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Board studying trash reduction told of plant that turns refuse into compost


A Curtis Bay company is composting refuse -- leaves, food, paper and other items people throw into their trash cans -- and making a soil product that is sold to farmers and landscapers, a company representative said yesterday.

"All we're doing is mimicking what nature does," said James H. Himel, director of planning for Ferst Cos., which opened a composting facility in January.

Mr. Himel spoke to 25 people at a meeting of Carroll's Waste-to-Energy Committee at the County Office Building in Westminster.

The citizens committee is studying whether the county should build an incinerator that would burn trash and generate electricity. The group also is looking at other alternatives -- such as recycling and composting -- to reduce the amount of trash that goes into county landfills.

Mr. Himel said his company's facility has the capacity to produce tons of compost a day. The $43 million facility takes in 550 tons of garbage a day from one customer, BFI Waste Systems, a Baltimore waste hauler that pays a tipping fee of $50 to $60 a ton, he said.

BFI unloads municipal waste at the Ferst plant, where employees sort out recyclables for sale, Mr. Himel said. Nonrecyclable waste is shredded, then passed under a magnet to remove ferrous metal.

Water is added to the waste, which is sent into a tunnel reactor for about 20 days to kill pathogens and odors, he said.

No heat is needed, he said; the decomposition of the waste causes it to reach a temperature of 150 degrees.

The compost is then shipped out or matured for 30 or more days. Compost that matures longer is of a higher grade and may be used for agriculture or landscaping, he said, and the compost that matures for the shorter period may be used for landfill cover.

"There's nothing magic about this," Mr. Himel said.

Of the garbage that comes into the plant, 65 percent is composted, 25 percent is recycled, and 10 percent is left over, he said.

"Is this some sort of nirvana?" committee member A. Stephen Boyan Jr. asked.

"I am startled by this," said Mr. Boyan, a political science professor and Marriottsville resident. "I have not heard or read anything about this technology, and it seems it has a lot of advantages."

Mr. Himel responded, "Composting can always play a part, but it's not a panacea that's going to keep you from doing something else."

Composting on a large scale should be approached like a business, with the goal of making a product, he said. "Getting rid of solid waste is secondary."

"Do I want one in my back yard out here in Carroll County?" committee Chairman Lloyd W. Helt of Sykesville asked.

Mr. Himel said a composting plant sometimes generates odors. The Ferst plant does not discharge any water; even on-site septic waste goes into the compost, he said.

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