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Organic compost sites becoming large business ventures

| Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014, 6:30 p.m.

ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Right now, it's just a slab of asphalt. But Jamie Phenow envisions piles of food slowly breaking down and turning into rich compost.

The general manager of Tri-County Organics hopes the central Minnesota compost site will start receiving food scraps this month and turning them into a useful product sold to farmers, gardeners and landscape companies.

“Now it's not being landfilled or incinerated,” Phenow said. “It's being reintroduced to the soil, where it should be.”

Tri-County is among a rising number of privately owned compost facilities across the country, part of a growing focus on recycling food scraps, paper towels and other organic materials that make up a large part of the garbage stream.

Recycling experts say composting organic waste is a big opportunity to create a useful product and reduce the amount of garbage going into landfills and incinerators.

“It's definitely part of a larger trend,” said Darby Hoover, senior resource specialist with the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 36 million tons of food waste was generated in 2011. Food makes up nearly a quarter of municipal solid waste, more than any other single material.

Small-scale efforts to recycle food waste have been going on for years. Many homeowners collect kitchen scraps for backyard compost piles, and some large institutions such as hospitals and universities have their own composting systems. But until recently, some states such as Minnesota had few sites where garbage haulers, businesses and residences could take organic waste.

“It's just expanding. It's an evolving opportunity,” Phenow said. “And it's the right thing to do. It's so much better than landfilling.”

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