Recycling company wants to compost out-of-state food waste near Wilmington

Recycling company wants to compost out-of-state food waste near Wilmington
By JEFF MONTGOMERY

Posted Friday, June 8, 2007

Peninsula Compost Co. wants to use this site east of I-495 for composting food waste along with leaves and wood.

A recycling company has proposed composting 160,000 tons a year of food, leaves and wood near the Port of Wilmington, the latest sign, some environmentalists say, that the city is becoming a regional wastebasket.

Peninsula Compost Co. would recycle the castoffs from restaurants and fast-food chains from northern Delaware and New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

The amount of food waste proposed could exceed the total amount sent to all of Delaware’s landfills in 2002.

Nelson Widell, a principal in the project, said developers plan to cover the dozens of rotting piles of waste — each 50 yards long, 26 feet wide and 10 feet high — with a W.L. Gore & Associates fabric designed to control odors.

Alan Muller, who directs the environmental group Green Delaware, said while the project has lofty goals, it could burden neighborhoods that suffered through previous failed efforts to compost waste at the nearby Pigeon Point Landfill.

“Who’s going to be served by this, and why should more waste disposal facilities be approved for Wilmington … because other jurisdictions are smart enough to not want them in their backyard?” Muller said.

East Wilmington already has become a magnet for other types of waste. Other ventures include:

•A city government-endorsed arrangement that brought hundreds of thousands of tons of out-of-state power plant ash into Wilmington to be mixed with treated sewage sludge. VFL Technology, a wholly owned subsidiary of Utah-based Headwaters Inc., set a goal of marketing mixtures of ash, sludge and other industrial castoffs as a topsoil substitute. But instead of selling it on the commercial market, VFL has sent more than 1 million tons of the mixture to city-area landfills for landscaping or cover.

•A new business off Christina Avenue in south Wilmington that would collect hundreds of thousands of tons of local and out-of-state construction and demolition waste for shipment by barge to a recycling center in North Carolina.

•A new, large-scale commercial mulching center near the port, opened in advance of a ban on landfilling of northern Delaware yard wastes.

Charles H. Gifford III, president of Peninsula Composting, said his company’s venture is unrelated to others in Delaware.

Gifford said he hopes the project can win a Coastal Zone Act permit this year, allowing the startup to coincide with the landfill ban on yard wastes.

Peninsula’s plan calls for use of the filtering cover system developed by Gore to control odors, moisture and gas emissions that seep up from the piles. Dozens are in use around the world. The largest, in Everett, Wash., is roughly the same size as the one proposed for Wilmington.

“We have been looking at the New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware area for a while and noted that Delaware had taken a position — a correct position — against leaf and yard waste in their landfills,” Gifford said. “It seemed like the right attitude was evolving there, from a regulatory standpoint.”

Gifford acknowledged that Peninsula would, at least initially, collect food wastes from neighboring states.

A study for the Delaware Solid Waste Authority in 2002 estimated that the entire state generates about 79,000 tons of food waste yearly.

The waste authority already has tested the Gore composting system on a smaller scale with yard waste and poultry house waste at the Sussex County landfill. And the waste authority recently purchased the equipment for use with yard waste at Cherry Island Landfill in east Wilmington.

“I’m very pleased that somebody has decided to come in and do something — not only with yard waste, but food waste,” said Pasquale S. Canzano, the waste authority’s chief executive.

The Port of Wilmington alone sometimes sends large amounts of food waste to Cherry Island, Canzano said, including “trailer loads of bananas and whatever that go bad from time to time.”

Deborah Deubert, executive director of the Rose Hill Community Center just south of the site, said neighborhoods have had trouble with industrial activities in the past. State regulators repeatedly sanctioned and eventually shut down a composting operation at Pigeon Point after odor complaints were filed against the contractor.

“The memory is still fresh, and they have other odor and dust concerns,” involving local businesses and landfills, Deubert said. “I would hope that the powers that be are making an effort to get information out so that people can ask questions about it.”

Widell, a project principal, said the company is “reaching out to neighborhood groups and neighbors. … We’re going to be talking with the neighbors, to take the mystery out of it.”

The operation in Delaware would produce about 250,000 tons yearly of topsoil and compost.

In Wilmington’s Southbridge community, longtime resident Franklin Starkey was skeptical.

“Why does it have to be in south Wilmington,” said Starkey, who lives a few blocks northwest of the proposed composting site, not far from the redeveloping Christina River waterfront.

“I admire what they’re doing with putting new condos on the water and a new ShopRite. I don’t know about compost,” Starkey said. “We already have a problem with odors here, with the landfill and the other things they have out there now. You can’t keep your windows open.”

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