System at Work - The Nantucket Story
Founded in 1659, Nantucket island lies 30 miles out in the Atlantic Ocean, south of Cape Cod.
Long a maritime and fishing center with a year-round population of 10,000, Nantucket also enjoys a lively summer tourist trade attracted by the fair weather, historic cobblestone streets, and old brick downtown buildings.
Behind the scenes, the ever growing popularity and population of the island placed increasing strain on the infrastructure, particularly as it related to the treatment of solid waste.
As the old Town landfill grew increasingly larger, it became thronged by
seagulls, feeding from the hill of trash.
By 1995, the Town of Nantucket was facing a serious crisis over its solid waste handling and the costs associated with it. In 1994, the State of Massachusetts, mandated that Nantucket close its landfill, and its waste be shipped off island for disposal on the mainland. If this were to occur, the trash bills for all islanders would quadruple.
Looking to the Future
The Town, faced with these financial and wasted disposal troubles, acted to control its future waste disposal options, while simultaneously keeping its costs down. In 1996, Waste Options, Inc., a Rhode Island-based company, was selected by the Town of Nantucket to implement a totally integrated solid waste disposal program. This aggressive program would tackle the issues of landfill clean-up, recycling and composting. The Town saw this as the way to secure its future both environmentally and economically.
The Nantucket Solid Waste Recycling and Composting Facility is the most comprehensive in the Commonwealth. The estimated amount of materials recycled and diverted from landfilling is close to
80%. The facility combines traditional recycling of metals, plastic, paper, cardboard and glass with the recycling of more difficult items such as tires, refrigerators, stoves, mattresses, sofas, chairs, clothing and shoes. Additionally, construction & demolition waste, wood waste and yard waste are processed and recycled.
Additionally, a state of the art, enclosed in-vessel composting system, which converts organic wastes and municipal biosolids into valuable topsoil, results in landfilling no more than 20% of all incoming materials. This "residue" is inert, non-polluting and is baled and deposited into a balefill. In December 1999, the Town of Nantucket, in conjunction with Waste Options, unveiled a state-of-the-art co-composting facility at the Madaket Road landfill site. An imposing though well-hidden structure built around a long cylindrical digester, the facility is one more component in what is probably the most comprehensive municipal waste management system ever established.
The compost produced by the Waste Options Nantucket facility will exceed the quality standards of both the federal EPA and Commonwealth of Massachusetts. A strong market exists for this material and, based on a market survey conducted during 1999, the volume of compost produced at Nantucket represents only 20% of the estimated demand for organic material on the island. Landscaping is the primary utilization of organic soil amendments and topsoil on Nantucket.
This innovative facility promises that Nantucket will achieve the highest recycling rate in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It saves the island millions of dollars, while providing a solution to the island's wastes well into the 21st century, and insulates against ultimate banning of incineration.
Nantucket's waste problems were not entirely its own making. The challenges of managing refuse on an island are substantial, and have been compounded by the island's dramatic growth. Islands have a finite amount of space for anything, and for trash and sludge in particular. As early as 15 years ago, it was apparent that the day when the Nantucket Landfill could hold no more was fast approaching; expansion was not realistic: the landfill is bounded by protected wetlands area and a fragile ecosystem that does not mix well with municipal waste. Another solution was needed: if you had no more room, you had to have less waste.
By the late 1980s, problems at the Madaket site had worsened. The hill of garbage was larger and more unsightly. Waste material had leached from the landfill into the surrounding wetlands, threatening both wildlife and the island's drinking water aquifer. The Town chose to privatize the entire operation.
The Waste Options Solution
It was in 1997 that Waste Options signed a 25-year contract with the Town of Nantucket. As part of the contract, Waste Options would operate the Town's landfill, operate its constructed Materials Recycling Facility (MRF), and build a state-of-the-art co-composting facility at their Madaket site. In the two years that followed, Waste Options has cleaned up the landfill, restored eight acres of wetlands, shipped eight barge loads of tires off island, reduced the population of seagulls at the landfill from 25,000 to just several hundred, and increased Nantucket's recycling rate from 17 percent to 42 percent, ranking it as the community in Massachusetts with the highest rate of recycling. Since the composter began operation in December 1999, that rate has jumped to close to 90%.
The principle behind Waste Options' style of composting is as brilliant as it is simple. All organic matter, over time, decomposes and becomes soil humus. The problem is that, in nature, this decomposition process takes scores, if not hundreds, of years. Thus, while metals, glass and other recyclables can be easily removed from a waste stream and reused, organic matter often sits in landfills, and as it breaks down it releases gases and leachate that escape into the environment. Since up to 70 percent of the average American city's waste stream is organic, landfills often become environmental crises.
A composting digester is an environment full of microbes. As trash and sewage sludge are fed inside, the cylinder rotates, exposing the waste to more and more microbes, which actually accelerates the decomposition process. The household waste and sludge that enter one end of the digester, emerge at the other as compost after only a few days.
Optimal conditions for decomposition are created in the digester, a situation that in nature rarely occurs.
The benefits are obvious. By removing the need to bury organic waste, a town gets a cleaner, longer-lasting and smaller landfill. And in Nantucket's case, a composter, when added to the existing program of recycling glass, metal, paper, construction and demolition waste, and tires, will result in a community-wide recycling rate that is projected to approach 90 percent.
What Waste Options has built on Nantucket is a system that will meet the specific needs of
the island, a system equal to the task of protecting a place and a natural environment that countless people cherish. The vision of the Town government in deferring to the private sector is to be applauded.
The advantages of a public/private partnership are many. In particular, the private sector can act more quickly, and implement innovation more easily while achieving the public goal.
"Not only are we environmentally compliant now," said Nantucket Selectman Tim Soverino, "but the manner in which we have chosen to handle our solid waste, to the best of our knowledge, has not been done anywhere in the world. Waste products on Nantucket will either be composted, recycled, or landfilled in our lined state-of-the-art landfill. In addition, waste in the existing landfill will be run through the same process, so, instead of just forgetting our past, we will clean that up as well."
Waste Options' success on Nantucket has been a result not only of its partnership with the Town, but also of its ability to partner with other private sector corporations. To build the Nantucket composting facility, Waste Options enlisted the building engineering expertise of Boston-based construction engineering firm Stone & Webster, the permitting knowledge of SECOR and the financial muscle of KeyBank in Portland, Maine. The cumulative resources of these companies allow Waste Options to be a small business with the experience and capital of a giant.
"We were delighted to participate as the senior lender in this project," KeyBank's Noel Graydon said. "Not only because we've gained a tremendous new partner in Waste Options, but also because we have contributed to a project that benefits the Nantucket community, and the overall effort to protect the environment."
Alan Benevides, the project leader for SECOR, agrees. He has helped permit over 25 landfill projects in Massachusetts, and he has called Nantucket's the finest facility in the Commonwealth.
Summary of Facility Operations
Materials Recovery Facility (MRF)
- Co-Compost Facility
- Construction & Demolition (C&D) Processing Building
- Take It or Leave It (TILI)
- Storage Building (batteries, paint, etc.)
- Metals Staging Area
- Tree and Brush Chipper Area
- Leaf and Yard Waste Compost Area
- Lined Landfill Cell Area
- Landfill Mining
- Hard to Manage Waste (HTMW) Trailer
- Tire Staging Area
Commercial Haulers and private citizens bring standard recyclable material to the MRF, where they are then baled, stored and shipped to a number of outlets on the mainland. These materials include cardboard, newspaper, magazines, mixed paper, mixed plastics, steel and aluminum. Glass is collected separately at two designated areas (commercial and non-commercial) and used as beneficial daily cover for the landfill, which is considered recycling by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Additionally, Styrofoam packaging (peanuts) is collected at the MRF and distributed to local shippers for re-use. Finally, 5 cent bottles and cans are collected at the MRF, and at an on-site "Boy Scout Booth" and shipped off island at the rate of thousands per month.
Municipal solid waste (MSW), commercial solid waste (CSW) and dewatered sludge is delivered to the tip floor at the compost plant by licensed haulers. The Town Department of Public Works delivers the sludge by truck. All MSW and CSW arrives in clear plastic bags.
Residue from the compost plant goes to the lined facility, but not before removing metals and finding a recycle home for any plastics in the residue.
The compost produced is cured for approximately one month inside and then removed from the site to be mixed and manufactured into loam and other beneficial products. The screening plant in the the compost facility has been designed so as to remove any foreign material from the compost.
All construction and demolition (C&D) materials are delivered to the C&D processing building, which is large enough to hold at least one week's worth of C&D waste. Clean construction wood, pallets, etc., are sent to a chipper after removing any usable wood to place at the Take It or Leave It for citizen use. Hard to separate demolition, etc., is crushed and separated. All clean wood is chipped and beneficially used. Metals are sent to the metal staging area. Concrete and rubble, stone, etc., is stockpiled for re-use. Non-recyclable wastes, asphalt shingles, etc., is disposed of in the lined cell. Old boats, furniture, etc. comes to the C&D processing building. Dirt and fill materials from construction sites are screened and the component parts sent to the proper area, i.e., metals, wood, sand, soil and bricks.
The Take It or Leave It (TILI) building is a drop-exchange location for anyone who wishes to use it. It is monitored closely to avoid improper disposal of wastes; however, many quality items are saved from the landfill. If an item does not get picked up, it is sent to its proper venue for disposal and/or recycling. All textiles (shoes, belts, hats, clothes, coats) are removed from the TILI at the end of each day and recycled through a charitable organization.
Trees, brush, limbs and land clearing material are brought to the brush and chipper area near the C&D building. All of this material is reused as landscape material. There is a leaf and yard waste compost area to mature these items. All of this matter is turned, cured and reused for landscape purposes.
All metal is recycled. All metal items are collected at the metal staging area where they are trucked or barged off island. All large appliances (less refrigerants) are deposited at a special trailer for delivery to the staging area. All refrigerants are delivered to the rear of the MRF, where freon is safely removed by a specialist and a sticker attached before removal to the metal pile.
Hard to manage waste (HTMW) such as mattresses, box springs, rugs, couches, stuffed chairs, etc., are collected at the HTMW trailer. They are then shipped to a merchant in Hyannis where cotton, wood and other components are removed to be recycled and reused.
All tires are delivered to the tire staging area. The rims must be removed and placed in the metal pile. The tires are then sent to recyclers on the mainland.
We have established an outlet for all cathode ray tubes.