Washington compost company wins odor lawsuit brought by local resident

Dive Brief:

  • A jury in Snohomish County, WA recently ruled in favor of Cedar Grove Composting in a lawsuit, brought on by a Marysville resident, about alleged odors coming from one of its facilities in the city of Everett. This was the first of four lawsuits filed against the company by more than 350 plaintiffs in 2013, as reported by The Daily Herald.
  • While the jury found that Cedar Grove hadn't unreasonably interfered with residents' enjoyment of their property, nor inflicted any annoyance or harm, many people in the area remain opposed to the facility. Cedar Grove has already settled with plaintiffs in three other lawsuits and previously paid fines for violations cited by the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.
  • This was tried as a bellwether case, which doesn't affect verdicts in other trials but is meant to help provide a sense of how they could go. Cedar Grove said they were happy with the outcome and maintains that the source of local odors can't be determined because of other potential sources in the area, such as two wastewater treatment plants.

Dive Insight:

Cedar Grove processes an estimated 350,000 tons of yard waste and food scraps every year at two facilities in the region, both of which have been the source of local opposition in the years since they opened. The company has reportedly invested millions of dollars in odor control and detection technology to mitigate these complaints. They have also been actively supporting a new state bill to make composting a recognized agricultural activity that would be protected from nuisance lawsuits.

If successful, that bill could help save composting companies money, though it may not change the minds of the local residents that would want to sue them. As companies around the country have learned this often requires ongoing community engagement in addition to technical fixes. The American Biogas Council and Biocycle recently hosted a full-day workshop on the topic and it continues to gain attention as interest in organics diversion grows.

Though rare, it's not unheard of for odor issues to lead to facility closures or stop them from getting approved in the first place. Plans for a composting facility in Hawaii were recently canceled due in part to odor concerns. Local officials in Illinois also recently voted against a planned facility outside of Chicago, though final approval rests with the county in that case.

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Filed Under: Recycling Regulation