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UCAR Becomes a Trash Trendsetter with New Compost Accelerator

There's hardly a hall you can walk down in the Mesa and Foothills labs without running into a recycling bin. Eco-Cycle now gets 73% of the glass, aluminum, and paper we discard. But there's more to be accomplished in meeting UCAR's goal of zero waste. The lion's share of work yet to be done is in handling food waste and other compostable material.

Veggies and other compostable matter have been gathered in group- based bins for about a year. Each week, about 1,000 pounds worth is taken by Facilities Support Services to the Lost Antlers Composting Facility in Golden. "While the program has been working, it's a short- term solution at best," says Traffic Services manager Dean Lindstrom.

A longer-term solution is due to arrive next month. The Mesa Lab will play host to one of only two large-scale compost accelerators in the United States. The device promises to serve as a money saver, a point of local and regional interest, and a boon to the environment.

The accelerator comes from Wright Environmental Management, Inc., a company based in Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada, that has placed units throughout the province. One model at the Ontario Science Centre processes 6,000 pounds of meat, vegetables, and other items each day from seven Ontario prisons.

Eron Brennan puts compost where it belongs: in the specially marked bins assigned to each work group at the Mesa and Foothills Labs and other UCAR sites. (Photo by Curt Zukosky.)

"I was impressed," says Dean of a visit to the site in May. He was accompanied by Eron Brennan, also of Traffic Services and a member of the Environmental Stewardship Committee. Eron spearheaded the placement of compost bins throughout UCAR and researched the feasibility of acquiring a large accelerator.

"We were skeptical about the odor issue," Dean continues. "But when we got on top of the machine [at the science center] and pulled the manhole cover off, there was no smell at all." Dean and Eron moved on to meet with Steve Wright, son of inventor Jim Wright, at other installations around the area. Says Dean, "We bombarded him with questions."

The other unit made by Wright and installed in the States is at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina. According to Dean, the U.S. Department of Defense is interested in acquiring more than 100 other units for use at bases and on aircraft carriers. (Among the motivating factors is that the carriers are not allowed to dump refuse into the sea.)

Dean says that the unit at the Ontario Science Center "is an actual working composter as well as a perpetual display for the science center." He hopes that our unit can follow suit. It'll be installed on the south side of the Mesa Lab, just to the west of the shipping docks and behind Central Stores. Dean envisions school groups and others interested in the environment paying visits once the machine is up and running.

The accelerator to be delivered here can process up to 300 pounds of compost per day, which includes 200 pounds of actual garbage mixed with 100 pounds of wood chips. The latter will be gleaned from a regular supply of pallets used and discarded by Shipping and Receiving. "The ground wood serves to absorb moisture, add bulk, and take up some of the bacterial growth," says Dean. Once or twice a month, the resulting compost will be taken to the Foothills Lab and used in landscaping projects.

Dean reassures the squeamish that rodents and insects won't be drawn to the airtight unit. Even the water is recycled, which makes a special sewer hookup unnecessary.

The accelerator is arriving on a 60-month lease from Wright. The acquisition should be cost-neutral, he figures, once the cost of trash pickups and the value of the compost for landscaping at FL is factored in. With time, says Dean, we can expect to realize about $7,500 a year in savings.

"I'm really excited. It's a true bonus for the zero-waste program. Although we've not hit the wall yet, the wall's in sight as to how much more we can recycle. This accelerator allows us to chop another 20 to 25% from the waste stream--and it's the nastiest part." --BH

The newly expanded list of compostable items will be sent to recycling coordinators and posted on the Web once the accelerator is in use. To find your coordinator, consult the ESP home page at



Above is the anatomy of the large compost accelerator housed at the Ontario Science Centre. Over a 28-day period, organic matter and amendments (such as wood chips and newsprint) travel from the loading conveyor (2) through several composting and mixing zones (3 through 7), emerging through the unloading zone (8). A shaker screen separates out large pieces at the end and recirculates them in the next cycle. Computer-monitored conditions in the composting and mixing zones assure an even distribution of active bacteria and encourage aerobic decomposition. A bio-filter (1) controls odors. (Illustration courtesy Ontario Science Centre.)

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Edited by Bob Henson, bhenson@ucar.edu
Last revised: Thu Mar 30 10:56:48 MST 2000