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South Canyon Landfill management switch could lead to a composting war

John Colson
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
John Colson Post IndependentEquipment processes pre-cooked materials and grinds it into the proper consistency to produce compost, which is ready to be used in landscaping or gardening.
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Is a change in management at a local dump leaving area farmers and gardeners out in the cold when it comes to compost for their crops?

The answer depends on where, and to whom, the question is put, in terms of what is going on at the South Canyon Landfill these days.

“I’m just disappointed that they’re not continuing the composting operation,” said Jim Duke, a former government employee who for some time has been in the business of creating and selling compost. Duke had been in charge of South Canyon until this year, when the City of Glenwood Springs, owner of the landfill site, signed a contract with a new management company, Heartland Environmental Services.



When Heartland took over management of South Canyon earlier this year, ripples of concern washed through the valley’s composting community.

One news story about the issue noted that the annual Carbondale Mountain Fair, which has for years sent a growing pile of compostables to Duke’s Caca Loco firm at South Canyon, did not do so this year out of concern that Heartland would simply bury it in the landfill rather than make compost with it.



Instead, the fair’s Green Team opted to stick with Duke, who now composts livestock bedding in a small operation behind the LaFarge gravel pit near Carbondale.

But, according to Larry Giroux, those in charge of the Mountain Fair’s 24 cubic yards of compostable material need not have worried.

“If they’d brought it here, it would have been composted,” said Giroux, pointing to several large piles of ready-to-sell compost, and other piles at various stages in the composting process.

“This is Jim Duke’s process,” Giroux continued. “We’ve taken over his process, until we can do some repermitting.”

The process, as Giroux described it, involves the co-mingling of sewage brought in septic trucks, which empty out domestic septic systems, with a range of solids – lumber, yard waste, cardboard, garbage and other material brought in to the dump. The resulting mixture is piled up in tall “windrows” and left to decompose.

“It cooks,” explained Giroux. “It heats up and reaches a certain temperature [as high as 65 degrees Celsius, or 149 degrees Fahrenheit) and it degrades.” The process kills such bacteria as salmonella and e-coli, and reduces the material to something with the consistency of peat moss, at which point it is ready to sell to area landscapers, gardeners and anyone else.

But that is part of the problem, said Giroux.

“There’s no market for compost down here,” he said, explaining that at the Pitkin County landfill, the compost sales are much brisker, possibly because of the large landscaping jobs in the Aspen area.

“We’ve sold under 200 tons of compost since I took over here, which is a very, very small amount,” he said. He mused that people may be put off by his use of septic fluids and solids in making his compost, and be unwilling to use it for vegetable gardens.

In answer to that possibility, Giroux said he plans to begin composting special piles made up strictly of lawn and other plant waste, without any septic fluids in the mix, to see if customers would be more interested in that product.

For the rest of the waste stream, Giroux plans to use a special patented process, burning lumber to evaporate off more than 600 million gallons of liquids brought in by the septic trucks, and in other ways reducing the volume of waste to be buried at the landfill. He hopes to extend the life of the landfill by a matter of decades in that way.

Duke, for his part, disputes the view that people are too squeamish to buy compost made from septic materials.

“I’ve sold 40 percent more this year than I’ve ever sold before,” he said of his business.

“But,” he conceded, “I probably took a lot of my clients with me” when he left South Canyon and started up on his own.

And although he has started with livestock bedding, he plans to branch out and offer compost for crops, too.

And, he remarked, in that light, “Maybe I’d just as soon they didn’t keep up with the composting operation” at South Canyon, which would leave the field more open for his business.

jcolson@postindependent.com


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