Cedar Grove completes the compost circle of life
March 4, 2014
By Peter Clark
Local composting takes global technology.
Cedar Grove Composting has grown a lot in its 25-year history of turning organic material into plant fertilizer. The May Valley facility recently won an Issaquah Chamber of Commerce Innovation in Issaquah award, due to its continuing community efforts. Such progress did not happen all at once.
“In 1989,” Cedar Grove’s Chief Environmental and Sustainability Officer Jerry Bartlett said, “nobody knew what compost was and nobody knew what to do with it.”
The company had received a contract with the city of Seattle to convert yard waste into fertilizer. It turned into a first for both entities.
“Seattle was one of the first cities to pull yard waste from landfills,” Bartlett said. “And this was actually the first investment in diverting from landfills for us.”
Currently, the 28-acre facility south of Issaquah is permitted to receive 195,000 tons of yard and food waste annually. In order to process that much, the facility uses a number of technologies.
When the facility opened, Bartlett said Cedar Grove flattened and churned the refuse on a regular rotation, and then moved to a “pile method,” leaving the large mounds untouched for a year. However, as odor problems occurred, he said they explored technologies found in the Netherlands. In one area at the facility, the material is stacked on perforated concrete platforms, where air is actively vacuumed out from the bottom and discharged to a bio filter.
When the facility took on more food waste in 2001, Bartlett said they decided to try a new technology as well. The Gore Cover system came from Germany, and Bartlett explained how it “changed the principle from a negative air system to a positive air system.”
Long rows of mounds are covered to control odor and then actively treated with oxygen to assist in breaking down the matter.
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“All three of these methods are still being used,” Bartlett said, mentioning that a newer facility in Everett uses only the Gore Cover system.
The newest type of innovation Bartlett said the company might employ comes from Canada and harnesses the methane given off from the processing, turning it into electricity that powers the facility. Such innovation would not come to the Maple Valley facility, however, as he confirmed that site will not expand further.
After Cedar Grove processes compost, it has to find somewhere to sell it.
“Most of the compost is sold in bulk to a three or four county-wide area,” Bartlett said. “Primarily, it goes back to the yards where it came from.”
Cedar Grove also has a healthy business of bagging the compost and selling it in Home Depot and Costco stores.
Support from government and municipalities have coincided with achievements in sustainability.
“They have been very supportive,” Bartlett said about King County and surrounding cities. “If they’re going to have recycling goals, they’re going to need the infrastructure.”
An increase in residential composting ensures continued business for the Cedar Grove facilities, yet poses new challenges.
“As more compost comes in, we have to find new markets for that compost,” Bartlett said.
He outlined the long road it took to inform the area about recycling organic material and then to find buyers for the fertilizer. He said from the founding of the facility to 1995, the primary focus lay in simply educating the public. After that, Cedar Grove supplied compost to the state Department of Transportation as it began using it extensively in medians and curbsides. Then, the focus shifted to erosion control, rain gardens and local food.
“The last five years, we’ve really focused on agriculture,” Bartlett said.
Cedar Grove has reached out to farmers on a wide scale to put fertilizer to use from where it originated.
Cedar Grove Director of Community Relations Karen Dawson said even though odor problems create some community strain, the company’s mission is well respected.
“We’re right next to a landfill, so it’s tricky to begin with,” she said of the neighboring Cedar Hills Landfill. “Cedar Grove is helping to create a market for a recycled product. I believe it’s a great benefit for the community and I wouldn’t work here if I didn’t believe that.”
She said the company actively reaches out to surrounding areas. It offered reduced-priced storm cleanup and then used the wood in the composting process. It also donated a great deal of the final product.
“We donate a lot of compost to local gardens like the Issaquah Food & Clothing Bank and the Mirrormont pea patch,” Dawson said.