Clearing the air at smelly compost facility
- Blog Post by: James Eli Shiffer
- June 7, 2012 - 1:04 PM
By Patrick Dunphy
People who work or live near a malodorous compost transfer facility in north Minneapolis may finally get some relief from the smell.
Since 2009, Organic Technologies Inc. has operated a sorting facility for yard waste and other organic material at Washington and Dowling Avenues N. near the Mississippi River. Officials hope that reducing the amount of material handled by the plant will cut down on the stench.
With its current volume, waste in plastic bags sometimes sits and decays for days.
“My mechanics are gagging,” says Charles Brinkhaus of Supreme Marine, down the street from the plant. When the wind blows his way, he says, “it smells like a manure pile.”
Under a modified contract that took effect last week, Organic Technologies will now only sort half of city yard waste, rather than all of it.
Greg Austin, president of Organic Technologies, says that he signed a contract with the city of Minneapolis in 2009 to sort half of the city’s yard waste, but the company that was supposed to handle the rest — RW Farms of Carver — went bankrupt.
Organic Technologies now found itself with accepting the city’s entire waste stream at a composting center with half the necessary capacity. Organic material would often “sit for about a week” as it rotted in plastic bags, Austin said.
Under the revised contract, Specialized Environmental Technologies Inc./ SKB Environmental (SET/SKB) of St. Paul will take half of the city’s yard waste. A clause in the contract allows SET/SKB to take all of it if odor problems at Organic Technologies persist.
SET/SKB will receive $50 per ton of yard waste processed. Organic Technologies will receive $40 per ton, up from the previous rate of $38 per ton. The city of Minneapolis collected 16,116 tons of yard waste in 2011 and has collected an average of 17,250 tons over the past five years. The city’s revised contract with Organic Technologies is valid through the end of 2013, and the new agreement with SET/SKB runs through mid-May 2015.
Austin believes that the city’s exemption from Minnesota compost plastic bag regulations exacerbated the odor problems. Before April 9, Minneapolis residents could still collect yard waste and other compostable material in non-compostable plastic bags.
Due to the emerald ash borer quarantine in Hennepin and Ramsey counties, Organic Technologies must grind all material that enters the plant to one inch or less in diameter before the material is moved to a processing facility in Elk River. While compostable bags could be shredded into the main compost mix, workers had to empty non-compostable bags and sort them into a separate pile. The empty bags often retained the odors of their contents, and usually remained on-site long after the organic material had moved. The company removed all non-compostable plastic from the plant last month.
David Heberholz, the city’s director of solid waste and recycling, says that Organic Technologies has been a reliable contractor. Heberholz said that the odor problems “were largely out of [Organic Technologies’] control.”
Organic Technologies also mixes some materials with wood and leaves to reduce odor, a process that will continue.
Austin stressed that it is “impossible to control all odor,” but that Organic Technologies will do a much better job controlling the smells from now on.
Patrick Dunphy is a student journalist on assignment for the Star Tribune.
© 2013 Star Tribune