Waste not, save lots

New approach with food waste generates major disposal savings
by Ray Mueller Special to The Review

What happens to the food wastes at nursing homes, hospitals, schools, and other institutions?

For the most part, it is sent to landfills and requires the submitter to pay a tipping or dumping fee. In the case of the Rocky Knoll Health Care center between Plymouth and Elkhart Lake in Sheboygan County, the disposal was to a municipal sewage treatment plant in Plymouth at a very high cost.

That changed earlier this year, members and guests of the Glacierland Resource Conservation and Development Council learned at their quarterly meeting in a report by Rocky Knoll facilities director Tim Chisholm.

The solution is projected to save about $40,000 per year while having the food waste -- about one ton per week -- available for the production of heat and electric power at a biodigester operated by the University of Wisconsin -- Oshkosh. That facility also receives food wastes from supermarkets, school cafeterias, restaurants, and other suppliers.

For Rocky Knoll, arranging for a pickup of the waste by the Sanimax company for transportation to Oshkosh has accommodated the significant change, Chisholm pointed. The pickup fee is $160 per month, he indicated. (Sanimax, a company with facilities in Green Bay and DeForest, operates with a business theme of “reclaim, reuse, return.”)

In the past, Rocky Knoll had been using a pulper to grind the kitchen waste, including biodegradeable plates and cups, generated from feeding the facility’s approximately 130 residents three times per day. This enabled the sending of the wastes into the 2.5-mile sewer pipeline to Plymouth, Chisholm noted.

But the cost for that doing that was very high. With Rocky Knoll being treated as a commercial institution for the sewage billing, the costs averaged nearly $7,424 per month in 2012, Chisholm reported. There were two parts to the billing -- one for the bio-chemical oxygen demand (BOD) of the discharges and one for the consumption (volume of flow).

Since the change was made in the spring of this year, the monthly billings have been down by about 70 percent for the BOD and by about 55 percent for the consumption, Chisholm reported. In a comparison of data for October 2012 and May 2013, he cited reductions of 42 percent on BOD, 39 percent on total suspended solids, 22 percent on total phosphorus, 27 percent on ammonia, and 80 percent on fats, grease, and oils.

Instead of directing the wastes in the pulper, which was recently removed from the facility, the kitchen staff separates the plastics from the food wastes, Chisholm stated. He noted that biodegradeable paper, meats, fish, bones, and some dairy products, but not milk, are acceptable in the waste that is assembled for pickup by Sanimax.

Not including the $160 monthly pickup fee, the sewer bill costs for May through September of 2013 were between $2,500 and $3,100 per month for Rocky Knoll -- down from the $7,424 a year earlier. The bill hit a high of $9,796 for January of 2013.

Chisholm indicated that the change in handling food wastes and in other practices is reducing water consumption by about 1,000 gallons per day at Rocky Knoll. Laundering bedding and clothing is a major user of water at the facility.

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