Washington State University (WSU) Department of Crop and Soil Sciences and Waste Management collaborated with Katrina Spade, CEO of Recompose, to determine the feasibility of changing State of Washington Revised Code of Washington (RCW) offering an alternative to cremation and conventional burial methods to include composting as an end of life methodology. Research was completed to ensure the process could be safely accomplished.
The modular system uses nature’s principles to return our bodies to the earth, sequestering carbon and improving soil health. Recompose has calculated carbon savings of over a metric ton per person.
In 1994, Washington State University was the first university in the nation to build a commercial scale composting facility. Located on the southeast corner of the Pullman campus, the facility composts more than 10,000 tons of waste each year. The feedstock comes from animal bedding, yard waste, food waste, and research. The material is processed and sold to departments on campus, local businesses, and farms. WSU continues to work with researchers to improve the process, hoping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make biogas a viable energy option.
Waste Management worked with McKinstry to develop an energy efficient alternative to pathological incineration. In 2018, McKinstry installed a BioSafe STI. The STI grinds the waste material, and then uses a combination steam and sodium hypochlorite to kill pathogens.
WSU completed analytical testing on the finished material to verify pathogen destruction. WSU is currently taken the material to the Whitman County Landfill. However, with further testing WSU is hoping the material can be composted at our facility using standard procedures. The STI, in conjunction with the compost facility, has allowed WSU to divert approximately 90% of the material that had traditionally been incinerated.
Waste Management has plans to use the compost facility as a living laboratory in cooperation with the Laboratory for Atmospheric Research in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Reduction in odors and greenhouse gas emissions associated with the composting process and reduced loads on landfills are two important concerns to both the composting industry and the general population. Simultaneously, there is a significant need to improve compost quality for use in organic farming, particularly if yield, disease resistance and/or crop quality are to be increased in high value crops. Addition of biochar during compost production has the potential to achieve reduce emissions produced by the composting process and produce a quality compost with improved nutrient content and plant immunity stimulating effects. The compost was used at the WSU Eggert Family Organic Farm in a basil trial.
Registered organic compost
The College of Agriculture, Human and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS) and Waste Management started working together in 2017 to produce a Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) registered organic compost. Waste Management dedicated a portion of the compost facility to produce this material ensuring feedstock did not contain contaminants such as treated wood or plastics. Analytical results showing pathogen elimination and no chemical contamination was required.
WSU produced 300 tons of registered organic compost in 2019, and sold 160 tons to organic farms in the region. They are hoping to expand sales in production as the region becomes more aware of this outstanding product.
WSU has transitioned away from co-mingled recycling to separate waste streams in an effort to reduce contamination and increase value of material. Waste Management currently is collected office paper, cardboard and a mixture of 1 and 2 plastics and metal for recycling. WSU will continue to explore other possible waste streams with a recycling outlet. In addition to waste diversion, WSU is emphasizing waste minimization through use of educational materials and social media. We understand the need to alter habits to prevent waste from being created.
Digestor and biogas
Dr. Shulin Chen in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering is coordinating efforts with Waste Management to install a 100 kg per day pilot scale anaerobic digestion system. The goal of the system to develop an anaerobic digestion technology to cost effectively produce renewable natural gas from organic waste. This project is addressing three major technology obstacles; low reaction rate and corresponding high capital cost, inability to handle diverse feedstocks, and low methane content in biogas that leads to high purification costs. The system will be installed at the compost facility, and use feedstocks currently processed.