BioCycle Magazine – May 2012
ARBORIST EXPANDS INTO COMPOSTING
As the name implies, Arborganic Acres is a hybrid of sorts. When the economy slowed, arborist Bob MacMullen was looking for an environmentally friendly way to diversify his business. He also had an abundance of wood chips from his M&M Tree Service. That’s when he, with help from business partner Thomas Shine, decided to branch out into composting, opening Arborganic Acres for business in June 2010 to process municipal, residential and commercial (landscaping service) yard trimmings. Four months later he received a permit from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PaDEP) to accept fruit, vegetable and grain waste. Clients include a nearby Walmart and Victory Brewing Company about 20 miles away.
Composting at Arborganic Acres starts on 46-foot by 30-foot blacktop pads under open sided containment buildings, using 1.5 HP Dayton blowers to negatively aerate the material to help control odors and jumpstart the composting process. Materials remain there for two weeks before being moved to a second-stage 3-acre compost pad, where they are positively aerated with the same type of blowers. Total processing time averages 16 weeks. The Powerscreen 511 trommel helps produce a variety of products including screened compost and a bed and garden mix (screened topsoil and compost), each sold in bulk and also in bags..
Norco arborist branches out into compost
Serving Chester County
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
By GRETCHEN METZ
NORTH COVENTRY — It was the bad economy that got arborist Bob MacMullen interested in the environment -- that and a need to get rid of the mountains of wood chips generated by his tree business.
In June 2010 with permits in hand, the owner of M&M Tree Service opened Arborganic Acres on Cherry Hill Lane, a composting facility that accepts municipal, residential and commercial yard waste such as twigs, leaves, grass clippings and logs.
Some four months later, Arborganic Acres received a Department of Environmental Protection permit to accept food waste -- fruit, vegetables and grains.
Whether it is composting branches or broccoli, “we grow good soil,” said MacMullen, who developed the name “Arborganic” by combining arborist and organic.
Nearby Walmarts, the cafeteria at ING’s West Whiteland location and Victory Brewing in Downingtown currently drop off produce at Arborganic Acres.
Now MacMullen wants to get more grocery stores and restaurants motivated to do the same thing.
“Everybody’s interested in the environment if it doesn’t cost them anything,” MacMullen said.
When it comes to food service businesses, if they are willing to separate the trash out of the food items, there is a savings in the long run, MacMullen points out.
But there is a learning curve.
“It’s the right thing to do if you can afford it,” said Matt Kruegar, restaurant general manager at Victory. “It takes a lot of work.”
Food waste that goes to the landfill is contaminated with other wastes. Send that same food waste to an organic facility, it “puts the nutrients back into the soil. It’s awesome,” Kruegar said.
Victory has a trash system dedicated to compostable food waste: pizza crusts, leftover french fries and alike. The last load, 6.7 tons, was accumulated in a month, Kruegar said.
The cost to haul the waste and tipping fees are about even with traditional costs of disposal, Kruegar said. What costs extra money is the labor to sort the plastics out of the food waste.
“In the beginning it was trial and error,” Kruegar said. “Our first two loads were refused. The last load was perfect.”
Once the staff is more practiced, the job will get done quicker and costs will go down, he said.
Walmart follows the Environmental Protection Agency’s Food Waste Recovery Hierarchy, spokesman Kory Lundberg said in a phone interview from the retailer’s Bentonville, Ark., headquarters.
In some cases, food scraps are sent to a bi-digestion technology center to feed wild animals or to an organic composing facility, whatever makes sense in the area, Lundenberg said.
“It’s good for the company, great for the community,” the spokesman said.
Nancy J. Fromnick, Chester County recycling coordinator, said sending food scrap to the landfill is throwing money in a hole. Composting those scraps produces a new product, one that is used again in agriculture.
For the bigger companies that recycle, it produces “really big savings,” she said.
Like MacMullen, Fromnick hopes more businesses in the area will take advantage of Arborganic Acres.
There is a training process involved. MacMullen met with Kruegar at Victory, for example, to get the process started there.
Food waste costs $40 a ton to drop off at Arborganic Acres “if you are willing to separate” it from plastic waste. A landfill charges $75 a ton, MacMullen said.
The composting process takes about three months.
“We’re the only place in Chester County where you can bring both food and yard waste,” MacMullen said.
Arborganic Acres charges $35 a cubic yard for the organic compost it produces.
“Unlike most sites, Arborganic Acres is 100 percent privately funded and the financial model is based on sales of material and intake to sustain itself,” MacMullen said, crediting partner Thomas Shine of King of Prussia for putting together the business plan and investors.
MacMullen has a degree in chemistry and previously ran an analytical lab for a pharmaceutical company. He started M&M Tree Service on the side. He ran his new arborist business part time for about three years before leaving the lab to strike out on his own.
When the economy started to sour, MacMullen looked for ways to expand his tree business so that he would have work for his employees.
Factoring in the mountains of wood chips generated by M&M, McMullen decided to go the composting route, a $350,000 investment for him.
Other composting sites invest more, but MacMullen said he and his employees did most of the work themselves.
“When you do it with your own money you find ways to be more cost efficient and faster,” MacMullen said.
While MacMullen is tapping into his former career in chemistry, employees who took arborist training when they started at M&M are now trained in a new field for them, organic composting.
By so doing, employees can work wherever they are needed, M&M or Arborganic Acres, MacMullen explained. For ever load of food waste that is delivered, an employee generates a report that is sent to the business that generated the waste.
MacMullen is getting ready to put up a 45-by-26-by-36 foot high building to house the food waste composting operation, an investment of $20,000.
California has been doing this for five years and Europe was doing it for five years before that, said MacMullen, a convert to composting and the environment who is also working to green up his entire system by using renewable power when possible.
For example, “our current screener is battery powered and we came up with an adaptation of a solar powered charger to recharge it,” he said.
In addition, MacMullen and his wife, Jennifer, have taken their organic mission on the road, making presentations at local schools.
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