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Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Nitty Gritty on Composting Operations

Back view of in-vessel system

One of the offered pre-conference activities at the U.S. Composting Council's 20th annual conference held in Austin, TX was a tour of three composting facilities.  The tour bus was full with conference attendees eager to learn about the impressive Austin composting operations.

The first stop was at Lanier High School where an in-vessel composting unit is installed with a vermiculture system set to finish the in-vessel end product into valuable worm castings.  Although not in operation yet, Willis Poder, ACR Engineering, and Glenn McConkey, X-Act Systems, gave an excellent system overview.

Entrance to Hornsby Bend Facility
Next on the tour was the Hornsby Bend Biosolids Management Plant located on a 1200 acre site. Jody Slagle, Compost & Biosolid Reuse Manager, gave a thorough overview of the facility operations and accompanied the group on a detailed tour.  The facility wetlands are home to a wide array of birds and the public trails are a favorite destination for birdwatchers.  It was a pleasure to visit a well-run biosolids composting facility where the smell is of rich compost, rather than of its product's origin.

Windrows @ TDS
The final tour destination was Texas Disposal Systems - WOW is an appropriate description of their operations.  On the way to their on-site event facility for lunch along with a TDS presentation, the bus traveled through the exotic animal ranch. Originally, the ranch was a creative way to develop the required buffer zone for their landfill. TDS offers the gorgeous event facility free to non-profits to use for fund-raising events, one of the many ways TDS says "Thank You" to the community that supports their business.

TDS uses traditional aerobic, turned windrows for pre-consumer organic composting. For their post-consumer organics, TDS builds covered static piles to create higher temperature to break-down the longer decomposing items inherent within the stream.

Baled material awaiting sale
In addition to impressive composting operations, TDS operates extensive recycling programs. With plenty of space and the required permits, TDS is able to store recovered material during market lows to sell in market highs. Committed to integrity, the family-run business founded in 1977 is a valuable Austin asset.

For a detailed pictorial recap of the tour see the Ei FB album, 01-17-12 USCC Composting Facilities Tour.  It was a gorgeous day to be outside learning about how important the microbial community is to our human existence.

The tour was the perfect educational prelude to the next two days of USCC Conference sessions.  Kudos to Mike Virga, USCC executive director, for orchestrating an excellent conference with just over four months in his industry leadership role.

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