste processing and disposal options and determined that a co-composing facility could process solid waste, sewage sludge and septage in a way that is not only technologically proven but also cost-effective.
“The SWAC reviewed all the options available for disposing of solid waste,” says George Hurd, a SWAC member and Resource Development Agent for the Penn State Extension Service. “Besides composting, we looked at landfills and incinerators. We also considered a transfer station, [but] composting was safer environmentally and offered us more control of the entire process. It,s also economically competitive with the other options.”
The county therefore revised its Municipal Solid Waste Management Plan in 1993 to advocate the development of an in-county co-composting facility. The plan revision was officially ratified by the county’s 34 municipalities in late 1993, and soon thereafter received official approval from the state Department of Environmental Protection [DEP].
From 1994 to early 1996, the SWAC evaluated more than 100 sites, finally identifying a 182-acre site that was centrally located and compatible in land-use and environmental characteristics with the proposed project. Approximately 10 acres to 15 acres of the site will be used for buildings and access to the facility, with the additional acres serving as buffers and setbacks from wells, streams, floodplains, occupied dwellings and roads.
The county released an RFP in March 1996 for the design, permitting, construction and operation of its municipal waste co-composting plant, which specified that all waste handling and processing be conducted in an enclosed building with a sophisticated odor control system.
The purchase of the site is targeted for late 1996 or early 1997, with the selection of a vendor and negotiation of terms slated for early 1997. It is hoped that construction of the facility will be completed by mid-1999.
The county hopes to reuse or recycle 70 percent to 80 percent of the solid waste, sludge and septage it will process at the new facility. The remaining waste will be landfilled or incinerated outside the county.
Since composting lends itself to small and large applications and can be easily modularized, it is well suited for Adams County’s particular situation as a small, agricultural county with a rich, organic waste stream that is growing and changing as the county becomes more suburban. The county’s experience with this project demonstrates the need for such local decisions to be based on an extensive and inclusive planning process. The project was financed jointly by the county and the state DEP, which provided grants for planning assistance throughout the process. The project was financed jointly by the county and the state DEP, which provided grants for planning assistance throughout the process.