Waste Management Takes Two Big Steps in the Composting Business

Waste Management Takes Two Big Steps in the Composting Business

Waste Management Inc., the firm striving to turn the traditional model of garbage handling on its head, is expanding its business in organics recycling by investing in a company that owns the largest composting facility in the eastern U.S. and by building a new organics processing site in Florida.

The two moves announced this week are intended to strengthen Waste Management's position in organics processing and recycling and further the firm's efforts to recast its business model.

Waste Management is working to transform itself into a company that does not merely dispose of rubbish, but provides solutions that derive value from it. That includes reducing waste, recycling it and tapping markets for products made with the recycled materials.

"We want to extract the highest value possible from the materials we manage," Waste Management executives Tim Cesarek, managing director of Organic Growth, and David McConnell, a market area vice president, said in announcements this week. The statement has become a mantra for the company, and in the area of organics processing and recycling that has translated to a series of investments and projects that have accelerated in the past two years.

Investing in the Peninsula Compost Company

The first of the two most recent developments surfaced Tuesday when Waste Management released highlights of its strategic investment in the Peninsula Compost Company LLC. PCC owns and operates the Wilmington Organic Recycling Center, a $20-million, state-of-the-art, large-scale facility that processes commercial food and yard waste, turning it into compost.

Developed on a former brownfield site, the 27-acre facility is located across from the Port of Wilmington, making it readily accessible to waste haulers in Delaware as well as Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

The Wilmington facility processes up to 300 tons per day of organic waste and has permitted capacity for as much as 600 tons per day. Through its investment, Waste Management now considers the Wilmington site part of the WM network of organics processing facilities. WM has an organics processing capacity of more than 1.7 million tons a year, and the Wilmington facility could add over 200,000 tons to that figure, according to Waste Management.

Organics Processing in Florida

Yesterday, WM said it is building a facility to process pre-consumer commercial food waste, yard waste from residential and business customers, and clean demolition wood waste from the Central Florida area. The composting facility is being developed at WM's Vista Landfill in Apopka, Fla.

The Vista property is about 160 acres and the new organics recycling facility will occupy 16 acres of the site, WM Community Affairs Manager Amy Boyson told GreenBiz.com.

The pilot project at the Vista Landfill is the second of its kind in Florida for Waste Management and is expected to receive about 85 tons of organic waste daily when it opens this fall, Boyson said. The company recently broke ground for the development after relocating eight gopher tortoises, a protected species found in the area, Boyson added.

Waste Management's first dedicated composting site in Florida was announced in January and is scheduled to begin operation later this spring. The 8-acre facility in Southern Florida is being built at the Okeechobee Landfill and will process food, yard and clean wood waste into compost and bagged lawn and garden products.

The launch of the Vista and Okeechobee organics processing sites will bring the number of composting facilities in the WM network to 36, said Wes Muir, the company's director of corporate communications.

Developing End Markets

The projects to build the Florida processing sites and the investment in PCC's Wilmington facility follow Waste Management's acquisition of a major equity interest in Garick LLC. The firm based in Cleveland, Ohio, is a leading manufacturer, marketer and distributor of organic lawn and garden products. The transaction, announced in September 2010, gives WM a larger stake in developing high value-added end markets for recycled organic materials -- an integral element of the company's growth strategy for that line of business.

"We've made investments in significant companies in various areas of the organic composting process," said Muir. "The bottom line is we're trying to create a suite of options that we can take to our customers ... and to make them economically viable you have to have an end market."

With that in mind, Waste Management also is investing in new and emerging technologies to convert organic energy into renewable transportation fuels.

Those key moves include:

  • Investment in Montreal-based waste-to-biofuels startup Enerkem Inc. in February 2010. Enerkem's work includes development of proprietary thermo-chemical technology to convert diverse feedstocks into biofuels.
  • Investment in Harvest Power in January 2010. The waste-to-energy startup's focus on next-gen organics recycling includes efforts to develop innovative high solids aerobic and anaerobic digestion and composting technologies that would speed up decomposition of organic materials in order to produce renewable energy.
  • An agreement announced in August 2009 to invest in Terrabon LLC and its innovative waste-to-fuel technology called MixAlco, which is one of three technologies Terrabon is deploying to develop advanced biofuels.

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