Prince George’s & Howard Counties Pushing the Boundaries On Large Scale Food Composting

An August 21 Washington Post article detailed Prince George’s County’s efforts to have one of the first profitable government-run large-scale composting facilities in the nation.  Currently, the County’s pilot operation is breaking even with assistance from a federal grant that covers 8 percent of the facility’s costs, but County plans on growing the operation so that it is eventually profitable.  The pilot began in 2013. The article noted that Howard County is also experimenting with a publicly run composting facility. From the article:

“[Food composting is] a young industry, and we are on the ground floor,” said Adam Ortiz, director of the county’s Department of the Environment. “The magic is people are really passionate about it. Composting has emerged as a waking giant.” …

“Disposing of waste comes with a cost,” said Jeff Dannis, chief of operations at Howard County’s publicly run Alpha Ridge composting facility, which also is experimenting with composting food waste but on a much smaller scale than Prince George’s. “The issue is reducing the cost, and composting can be a less expensive method to letting [food scraps] sit in a landfill.” …

At the same time, the costs can be prohibitive, and the details of collecting and processing the scraps can be overwhelming.

Prince George’s officials say they do not yet know how many more tons of compost the county would have to make and sell each year to make money on the operation. They are doing the math now, calculating collection costs and assessing the market to determine their likely return.

The article discussed the challenges and failures other several other large scale food composting efforts on the East Coast and the inability of prior food composting facilities to be profitable.  However, the Prince George’s pilot is using newer composting technology and operating on a much larger scale than those older facilities.  The article also provided some specifics on the Prince George’s operation:

The Prince George’s composting program operates out of the Western Branch Yard Waste Composting Facility in Upper Marlboro, using a $12,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency. …

The county collects food waste from Whole Foods Markets in Alexandria and Annapolis, the Smithsonian, the National Geographic Museum, local public schools and two municipalities — University Park and Takoma Park. It also collects from three local universities, the University of Maryland, Johns Hopkins and George Washington.

Officials work closely with each provider, and with their haulers, to explain what is and isn’t compostable. In addition to fruit and vegetable scraps, Prince George’s will take meat and dairy leftovers and pizza boxes, which are compostable because the cardboard contains organic material.

At the end of the composting process, the compost in sold in bulk as “Leafgro Gold.”