Saturday, September 26, 2009

Italy I - Val di Fiemme

I recently returned from a trip to northern Italy, where I toured farms, composting and anaerobic digestion (AD) facilities, mountain communities with advanced collection schemes, a zero waste Slow Food event, and more. The food, wine and culture were fabulous, and I will share what I can in this series of postings.

A good place to start is Val di
Fiemme, a valley in the Dolomites (part of the Alps) in northern Italy. In 2008, the valley averaged 82 percent waste diversion, the highest in Italy. Similar to other Italian source separation schemes, each household is given a vented kitchen scrap collector, a small curbside organics bin (brown), and a residual waste cart. Small collection
vehicles are able to
navigate the narrow medieval streets.

A combination of several initiatives have led to the community's success. Residents are given 200 compostable bags per year (made from Mater-Bi), and there is a ban on plastic bags at supermarkets (only reusable bags and compostable bags permitted). Organics are collect is free, whereas trash collection is charged by volume.

One of the interesting facets to Val di Fiemme is that it's a popular tourist destination, both in the winter for skiing and in the summer for hiking. During tho
se times, the year-round population of 20,000 doubles. Tourist are given compostable bags, as well as cardboard boxes for their organic waste -- no collection pail abandoned on the street, when they leave. Tourists are also given pink trash bags, different from typical residents, which are to left on the curb without a bin. Trash on the street in other colored bags is considered litter, to encourage use of the system.

Other campaigns include encouragement of tap water instead of bottles, as well as bulk items at supermarkets to reduce packaging. Bulk dispensing includes typical items such as cereals, but also wine and soap.

Most notable of these bulk dispensers is fresh, raw (unpasteurized) milk available at some stores. One local farmer is assigned to each store, providing fresh milk supplies daily, and customers use refillable glass bottles. The milk quality is controlled at the farm, so there is no need for pasteurization, and the customer knows which farm the milk is coming from.

The largest area of organic waste remaining in the residual stream are baby diapers, so the public company in charge of waste collection now promotes reusable cloth diapers with compostable liners -- families are given an initial set of cloth diapers as a welcoming gift for each newborn!

Val di Fiemme has a strong lumber business, resulting in large quanities of wood waste. There is now a biomass powered boiler facility that provides municipal heat via underground pipes to the ho
uses for the cold winters. Upgrades are underway to make it a combined heat and power facility. There are some PVC solar panels on the roof.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Organic waste collection in North Carolina

Most areas of the U.S. don't have curbside collection of organic waste as part of their municipal service. However, there are innovative haulers all over that are beginning to collect organic waste from businesses. These haulers not only help businesses reduce their waste bills, and give compost facilities necessary feedstocks, but they demonstrate the need for organics collection -- communities want to make more environmentally sound choices, and these haulers are giving more options.

Near Asheville, North Carolina, Danny's Dumpster (left) is offering organics collection to businesses. It began operations in 2007 out of the back of a 1985 Toyota van, serving residents in Madison County as the only trash and recycling hauler in the area. Danny's Dumpster now picks up trash, recyclables and organics from over 40 customers,
including Park Ridge Hospital and the University of North Carolina Asheville

The organics are taken to Crowell Farm, a former dairy farm that accepts
yard trimmings, manure, food scraps (including meat), food soiled paper/cardboard products, and more. Danny's Dumpster was recently featured in a local ABC news video.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

CAFO Composting - Fabric Buildings

CAFOs, or confined animal feeding operations, are increasingly turning to composting for nutrient management programs (voluntarily, or sometimes mandated by the government). Two facilities I've spoken with recently are using fabric buildings to cover their composting operations. Fabric structures are inexpensive, corrosion resistant, and provide natural light and ventilation.

Terra-Gro is a composting operation located at a CAFO in Peach Bottom, Pennsylvania. “We take in starchy potato waste from a nearby potato chip factory, and mix it with manure and crop leftovers,” says Loren Martin of Terra-Gro. “We compost the mixture in 6-foot by 12-foot wide windrows, housed in fabric structures.” Martin has several of these buildings, each 60 by 400 feet long. “Because we compost in the fabric buildings, the product is very consistent and attractive to higher end markets," he says.

Another CAFO using fabric
buildings is Laurelbrook Farm in East Cannan, Connecticut. It currently composts dairy manure from a heard of 830 cows, mixed with crop residues and horse bedding from nearby farms. Laurelbrook has four fabric buildings made by ClearSpan: one for tipping, two for active composting, and one for curing the finished compost. The farmers are looking to accept food wastes, and are also planning a community anaerobic digester with nearby farms to produce renewable energy prior to composting.

Although CAFOs are often unsustainable, these two farms are working hard to improve there environmental footprint.