The Prince William County Balls Ford Road Yard Waste Compost Facility has been around since the 1990s and it's been through some changes since then, according to Tom Smith, the county's solid waste division chief.
Another transformation is coming, Smith said at a recent ground-breaking ceremony at the facility. "We're making a big change right now. The Board (of County Supervisors) awarded a contract to Freestate Farms in 2015 to run the facility, as well as build an advanced composting facility, which will greatly improve both the ability to process yard waste, as well as the capacity to get into some other processing of food waste."
Freestate Farms, an independent contractor, will operate the new facility with technology that speeds up the composting process, Smith said. "This is a public-private partnership with Freestate Farms who is actually going to finance, build and operate the facility. It's all private money involved. There's no county funds. We're able to do this pretty much at the same cost per ton that we've been processing yard waste out here for over 20 years."
Yard waste and food waste currently constitute about 30 percent of the waste that is delivered to the landfill. In addition to yard waste, the new facility will take food waste largely from grocery stores, restaurants, schools and other institutions and reroute it to the composting facility, Smith said. "Our ultimate goal is to divert material that can be reused from the landfill. That's why we're doing this. That's why it's been in our plan for 10 years – to try and divert waste from the landfill to extend its life and to make products out of what would normally be considered garbage."
Coles District Supervisor Marty Nohe spoke at the ceremony and said people may not think about it much, but recycling as much as possible is something they want. "This is something that isn't necessarily obvious to the community, but actually has an extraordinary impact. We're going to be reducing the amount of waste that enters our landfill. We're going to be increasing the amount of organic materials that are available for farming, or for industrial users, or for simple yard care and we're going to become a more green community because of that."
The first phase, the new advanced aerobic system, will use a series of concrete bunkers and pipes to continuously aerate the piles to compost material in about one third of the time it takes now. The process to turn yard waste to usable compost currently takes about nine to twelve months. The second phase will be construction of tanks used for anaerobic decomposition of food waste.
When people talk of technology, Nohe said, they're usually thinking of things such as apps, software, websites and data. They're not thinking about the technology that goes into recycling.
Nohe said he's glad there are people in the county who are looking into such matters. "Prince William County has decided, as an organization, that one of our major strategic goals is to be an organization and a community that uses technology to be the best kind of community that we can be; that we leverage new advances in technology to do things better, to do things faster, to do things more cost-effectively, to serve our community better. This new partnership …. is going to be extremely important in advancing that goal. This is the beginning of a new era in how we deal with waste in Prince William County."
The entire project is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2020, Smith said.