Grants to allow County to improve composting operations, help with Tox Away Day

July 12, 2020 | 12:10 am

Updated July 11, 2020 | 10:05 pm

Photo by U.S. Department of Agriculture

The Daviess County Fiscal Court recently received $300,000 from the state to improve its current composting operations to redirect organic waste from the landfill and manage wastewater sludge. 

The county’s solid waste department will replace its decades-old composting machine with new equipment using the grant and about $88,000 in matched funds from the county. 

“We’re tickled to death to be able to get it,” said Robbie Hocker, manager of the Daviess County Solid Waste Department. “We’ll be able to make more compost than we have been.” 

The county’s composting operation reduces the amount of organic materials entering the landfill and produces about 1,500 tons of soil conditioner annually for local farmers and gardeners. 

The department receives yard waste diverted from the contained landfill, leaves from the city of Owensboro, and wastewater sludge — byproducts of the Regional Water Resource Agency — and stores them at an eight-acre composting facility. 

The raw materials are mixed with the biosolids and placed into seven-foot-high rows called windrows. Then the composting machine, called a windrow turner, uses rotating blades to combine the ingredients evenly. 

Afterward, the windrows must bake at temperatures exceeding 132 degrees for about a month while being turned periodically to create the optimal oxygen content. 

“The pathogens get cooked,” Hocker said. “When the compost comes out, its clean.”

Before selling the product, the department sends a random sample to an independent lab to ensure its quality. They offer the final compost for $12.75 per ¾ cubic yard bucket.

There are concerns regarding the use of biosolids in agriculture. Sewage sludge can become contaminated from microplastics, pharmaceutical chemicals, pesticides and flame retardants. The Environmental Protection Agency maintains that the composting process produces safe products beneficial to soil. 

The county’s solid waste department began composting about 20 years ago and hopes to expand the current operation. About three years ago, they began growing rows of wheat to pull nitrogen from the soil and mix the crop with the sludge to produce a better composting product, according to Hocker. 

The department hopes to soon also grow sorghum to assist the wheat in absorbing nitrogen during the crops’ growth cycles. 

“That’s the next step,” Hocker said. 

Earlier this year, the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet distributed $4.7 million in grants across the state to improve recycling and composting infrastructure and help manage household hazardous waste during public drop-off events. 

In addition to the composting grant, the county received about $40,000 for its annual Tox Away Day, which is paid for by the $1.75 tax fee for each ton of waste that enters state landfills. Daviess County Fiscal Court reported collecting more than 70,000 tons of cleaning products, lawn pesticides, motor oils and more at the road department last year. 

“We’ve been having this Tox Away Day every year since 2016,” said Mike Hamilton, the county’s solid waste coordinator. “It’s designed for you to get rid of your household waste.” 

Household hazardous waste — defined by the EPA as products that are corrosive, toxic or can ignite in certain conditions — can possess harmful chemicals such as isobutene, propane, ammonia, hydrochloric acids and chlorine. These products can contaminate the air, land and waterways. 

“These products contain hazardous ingredients and require special care when you dispose of them,” Hamilton said. “A lot of the folks in the county really appreciate the program.” 

The next household hazardous waste day is from 8 a.m. to noon Oct. 10 at the operations center on KY 81. 

July 12, 2020 | 12:10 am

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