Plant turns garbage into potting soil Proposed project could be operating within two years

'Only panacea we have'

Study recommends co-composting plan from four alternatives

September 05, 1996|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

Carroll County officials think they have come up with a better way to dispose of trash: a $33 million plant that will turn garbage, mixed with sludge, into potting soil.

Within two years, such a plant could be in operation at the county's Northern Landfill -- without the problems that have beset a similar state-of-the-art operation in Cobb County, Ga., near Atlanta.

"I'm not saying it's a panacea for the next 20 years, but it's the only panacea we have," J. Michael Evans, the county's public works director, said yesterday during a news conference to educate the public about the proposal.

After studying four trash-removal alternatives, including incineration, the Department of Public Works has recommended a process called co-composting, which is supposed to be odor-free because the composting occurs in an enclosed structure.

"The odor must be controlled," Evans said.

That has not been the case at the open-roof regional composting center on the Howard County-Anne Arundel County line. Nearby residents say smells from the site are making them sick. They have filed a $22 million lawsuit against the counties and others responsible for the facility.

The co-composting process, developed by Bedminster Bioconversions Corp. of Cherry Hill, N.J., is supposed to eliminate odors, because the composting process occurs in enclosed structures. But shortly after Bedminster's Cobb County plant opened in June, residents began complaining of rotting garbage smells so thick they permeated their clothes.

On Aug. 6, Cobb County told Bedminster to correct the problem within 30 days or face penalties. But that timetable has been put on hold because of a $1 million fire at the plant Aug. 23.

Carroll County Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown said he has visited a Bedminster plant in Tennessee three times since 1992 and is not concerned about recent problems in Georgia. He said the company has corrected problems quickly whenever they have occurred.

The Carroll County Commissioners have not approved the plant. However, the commissioners agreed to join the Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority, which will work with them to determine the plant's size and operating policies. The group also would arrange financing and oversee construction.

"I'm a long-term proponent of composting," said Brown. "I am very impressed with the natural process aided by modern technology."

During the co-composting process, sludge is mixed with trash to create microbes that reduce the garbage to dirt within three days. Nonbiodegradables such as plastic and metal are filtered out and recycled.

Although "composting as a means of dealing with solid waste is relatively new technology," Bedminster has been doing it successfully and without incident since 1972, Evans said. He said he was not worried that recent odor problems at the company's Georgia plant would be repeated in Carroll.

"Unfortunately, we have learned at somebody else's expense," Evans said.

Carroll officials estimated that about 70 percent of the county's trash could be co-composted, which would extend the life of the Northern Landfill by 30 to 50 years. The plant also would allow the county to mine trash from the closed Hoods Mill landfill in South Carroll and reline the facility for reuse.

Co-composting, he said, also would boost the recycled portion of the county's waste stream to 70 percent. About 30 percent of its trash volume now is recycled.

"The name of the game," Evans noted, is to make existing landfills last as long as possible and avoid building costly new ones. Co-composting not only would extend the life of landfills but also allow the county to get rid of sludge.

Carroll would have to import about 40,000 to 45,000 tons of sludge from neighboring counties to create the microbes necessary to co-compost 100,000 tons of trash the county is expected to produce each year, Evans said.

Other counties would pay Carroll to take sludge. Carroll also would profit from the sale of potting soil.

Besides ruling out the construction of new landfills, the county decided against incineration and exporting trash.

Incineration, in which trash is burned to create energy, was "very enticing," but it was deemed too expensive to build and operate such a plant, Evans said.

"Smokestack activities are generally not well received by the public," and getting permits for waste-to-energy incinerators is "very difficult," he said.

Exporting trash to another landfill outside the county was viewed as a liability. If the landfill became contaminated, the county could be sued or forced to help pay the enormous costs of cleaning it up, Evans said.

Pub Date: 9/05/96

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