An end to compostables odor?

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Scrambling to beat the clock, officials at Organic Technologies Incorporated (OTI) say they’re close to having odors at their site at Dowling and Washington avenues North under control after two, going on three, frustrating and stinky seasons. Until recently, the company handled all of the City of Minneapolis’ compostables transfer after a second company went bankrupt “and left us holding the bag, literally,” said OTI’s president Greg Austin. Tons of bags.

Non-compostable plastic bags and anything else that couldn’t be chipped was piling up. But several things have changed just recently. They now have an arrangement with Great River Energy in Elk River to take loads of this material to burn. They started shipping April 16 and expect to have it cleared out by the end of this month. May 1, they can no longer transfer material out of the county because of the Emerald Ash Borer quarantine, Austin said.

Also the City has also recently contracted with a different second company, SKB/SET, 630 Malcolm Ave. SE (near University Avenue and 280) to handle half the material that will be coming in from here on. City officials and OTI both said they prefer that arrangement because one can replace the other’s work in case of problems. The contract is for three years at $50 per ton. SKB/SET held the contract from 1993 to 2000 with no violations, according to  David Herberholz, Director, Solid Waste and Recycling in his request for City Council action.

The city also agreed to pay OTI more on their contract yard waste disposal, an increase of $2 per ton to $40 per ton due to the EAB quarantine. It was the quarantine that also required the material they handle to be chipped to pieces one-inch in diameter or smaller, to keep the beetle from spreading.

The phase-out of plastic bags should also cut down on the processing needed. After a grace period this year, all bags filled in Minneapolis will have to be compostable.

“We’ve also been allowed to keep some of the carbons on site,” (shredded leaves and sticks) Austin said, “and if we discover we have a bad load, we can cover it with these browns as a biofilter,” to keep it from smelling bad until it can be processed. The “barnyard” ammonia odor that people complain about forms when there’s too much water and not enough air as leaves and grass decompose.

That odor was much more prevalent on the site two summers ago when there was a lot of rain, and materials kept on site due to the EAB ban and the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center being unavailable for a while.

Also then, the site was largely occupied by storage tanks from the previous tenant, making drainage impossible. OTI rents the land from River Services, which has an arrangement with the City, the owner. The demolition plan had to be approved through city channels. Once all approvals were in hand, the contractor then had delays and challenges such as having to heat tar in the winter to remove it from the tanks.

Now, that’s all behind them, OTI has built a temporary truck loading platform and they hope to have enough material moving through, rather than stored, that they can re-grade the site for water drainage during a slow time this summer. There are still tanks at Dowling and Washington – they’re on River Services land that OTI does not need to rent.

With an almost sweet smell wafting from the brown piles of processed material, one wonders what’s left to do, isn’t this compost? This material is trucked to a different part of Anoka County to be laid out in windrows where the mass heats up and decomposes further, to be brought back as the “black gold” that community gardeners love.

The first step in processing, before chipping, is de-bagging and tumbling the material to remove non-organic matter. “Wet material falls through better,” said Ben Meints of OTI, “it’s been so dry lately a lot of the stuff just tumbles around.” He said during a thunderstorm last summer, the tumbler was hit by lighting and caught on fire. They called the fire department and were told they’d have to wait as all the units were out handling house fires from lightning strikes. “There wasn’t much to burn but we had to just watch it. The tires were on fire, and all the hoses.” It took a while to get replacement parts…another in the series of setbacks that again, they hope are behind them.