[Note: This post is a work in progress because we are waiting for the DNREC to provide transcripts and other requested documents.]
Composting is a good thing. It’s the best way to handle the “organic” materials that make up around 30 percent of “municipal solid waste” (garbage). “Compost” is very useful in farming and gardening.
But composting, like everything else, has to be done right. It is essentially a controlled form or rotting. Done wrong, it can stink, cause air and water pollution, drive neighbors out of their homes.
Backyard or neighborhood composting doesn’t usually cause problems. Many communities compost yard waste–grass clippings, etc, and this doesn’t usually cause problems.
Composting food waste is manageable but does have more tendency to cause odors and attract rodents, especially if animal parts are involved.
When sewage sludge is added to the mix, things obviously become even more difficult.
Trying to compost mixed garbage is always a disaster.
Composting is regulated by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC). There are approximately ___ permitted composting operations in Delaware.
Delaware had one big, bad experience with composting by the Delaware Solid Waste Authority (DSWA, Green Delaware has often called it the “Dirty Authority”) at Pigeon Point, just south of Wilmington. In the 1980s the DSWA started up a large composting operation as part of an elaborate garbage processing operation including an incinerator. The feed to the composting operation reportedly included 275 tons per day of partially separated garbage and 250 tons per day of City of Wilmington sewage sludge. It was a disaster, stinking people out of their homes. The compost was unusable as it contained toxic PCBs.
This operation, along with the rest of the processing operations, were eventually shut down after years of community complaints.
For some background on the Dirty Authority see this article from 1998: “Misguided Delaware Solid Waste Authority Embarrasses State, Harms Communities, Doesn’t Recycle our Trash.”
Jump to 2007 and a proposal for a 700 ton per day composting in South Wilmington. There was lots of cheerleading for this and, as is often the case, Green Delaware stood mostly alone in raising concerns. Some of these:
o It would be a large operation that would bring hundreds of tons per day of often-rotten food waste from surrounding states; a much larger operation than needed to meet Delaware needs. Because of the distances, food waste would have a chance to get stinky before it even entered the composting process;
o It would be located in a classic “environmental justice” (lower income, people of color) community already burdened by many health and environmental problems;
o Some of those involved had a history of causing environmental problems.
See this 2007 Wilmington News Journal article: “Recycling company wants to compost out-of-state food waste near Wilmington”
The Southbridge Civic Association signed a “Community Benefits Agreement” with the promoters. We are waiting for a copy, but a description of it is available in this presentation.
Marvin Thomas, former President of the Southbridge Civic Association, said there were few complaints during the first couple of years of operations, but many since. He said the Civic Association and surrounding communities are united in their desire that Peninsula Composting be shut down. He indicated that communities have not recently sought to implement other parts of the agreement because they are at odds with Peninsula. He also indicated that many community residents are not interested in working there because of poor working conditions and low pay.