Simple Separation: Diverting Wood And Cardboard at Construction Sites

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Courtesy of BioCycle Magazine

Diverting Wood And Cardboard At Construction Sites

Residential home construction in Wisconsin generates 128,000 tons of residuals annually, according to a 1998 study by Camp, Dresser & McKee. Ten builders are participating in a project to demonstrate how easily major components of this waste stream can be recycled. The Metropolitan Builders Association (MBA) of Greater Milwaukee, the Wisconsin Environmental Initiative and WasteCap Wisconsin are involved in the program, which has received high marks from participants and organizers thus far.

Initial figures indicate that recycling of cardboard and wood will cost 57 percent of typical trash disposal. Those two materials were chosen after WasteCap interviewed builders, assessed markets and looked at quantities generated. Wood and cardboard comprise an average of 50 percent of residential construction residuals.

MBA and WasteCap issued a Request for Proposals answered by six haulers and selected Woodcycle, Inc. for wood recycling and The Peltz Group, Inc. for cardboard. MBA funded recycling containers for building sites in North Prairie and Delafield. The bins are present only when a majority of the targeted materials are being generated. Builders must pay for them if their recycling streams are contaminated. “The carpenters are doing a great job of keeping the wood waste separate from the trash,” says Jack Wiley, vice president of Woodcycle.

“So far, everything is going great,” adds Jenna Kunde, executive director of WasteCap. “However, it’s early in the process, and success will depend on the builders and subcontractors continuing to be as committed as they’ve been.” The contract with the recyclers includes an education component, she adds. “They have talked to all of the builders and made sure they know about segregation.” This outreach has been supplemented by WasteCap and MBA staff. “We visited sites to make sure the subcontractors and builders understood what went into the containers and what did not,” says Kunde. “We anticipated that there would be some confusion, but they looked at us like we were crazy because it’s so simple — wood goes here and the rest goes there. I’ve been struck by how clean the wood has been. There is minimal contamination.”

Handling Woody Materials

When the 30-cubic yard containers for wood residuals are filled or the rough framing is completed at a building site, Woodcycle removes the bins and transports them to a processing site. The wood is ground, run through magnets, and processed further, if necessary, for production of colored mulch, compost bulking agent, animal bedding or boiler fuel.

Woodcycle runs three sites that make these products, getting most of its wood from chipped pallets and roll-off containers of wood from other sources. It started experimenting with recycling wood generated at home construction sites about two years ago. The company found it had a problem with marketing pressboard used in homes because of its high adhesive content. “Even the boiler fuel people didn’t want to take it because it could gum up the boilers,” says Wiley. “Now we’re finding markets that do accept pressboard, and they are not reporting any problems.” One of the primary uses for the recycled pressboard is in solidifying biosolids for cocomposting or landfilling.

Some developers have expressed interest in receiving the recycled wood back as landscape mulch for the properties. Results of the residential construction recycling program, which also is sponsored by VerHalen/Pella Windows and Miller Brewing Company, will be made available August 19, the start of the MBA Parade of Homes. For more information, contact WasteCap Wisconsin at (414) 961-1100. — D.B.

Why Colorado Farmers Want New York City Biosolids

Prowers county, located in the southeastern part of Colorado, is a long way from New York City, even as the crow flies. But when the country’s largest city ended its ocean disposal program for biosolids, Prowers County eventually became a logical choice to receive a portion of this treated organic material. The project originally was developed for land application of cake biosolids while the city’s pelletizer was being built. Over the years, however, it has changed drastically and expanded to include other biosolids sources in order to meet the demand of the farmers involved in the program. The cornerstone of the success in Colorado was the ability to build upon relationships developed with the local farmers, the regulators involved and the elected officials at both the county and state level.

Prior to initiation of the land application program in 1990, no other biosolids had been utilized within 100 miles of Prowers County. Therefore, the region was relatively free of any preconceived notions about the practice. The only experience the community had with organic resource management was feedlot manure land application. So when biosolids land application was compared to feedlot manure land application, the discussions were very easy.

The current program in Prowers County is operated by Parker Ag Services, based in Limon, Colorado. The company receives, on a daily basis, between 150 and 200 wet tons/day of biosolids, seven days/week, at a rail siting located ten miles east of Lamar, Colorado. Material from two different sources on the East Coast — dewatered Class B cake biosolids from New York City, and Class A pelletized biosolids from the New England Fertilizer Company in Boston. Since Parker Ag took over the program in Prowers County, 12,715 wet tons of biosolids were land applied during 1998 and 36,875 wet tons were land applied in 1999; 21,500 wet tons have been applied in 2000 through mid-June.

All of the permitted application sites — about 40,000 acres in total — are located within Prowers County. The longest haul distance from the rail siting is 40 miles. Biosolids are applied on a variety of sites and crops including the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), rangeland, sand dunes, irrigated alfalfa, irrigated corn and dryland winter wheat. However, the dryland winter wheat accounts for more than 75 percent of the permitted application sites.

A unique and forward-thinking aspect of this land application program has been the involvement of the local health department in monitoring and providing local oversight (see sidebars). This relationship was encouraged from the initiation of the program as it was recognized many years ago that the local government had to be involved in the land application process. Many individuals do not trust the state or federal government to regulate biosolids. However, when these same people understand that their local health officials are involved in independently reviewing the program and continuously verifying that it is being operated correctly, the odds greatly improve that they will accept it. The ability to have control as near to the project as possible is important because when an issue or problem comes up, everyone wants somebody to be able to respond that day — not in two or three weeks as may be the case with state and federal regulators.

The land application program in Prowers County has undergone many changes over the years. For ease of understanding, the project can be broken into four distinct phases: Phase 1 — Enviro-Gro Technologies (EGT) development and implementation; Phase 2 — Bio Gro acquisition of EGT, management and cessation of operations; Phase 3 — Environmental Group Services (EGS) start up with pellets; Phase 4 — Parker Ag Services land application of New York City biosolids.

Phase 1: Why Colorado?

Phase I, which began in 1990, involved Enviro-Gro Technologies (EGT), which had a contract to construct and operate a pelletizer for New York City. The purpose of the land application program was to enable Enviro Gro to land apply its contracted amount of biosolids until the pelletizer was built and operational. This was anticipated to be a period of about 18 months.

At that point in time a number of firms, including EGT, were trying to permit large areas of land for biosolids application across the United States. Many efforts failed because of the public opposition. States either held up permits or refused to process such permit applications due to political or technical concerns. These included Illinois, Indiana, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Ohio, New York and Alabama. One of the biggest hurdles was the fact that New York State did not (and still does not) allow land application of New York City’s biosolids.

EGT developed a list of criteria that would determine how the program should look once it was implemented. This planning was necessary to support the largest interstate land application program ever to be developed in the U.S. These criteria proved useful when questioned as to why Colorado was selected for a land application program. The criteria and rationale included:

Acreage: Large tracts of land were needed to support the application program. At that time, there were estimates that EGT could be responsible for land applying 330 wet tons of biosolids or 82 dry tons/day. In the Midwest, assuming an average application rate of 10 dry tons/acre, the program would annually require a minimum of 3,000 acres. In the West, when applied to dryland wheat fields where normal application rates are 2 dry tons/acre, a total of 15,000 acres would be needed. On the Eastern Plains of Colorado, this is still a large section of land but it represents the land holdings of only three or four farmers whereas 3,000 acres in the Midwest could require authorization by ten to 20 farmers. Therefore, larger tracts of land could be found in the West and managed more easily since it would require interacting with only a few farmers to meet the required acreage.

Cropping and Weather Patterns: The cropping pattern was probably the most critical aspect in selecting dryland winter wheat. When a farmer raises dryland winter wheat, half of the land is fallow at a given time so that it can accumulate moisture for the next crop to be grown on the site. This means that on any given day of the year, half of the permitted acreage is available for biosolids application. Southeast Colorado has an annual precipitation of about 14 inches so the application sites are rarely too muddy for biosolids application.

Conversely, in the Midwest where the predominant crops are soybeans and corn, fields are planted in late April or early May and harvested in September or October. The land is bare for the winter. Biosolids application can occur from September to early or late April; however, there are usually extended periods when wet and muddy weather or extremely cold weather prevent field access. Therefore, there are about 100 days/year in the Midwest for good biosolids application taking into account weather and cropping patterns. This requires that the permitted acreage supporting any biosolids program is adjusted to three or four times the expected annual requirements.

Remoteness: The application sites had to be remote to reduce the number of impacted neighbors. In the Midwest, there are homes on every section of land and many farms are broken up and spread all over. The average size of a field is 40 to 80 acres. The Western US has many places where there are no people in an entire township, and many of the fields are a full 640 acres.

Soil pH: This program was originally developed prior to the issuance of US EPA’s 40 CFR Part 503 rule. Most state biosolids regulations at that time required that the soil pH be raised to 6.5. The native soil pH in the Western US, and in particular Colorado, is between 7.0 and 8.2 and therefore does not require pH adjustment. In addition, it was recognized that a higher soil pH was more effective at immobilizing many of the regulated metals applied.

Nutrient Removal: It was critical to the program that the biosolids application program be perceived as supplying nutrients to a crop and that crop (and hence a substantial portion of the applied nutrients) were removed via normal harvesting practices. This ruled out many western areas that do not produce a crop or support grazing.

Rail Service: One critical aspect of the program was rail service to the general area. (For obvious reasons the biosolids could not be shipped by truck from New York City.) Furthermore, from a cost standpoint, it was impractical for the biosolids to be transported more than 50 miles one way from the rail siding to the application site. Once the rail maps of the Western US were reviewed, this greatly decreased the number of areas where a program could be developed. Colorado only has three main rail lines coming in from the East — serving the northern, central and southern regions. The southern line was serviced by the Santa Fe Railroad, which was ideal because the rail cars only would have to switch main lines once in Chicago from Conrail to Santa Fe, making the trip easier and more affordable.

Research Support: Colorado State University had been conducting research regarding biosolids application on dryland wheat fields for almost a decade at that time. The results, which demonstrated the safety and benefits of biosolids land application, provided unbiased third party support for land application. This also meant that many of the questions regarding biosolids use had been addressed by a program independent of the developers or New York City and, because neither had any influence on the research, the data would be accepted by the local farming community.

Regulatory System: One of the most critical aspects of selecting an area for the program to be developed was the regulatory system in place and how it functioned. In Colorado, both the US EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPH&E) did not have a bias against out-of-state biosolids, as long as the quality met state and federal requirements. Once compliance was demonstrated to the local regulators, they treated the program basically as if it were any other program in the state.

Eager Farmers: In Southeastern Colorado, farmers were and still are interested in investing the time required to learn about biosolids use. Well respected farmers who were educated and who had credibility in the community were sought out. Once all of the above criteria were reviewed, it was apparent that sites in Prowers and Kiowa Counties, Colorado would be ideal to develop the land application program. Initial permitting efforts began in the fall of 1990 with outreach and education being done during 1991. This educational effort entailed more than six person-months of time in the field, which is a good indication of the time and resources needed to prepare and develop a program of this magnitude. The first of many public meetings was hosted by EGT during November, 1991. The CDPH&E issued the land application permits in February, 1992.

Application of New York City biosolids began in Colorado on April 22, 1992 — Earth Day. However, about one year after the land application effort began, EGT was sold to a competing land application firm.

Phase 2, Starting, And Stoppinng

The new firm did not have the vision for the operation nor were they interested in maintaining the same level of public education and outreach as was earlier established. As the pelletizer in New York became operational, the land application program in Colorado was relegated to a back-up management outlet for dried biosolids. During the winter of 1993, the new firm abandoned operations in Kiowa County just prior to the county issuing a land application ban. Basically, the company determined that the same level of hand holding and education done by EGT was not needed, creating an information and access void. When new Kiowa county commissioners were elected, they instituted the ban. By the winter of 1994, land application operations also had ceased in Prowers County.

Phase 3: Restarting With Pellts

Approximately one year after the land application effort in Prowers County was abandoned, I (as one of the original program developers) received a phone call from John Stulp and George Tempel, two farmers who had been part of that program. Stulp indicated his satisfaction with the program, and requested that a new source of biosolids be acquired for application to his and other farms in Prowers County.

At that time, Bob Pepperman and myself owned and operated Environmental Group Services (EGS). We worked with the New England Fertilizer Company (NEFCO), which had been producing and marketing biosolids pellets for the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority for a number of years. Periodically, the company had excess pellets available due to inadequate storage capacity. As a result, some portion of the pellets had to be disposed or land applied.

We worked out an arrangement to take the pellets, even though the quantity available wouldn’t satisfy demand. The annual amount land applied only covered 500 acres of the two farmers’ land. Combined, they managed a total of over 30,000 acres! Needless to say, they wanted more biosolids, and encouraged EGS and Parker Ag Services (PAS) — a Colorado land application firm started by Kipp Parker as an offshoot of his initial involvement in the New York City program in Prowers County — to aggressively seek a long-term support of biosolids from New York City.

Phase 4: A Steady Flow

During the winter of 1997-98, PAS was able to negotiate a contract with EPIC, a company that had the long-term land application contract with New York City. PAS’s contract is to land apply about 50 percent of EPIC’s allotted 250 wet tons/day of biosolids from the contract. Parker Ag began permitting farms for this program immediately after a contract was executed.

The contract provides biosolids for application until July 1, 2001. It is anticipated that the contract operations for New York City biosolids will be extended to coincide with the term of the land application contract with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP), which is 15 years (through July 1, 2013).

Parker Ag and New York City have some very unique compliance aspects of this project. Vector Attraction Reduction and Class B (time and temperature) are documented on a weekly basis by the NYCDEP. The certification statements with supporting data are faxed weekly to the EPA, CDPH&E, and PAS.

All containers must still be sealed upon arrival at the rail siding in Prowers County. There are eight security seals that must be accounted for on each container. Each seal is individually numbered and recorded as part of each load ticket and subsequent field report. If the tarp or a container seal is missing or damaged, the load of biosolids is held out from land application and retested prior to later use.

Each container has a sample collected from it prior to shipment. That sample is composited on a weekly basis by the treatment plant and tested for metals and nutrients. This analytical data must be in the hands of the project manger in Prowers County to verify that the load is acceptable prior to any biosolids being land applied from that shipment. The percent solids and nitrogen content are used from each shipment to recalculate the agronomic loading rates. In addition, a TCLP test is performed monthly for each treatment plant.

Parker Ag also tests biosolids samples on a monthly basis. A grab sample is taken from each rail car. These are composited and tested for metals and nutrients.

All of the lab data is compiled and e-mailed quarterly to EPA, CDPH&E and the Prowers County Health Department. The purpose of all this testing is to satisfy the need to know that the biosolids being received are of the quality stipulated for this contract.

Biosolids are transported from the rail siding in the cars, which are loaded onto trucks with a tipper chasis that tip and unload like dump trucks. Material is applied to fields with a Knight side slinger.

Positive Impact of Pretreatment

New York City’s Industrial Pretreatment Program has greatly improved the quality of the biosolids. For example, the cadmium concentrations found in biosolids at the Red Hook wastewater treatment plant in 1991 were in excess of 100 ppm on a dry weight basis. Today, the concentration typically is below 10 PPM New York City also has added orthophosphate to its drinking water to slow down the corrosion of the drinking water supply lines. In the past few years, copper levels have dropped from the 1,500 to 2,000 PPM range to an average of 850 PPM across the system. The interesting fact to note here was that when Parker Ag told farmers about this drop, they where not impressed. The soils in Southeastern Colorado are deficient in copper and the farmers liked the addition of copper that came with biosolids applications. Overall, all of the biosolids land applied in Prowers County meet the Part 503 land application Table 3 standards.

Public Education Efforts

From day one, it has been understood and accepted that an informed and educated community is critical to the success of any land application program — especially one that transports biosolids two-thirds of the way across the United States. In addition, the costs associated with such an outreach program are minimal if paid up front rather than fighting the issue after the fact. It is not only important to educate the community, it is necessary to educate the participating farmers so that they can easily and comfortably address the concerns of neighbors and friends.

During both Phase 1 and Phase 4, major campaigns were implemented to educate the farmers and the community. Educational outreach included hosting two public meetings; participating in a local call-in radio show; hosting two open houses; working with the local printed press and other media; assisting in science fair projects; issuing a major press release when the program was restarted; and discussing expansion plans door to door with neighbors.

Meeting The Farmers' Needs

Ultimately, the farmers are our best communicators of the value of biosolids utilization. Our role is to deliver not just a product, but a service that meets the farmers’ needs by becoming a critical component of their fertilization program. This includes applying products at an agronomic rate to fit the yield goal of the next crop to be grown; collecting soil samples prior to fertilization to determine nutrient requirements (and then giving the farmer the sampling results); and providing fertilizer reports after completion of application. Both during and after application at a site, a staff agronomist does inspections to confirm that application is done properly.

Independent verification and oversight is done by county and state officials, who do both announced and unannounced site inspections and take soil and biosolids samples. Parker Ag pays fees ($1/dry ton to the county and $2.40/dry ton to the state) to help underwrite the expense of the inspectors. (All biosolids programs in the state pay the $2.40/dry ton fee.) Having this third party verification provides a valuable comfort level to both the farmers and citizens of the county.

The comfort level established with farmland application of biosolids is leading to a project to stabilize sand dunes located to the southwest of Lamar. The town is in a nonattainment area for air quality, which means that the air does not meet national air quality standards. This is attributed to the high particulate matter in the air. The sand dunes are one of the largest sources of particulate matter.

In 1993, reclamation of the sand dunes using biosolids was tested. Material was applied to 300 acres of dunes, which then were seeded. Vegetation was established within four months. Soil organic matter increased from .01 percent to one percent. Parker Ag is in the final stages of getting permits to apply biosolids (and do the seeding) to stabilize sand dunes, contributing to an improvement in air quality and the local environment.

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