Expansion needed at Redmond Road composting center

CSWD tries to get ahead of universal recycling rollout

By Jason Starr

Observer staff

The pace of food waste flowing into the Chittenden Solid Waste District’s composting operation in Williston is accelerating as the requirements of a 2012 statewide universal recycling law ramp up.

The influx has the district’s board of directors investigating ways to expand composting capacity at the Redmond Road site.

Act 148 bans all food scraps from landfills by 2020. Already, large institutions and businesses are under a requirement to re-use or recycle food scraps. In Chittenden County, a majority of business and institutional food waste is coming to CSWD’s Williston composting center, which operates under the name Green Mountain Compost.

At Tuesday’s meeting of the Williston Selectboard, CSWD General Manager Sarah Reeves explained the options under consideration to expand capacity ahead of the law’s full implementation in three years, when residential food waste enters the equation.

The district will reach its composting capacity — and unbalance the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio that controls composting odor — before that, if no investment is made, she said.

“More and more businesses are sending us their food scraps, so we’ve had to accelerate our conversation with our board and staff about how we are going to handle it,” Reeves said.

The various options under consideration range from low-cost, stopgap moves like sending excess compost to other facilities in the state, to large investments like expanding the Williston operation onto new land with its own anaerobic digester that produces on-site energy.

Wright said none of the options is jumping out as a clear choice. The district hopes to invest in composting capacity without increasing regular trash fees. Although composting can create new revenue sources — like energy production, composting fees and sale of compost — the district has not been able to find a budget-neutral option.

“We’re looking for something that will pay for itself and not need a subsidy,” Wright said. “Nothing is working out.”

Reeves plans to present a recommendation to the district board this spring. She has pegged three options for further study and cost analysis.

One is to pre-process food waste in Williston then send it to existing agricultural anaerobic digesters throughout the state. The material could be incorporated into Green Mountain Power’s “Cow Power” program.

“I think there is a lot of possibilities for on-farm digestion,” Wright said.

One drawback of this option is trucking costs.

Reeves has also pegged for further study the options that increase CSWD’s composting capacity on-site. These options would require an expansion of the Redmond Road facility onto adjacent land that was originally acquired as a potential landfill site.

The district will also further investigate the highest-cost option of building its own anaerobic digester.

“We’re looking at (the options) very intensely, and we will continue to do so for the foreseeable future,” Reeves said.

Selectboard member Jeff Fehrs asked why other CSWD sites are not under consideration for expanded composting capacity.

Wright explained that the district has already invested about $3 million in composting infrastructure on Redmond Road and that any compost expansion or digestion system would complement the processing already in place.

“It really does make sense for us to continue on where we are at,” he said.