Photos courtesy of Atlas Organics

In November of last year, Atlas Organics installed an EASP (extended aerated static pile) Modular Unit in West Haven, Connecticut, as part of a food waste diversion and compost pilot project funded in part by a grant from the U.S. Agriculture Department’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Urban Farming program.

The Spartanburg, South Carolina-based company developed the unit with space-strapped municipalities in mind. The solar-powered system is fully equipped to set up aerated static piles in places that lack electrical utilities, according to the company. The unit provides power for the blowers, control systems, cameras, internet, lights, computers and power tools needed for set up. The EASP Modular Unit is made using a 20-foot shipping container that is outfitted with a newly developed control system that allows operators, managers and engineers to see and communicate with the unit remotely.

With the EASP Modular Unit, Leah Retherford, Atlas Organics project manager, says the most difficult part of the project to manage has been the solar power. “We are still fine-tuning our solar system and have been learning a lot about battery function in colder climates during times of the year when the days are shortest.”

A resource-saving option

Atlas says the system in Connecticut is designed to handle three aerated static pile zones. Each zone can manage 800 cubic yards of mixed material, and the yearly expected throughput of yard waste combined with food waste is at least 6,000 tons.

From the 6,000 tons of input material, Atlas says New Haven’s EASP Modular Unit should yield at least 3,000 cubic yards of compost.

West Haven is handling the inbound feedstock, Atlas says, which primarily is food and yard waste streams.

“West Haven is limited on their ability to compost,” says Jorge Montezuma, director of engineering at Atlas Organics. He says the city was using the windrow composting method, which requires more time and space than the EASP method.

This method, developed by O2 Compost, an environmental consulting firm in Snohomish, Washington, involves blowing air into the pile under positive pressure, which maintains aerobic conditions throughout the pile. This eliminates the need for pile turning, Atlas Organics says. The method accelerates the decomposition of organic material, reduces pathogens and prevents offensive odors.

Unlike with windrow composting, the EASP method does not use diesel-powered windrow turners.

Jim Davis, vice president of strategic business partnerships at Atlas, says the EASP method is faster and requires less space and equipment for pile management. The EASP Modular Unit adds constant temperature monitoring, remote control aeration and remote viewing access to those benefits inherent to the EASP method, he says.

“Connecticut has strong food waste diversion mandates, and West Haven is looking into the future on how to make use of their existing infrastructure by utilizing appropriate technology to achieve their goals and the state’s goals,” Montezuma says. “The EASP Modular Unit allows for rapid deployment of a composting system.”

He adds, “Atlas is already building two more units to deploy to places that need infrastructure quickly and is in conversations with others that are looking for similar solutions.”

The company says it is fully operating the unit in New Haven while working closely with the city.

Leah Retherford and Eli Stilwell of Atlas

From waste to compost

The EASP Modular Unit employs the same process that Atlas uses at its other composting operations, Montezuma says, and produces compost roughly 45 to 60 days from the time the material arrives on-site.

He explains, “The process includes receiving the materials, preparing the materials using the correct composting recipes, composting the materials [using the EASP system], screening the material, sending a sample to the laboratory and then distributing the compost products to markets.”

The EASP Modular Unit does not include the size-reduction equipment that is needed to bring the woody material down to size before it’s added to the recipe, Montezuma says. “The grinding of woody material is an additional service that Atlas provides,” he says. “Through the composting process, the large woody materials will decompose and reduce in size over time; this will allow for more organic matter to be in the finished compost products.”

Atlas says it uses a batching protocol to monitor the material’s bulk density, temperature and moisture throughout the composting process.

The company says that while the compost produced through the West Haven demonstration project will not be sold, once the material is fully composted at its other sites, it is screened to a 3/8-inch or ¼-inch minus size using a trommel. The compost is then lab tested as part of the U.S. Compost Council Seal of Testing Assurance, or STA, Program.

“We screen all of our finished compost, though a customer could buy unscreened compost if they were interested in that product,” Retherford says. “Compost can be used for a variety of end uses and, depending on that use, there will be different definitions of product quality. Screening depends on the end market.

“Atlas can adjust screening based on the needs of our customers,” she continues. “Screening and particle size are critical for nursery and greenhouse production along with golf course applications or other turf management situations with high aesthetic expectations. In other end uses, like agriculture or landscaping, a range of particle sizes is more tolerable and can even be a benefit.”

Retherford says screening also removes any contaminants if they are present.

“The industry has changed considerably in the past 18 to 24 months,” says Atlas Organics CEO Joseph McMillin. “The biggest challenge in the industry right now is that municipalities are having to comply with legislation without having proper infrastructure established. Atlas Organics provides the expertise and services to get communities where they need to be quickly, efficiently, responsibly and in a cost-effective manner.”

He adds, “Organics recycling and closed-looped sustainability efforts were not something that was generally talked about, but now it is at the forefront of municipality conversations as the need is massive, especially with states like California where recycling laws are now being enforced. Municipalities are looking for companies like Atlas Organics to help.”

The author is editor of Recycling Today, a sister publication of Waste Today. She can be contacted by email at dtoto@gie.net.