BLACKFOOT — The possibility of making compost (dirt) out of municipal solid waste (garbage) took a big step forward recently.
Ted Carpenter, working with Environmental Recovery of Idaho (ERI) in Blackfoot, synthesized a compound made up of bacteria and fungi microbes that eats garbage.
"From the time I was 11 years old, I've wanted to turn garbage into dirt," Carpenter said.
After a 10-week test, Carpenter took samples and sent them to three laboratories for analysis.
A summary of the laboratory reports that heavy metals were not detected. Some lead was found but it was within the accepted Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allowances.
Of the 215 chemicals known to leak from landfills in the U.S., all levels were were well below the EPA standards.
Dean Ehlert, Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Solid Waste Program Coordinator, wrote, ". . .the compost does not appear to contain constituents at levels that present a risk to human health or the environment when used appropriately."
"There is fairly significant volume reduction," Ehlert said. "Continued testing needs to be conducted."
"The main concern of the DEQ is to determine what is in the compost; that the compost is safe and protects human health and the environment," Ehlert said. "[The company] ERI and DEQ need to work out a plan for sampling as we move forward."
DEQ had previously approved this pilot project. As ERI develops an operating plan, the Idaho Health Department and the DEQ will continue to be involved, said Ehlert.
The objective of the test was threefold, said Brent Arave, owner of ERI.
First, this "waste-volume-reduction" will reduce the need of more landfills because the municipal solid waste is turned into dirt. Second, this test was to demonstrate the safety of MSW once it has gone through the proprietary process and third, to protect groundwater.
Testing started in September, when ERI personnel shedded 60 tons of MSW and hauled it to the Rattlesnake Landfill. The municipal solid waste was accumulated from the Bingham County Transfer Station.
Six 30-foot windrows of municipal solid waste were put on top of plastic. Carpenter's enzyme was then applied to the windrows.
The objective of the test was to prove the safety of this process to the Idaho DEQ, said Arave.
The test was started Sept. 27 and completed Dec. 7.
During this timeframe, the windrows were stirred two times. To windrows numbered five and six, hazardous chemicals, like solvents, diesel fuel and gasoline as well as other pesticides were added. The objective of this test was to determine if the enzymes could digest these hazardous chemicals as well as the municipal solid waste.
When tested, these hazardous chemicals were not detected.
"The enzymes ate the garbage as well as the hazardous chemicals," said Carpenter.