Save That Stuff Tour in Boston
While walking out of the Boston Convention Center on Tuesday, after a day of volunteering at Greenbuild, there was a classic VW bus with a cargo bed that caught my eye. The little bus’s roof rack was loaded with a stack of cardboard, it had bins full of recyclables in the cargo bed, and it said “Compost Stuff” along the side (see picture above). Luckily Denise and I had the chance to talk with the guy who drove it in there, Erik, and as it turned out he also owned the MRF that was handling all of Greenbuild’s waste. Waste was already on my mind the entire day prior to meeting Erik, as our volunteer duties included standing next to waste bins and getting people to compost or recycle as much as possible. Thanks to Erik, we were able to set up a facility tour on Thursday morning!
When we got to the Save That Stuff facility we met with Wayne and Marc, who were both going to show us around and were super friendly from the start. We started our tour in the bay where all the recyclables were being sorted and organized. To me It felt like walking into a Costco, with rows and rows of recyclable goods in stacks of large palettes just waiting to be shipped out. They had palettes of cardboard, clean white office paper, shredded paper, mixed paper, and more. I was impressed with how organized it was, as everything had its designated area and the palettes were all neatly stacked. Having Marc along on the tour was great too because he was able to tell us how much each palette of material was selling for on the market, and how the market was doing now compared to months or years prior. He works as the Sales and Business Development Manager so it was all information that he regularly deals with, but it was all new to me. The materials that get assembled into palettes come in from collection, are organized by material type in the facility, and then are gathered using a large bailer machine that compacts and wraps it into a cube palette. The cubes are organized in stacks within the warehouse with forklifts, that will eventually put them into trucks in the loading bay so they can be shipped out. For mixed recyclables, like plastic and aluminum, the collections are run along a conveyor belt and hand sorted by people on the sidelines. The people pull out contaminants that they find or things that need to go to the landfill/incinerator. Here’s a picture of Denise with Wayne and Marc in front of the recycling facility.
The second part of the tour, the part Denise and I were most curious to see, was the Waste Management CORe facility that was right next door. This was the facility that was receiving all of Greenbuild’s compostable waste and was processing it. It’s a unique facility, one of just 4 in the country as of right now, and it opened just earlier this year. We were introduced to the facility manager Konrad, who was also a great guy and told us all about the facility. The facility is unique because it uses some brand-new technology to process food waste and convert it into a slurry that is approximately 14% solid. The slurry that is produced at the end of the process is then put in a tanker truck, and taken to a wastewater treatment plant where they put it into their anaerobic digester. During the decomposition in the anaerobic digester, methane is produced as a byproduct and is then captured and used to create energy for the grid. This slurry that is being produced at the Waste Management CORe facility supposedly produces 70% more energy per mass of material than the normal inputs into the anaerobic digester, because it comes from food waste and is nutrient rich. At the CORe facility, they use a large machine that grinds up, filters, and adds water to the food waste to produce the slurry. The filters are put in place to remove large materials that can’t be broken down. This is where things like food containers, food utensils, and other materials are removed from the process. The waste that is filtered out is sent to an incinerator, as it is residual waste and would otherwise go to a landfill.
I spent the day before Greenbuild volunteering at the conference, and our sole duty was to help people properly divert waste at the conference. The goal was to reach a 90% waste diversion rate from landfills, an increase from 86% at last year’s Greenbuild in LA. This meant that 90% of the waste at the conference needed to be recycled, composted, or reused. One thing I thought was very cool, at the time, was that all the single use plastic cups for water, coffee cups, and coffee lids that were provided at Greenbuild were supposedly compostable. They also told us that all containers provided within the Greenbuild venue would also be compostable. They claimed that the facility in Boston was a commercial composting facility and would be able to break it all down. After the visit to the CORe facility though, we found out from Konrad that all those items like the cups, lids, containers, etc. were being filtered out and not actually being composted. They were part of the items that ended up in an incinerator. This was an unfortunate discovery, as the people at Greenbuild were very excited that the cups and lids would all be composted and would help contribute to their diversion goal. Whether Greenbuild counted them as diverted or not, their end of life was in an incinerator.
All in all, I had a great time touring around the Save That Stuff and WM CORe facilities and listening to the passionate people that were in charge of operating them. I was very impressed with the composting operation, as food waste is one of the smelliest and messiest kinds of waste, and their facility was remarkably clean. The slurry that they produce looks like a trendy smoothie you’d find in LA, but it was awesome to hear that it is far more useful and can produce large amounts of electricity. Both facilities were very also very well kept, one of the most organized ones I’ve seen. Hats off to the team at Save That Stuff!