Colorado: A1 Organics

Location(s): 
Colorado and Nevada
Summary: 

A1 is the largest organics recycler and producer of quality composts in the Rocky Mountain region. The company has evolved from one location to five major sites along the Front Range. A1 Organics accepts compostable food service ware items that are USCC BPI approved. Annually, A1 currently produces in excess of 350,000 cubic yards of compost and soil amendments per year. The Nevada site is the newest A1 Organic recycling and composting facility. Located near Las Vegas Nevada on 10 acres, this facility is permitted to receive all types of organic materials including food waste from select Vegas hotels and is currently taking in 7,500 tons annually and has the ability to take in 25,000 tons.

Unfortunately, if a load has even one bit of petroleum plastic, the entire load is rejected and sent to the landfill. Biodegradable/compostable products have to be pre-approved by A1 Organics, and USCC BPI approved. They have found many problems with composting biobased products. Mostly, that they do not break down unless they’re in optimum conditions for decomposition, which is at the 20 inch and 40 inch layers of a windrow pile. Therefore, those bioplastics on the exterior of the pile do not breakdown, and often the lightweight of the materials cause them to blow away and become a litter problem. Turning the pile to help bring materials on the exterior to the interior causes the reverse problem of bringing bags that are in the middle that are half decomposed towards the outside and increases the risk of blowing away, especially in the turning process itself when compost is flung to turn. A1 Organics has recently received a grant from The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment which will help get the Italian DODA system to their facility to mitigate their bioplastic bags and products problem (see challenges for more information).

Products and Brands Composted: 

The materials accepted need to be pre-approved by the USCC and or BPI. Labeled products also keep them from being sorted out. Currently, about 1% of the incoming stream is composed of bioproducts.

  • Biodegradable bags
  • Biodegradable food service ware
Collection System: 

A1 has its own routing system and takes material from private and jurisdictional haulers. They serve all of the WalMarts, Sam’s Clubs in the area as well as Hospitals and the University of Northern Colorado. The Denver facility provides collection for hotels such as the Hyatt Regency, Sheraton, and Westin along with numerous catering companies and other accounts. Some hotels get 7 days a week pickup. They provide 65 gallon wheeled tote carts (“toters”) and provide collection twice a week. The toters are lined with biodegradable bags that have been proven compostable in their facilities.

The Stapleton facility is used as a drop-off location since it is the closest site for trucking materials from the different areas. There are two sites, Loveland Recycling and Greeley Greencycle, which allow residents to drop off their organic waste. All load at all facilities are sorted as they are dropped on the tipping floor. If they see petroleum plastic in the load, they will have to reject the entire load which is then sent to the landfill.

Food waste is taken to the Platteville site in Colorado and is mixed with biosolids.

Compost Process: 

Currently, A1 uses a tub/horizontal grinder to grind the mix, then place the mixture into windrows that span 16 feet wide and 9 feet high. They take temperature readings every few inches into the pile and screen the resulting compost at the end.

Size of Operation: 

The different sites range in size from 10 acres to 430 acres. They have the capacity, in Colorado, to accept 150,000 tons of compostable material across all of their sites. In Nevada, their capacity is 25,000 tons. Currently, Colorado is expected to receive about 50,000 tons in 2010 and Nevada to receive 7,500 tons.

The Denver site has one truck that serves that area. They have partnered with Gallegos Sanitation to help serve Northern Colorado.

Dollars and Sense: 

There is a different tipping fee charged for material hauled to the Colorado site versus the Nevada site.

  • $30/ton in Colorado
  • $40/ton in Nevada

A list of merchants that sell their finished product can be found here

Challenges: 

With toters, keeping them clean and keeping them from freezing solid during the winter. Currently, they are lining the toters in Colorado with biodegradable liners. Since plastic bags, even the compostable variety, do pose a problem, A1 is phasing them out. In Las Vegas, bags are not used to line their toters.

Biodegradable plastics pose a problem. They don’t break down unless in optimum conditions, which is about 20” to 40” into the windrow pile. If you turn the pile to get the plastic that’s on the external surface into the middle of the pile, it results in a lot of plastic blowing away. One way they plan to mitigate this problem is by composting the bioplastics in a separate pile with a compost catalyst added and then merging that pile to the larger windrow. Another method is with a new pre-process system. Here they would use the Italian DODA system. This system consists of a vault that tears bags from the tipped load open and expose the contents. A series of paddles stir up the contents and the bags get wrapped around and stuck to the paddles. The bags are removed from the paddles and then pushed well into the compost piles where they can degrade under the optimum conditions.

The DODA system should arrive in June of 2010.

Tips for Replication: 

Have a process for debagging plastic bags or else just do not accept them.

Find a way to optimize windrow conditions; this could be by adding a catalyst to the pile for more rapid biodegradation.

Contact: 

Bob Yost
(970) 454-1711 x3

Brad Williamson
Email: bradwilliamson@a1organics.com