July 6, 2010
Add animal bedding as the latest item on Emory’s growing list of compostable products. In the past, the bedding – consisting of wood waste and used primarily with lab rats and mice – was either incinerated or buried in landfills. But since November, non-infectious bedding materials have been collected and processed for composting.
The transition to composting was set into motion last year when Deena Keeler, manager for recycling at Emory Recycles, began investigating the use of animal bedding as a potential compostable waste source. Initially, when Keeler investigated local composters that could accommodate this type of waste, she found that there were no industrial composting facilities authorized to accept and process animal bedding.
That changed in late 2009 when Greenco Environmental, a composting facility located 90 miles south of Atlanta in Barnesville, became the only Georgia facility permitted by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Environmental Protection Division as a Solid Waste Handling facility.
Greenco also handles all of Emory’s food composting. Once taken from Emory’s campus, the animal bedding is mixed with dining waste that is being composted from Emory University Hospital, Wesley Woods, the Dobbs University Center and other Emory facilities.
“It was a breakthrough for us,” says Keeler. “Finally we had an outlet that was able to receive our bedding materials.”
For years, Michael Huerkamp, director of Emory’s Division of Animal Resources, saw tons of bedding materials dumped in landfills. “I knew that we could find a more environmentally sound means to divert the bedding waste,” says Huerkamp. “Through Deena’s work, plus close collaboration between our division, Campus Services and Emory’s Environmental Health and Safety Office, we finally found a workable solution.”
According to Huerkamp, the early results after several months are impressive. “We’ve diverted over 68 tons of animal bedding from Georgia landfills between last November and April 2010,” he says.
In addition to providing a cost savings in waste disposal for the University, the practice is also helping Emory achieve part of its sustainability goal: An overall reduction of the University’s total waste stream by 65 percent, and specifically a diversion from landfills of 95 percent of animal bedding by 2015.
“We are fortunate to work in tandem with Greenco on both bedding and food composting,” says Keeler. “The food waste is high in nitrogen; the wood waste is a rich source of carbon. The natural process of composting requires both of these.”
Keeler reports that since last July, 196 tons of combined bedding and food waste have been collected from Emory and sent to Greenco for composting.
Emory’s waste is taken to Greenco and mixed with compost materials collected from across metro Atlanta. The mix is weighed and evaluated in order to remove unsuitable materials, such as glass, plastic or metal. The materials are pulverized, then transferred to composting beds, or windrows. During the 90-day composting process temperatures are kept consistently at 131 degrees Fahrenheit or more to destroy pathogenic organisms. The beds are turned regularly to ensure consistent composting.
At the end of the compost period, the material provides a rich soil mixture for local commercial landscaping companies, and returns to campus for Emory’s annual plantings in the spring and fall.