From: Robert Boggs, Tyler (TX) Morning Telegraph
Published April 19, 2005 12:00 AM

Texas Compost Facility Turns Solid Waste into Rich Dirt

One man's trash is another's treasure.


At least that's the thinking behind the Neches Compost Facility, where millions of pounds of waste are turned into nutrient-rich biosolid compost every year.


That compost, in turn, is used by landscapers, gardeners, plant nursery owners and others in need of a low-cost method of encouraging plant growth and preventing erosion.


"We have a tremendous public use of it," said James Henry, sales manager of the Neches facility, which is located about eight miles west of Jacksonville on U.S. Highway 79. The demand is so high, in fact, that the facility is temporarily increasing its hours.


The compost facility will be open for public sales from 8 a.m. to noon every Saturday in April. This is in addition to its regular hours of 8 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday.


Compost can be purchased for $10 per cubic yard at the facility, which opened in August 2000 as a subdivision of the Angelina and Neches River Authority.


But the money gained from compost sales is nothing compared to the environmental and economic benefits to Texas, Henry said.


"Our business is nonprofit," he said. "We make compost to dispose of it." Each year, the facility transforms more than 2 million pounds of wastewater sludge and about 20,000 cubic yards of wood chips -- resources that would otherwise end up in landfills or burning piles -- into a product with great benefits for its users, Henry said.


"There is a tremendous amount of people just now catching on to the benefits of compost," he said. "I've been here three years, and when I first started, people wouldn't accept it because of what it's made from. Since last year, our business has doubled." Among those reaping the benefits is the Texas Department of Transportation, the Neches facility's largest customer, which Henry said uses more than 400,000 cubic yards of compost each year for roadside improvements and erosion control.


Mike Schneider, director of maintenance for Tyler's TxDOT, said biosolid compost isn't used as frequently in the eight East Texas counties covered by the Tyler office as it is in other areas, but it has been used "experimentally" in his department. He also said it was used more commonly by construction crews than maintenance employees.


"Primarily what it is used for is erosion control and a growth aid for vegetation," Schneider said.


The Neches facility receives wastewater sludge from Athens, Palestine, New London, Bullard, Whitehouse and Georgia Pacific and combines it with wood chips donated from cities and private tree services.


The mixture is screened through a three-fourth inch grate to filter out larger materials and create a porous mulch. The mixture is then allowed to sit inside a 40,000-square-foot covered shed while the composting process takes place.


During this process, bacteria and other microorganisms break down the organic material into simpler substances. This metabolism causes the temperature of the compost to rise to more than 131 degrees -- an important number because at that temperature, pathogens that could be present in the organic material begin to die off.


After sitting at a temperature greater than 131 degrees for 15 days, the Neches Compost Facility begins an extensive testing process.


A sample of the compost is sent for a fecal colioform test for pathogens. In addition, testing for heavy metals is performed every 60 days and bacterial tests are performed on the site's well water to check for groundwater contamination.


"It is the most tested compost there is," Henry said. "I don't think there's a better compost out there." After all the testing, the Neches compost is rated grade one, meaning it can be used for nearly any purpose.


"It is excellent for flower beds and gardens," Henry said. "It's just good dirt."


To see more of the Tyler Morning Telegraph, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.tylerpaper.com. Copyright (c) 2005, Tyler Morning Telegraph, Texas Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.


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