- Entrepreneur Andy Harpenau has proposed that Omaha, Nebraska create a new compost product by mixing the city's sewage sludge with yard waste, according to the Omaha World-Herald and others. The city currently doesn't use its sludge, which is solid, cleaned-up human and industrial waste, from the wastewater treatment plant.
- The Soil Dynamics founder says his company already is performing a similar process on some waste. He says the process would be more efficient and beneficial than the city simply producing and selling its Oma-Gro compost, which is made from collected yard waste.
- Last year, Omaha spent $900,000 to haul its sludge and about $40,000 for farmers to store it. The city spends about $3.5 million annually to collect yard waste, and it makes less than $200,000 annually on Oma-Gro, which doesn't cover the estimated $1 million production costs.
Omaha's waste collection program has gained attention recently as the city considers what to include in its next 10-year waste collection contract, which must be in place by 2020. Waste Management holds the current contract.
What to do with yard waste has been a major point of contention, and disagreement has created difficulty with the contract bidding process. Omaha residents previously had received unlimited, year-round yard waste collection, but leaders believe that has become far too expensive and haulers therefore won't bid on a contract that includes it. Initial estimates the mayor referenced this spring put the new waste hauler cost at about $30 million a year, nearly double Waste Management's $16 million per year contract.
Waste Management's existing contract requires the company to separately collect Omaha residents' trash and yard waste during peak season, about 35 weeks each year, with trash going to landfill and yard waste getting turned into Oma-Gro. But problems such as a shortage of drivers have delayed and shortened Waste Management's separate collection periods and have created frustration among city officials. The separate yard waste collection constitutes about a quarter of the $16 million annual hauler contract cost.
The Soil Dynamics compost product proposal claims it could ease some of the new waste contract costs through increased efficiency. Harpenau's vision involves a bid for a private company to oversee Omaha's wastewater treatment operations, which he says would reduce the cost of making sludge. The private company would engage in a profit-sharing model with the city by splitting the money made by selling the new compost product to farmers and gardeners. Soil Dynamics reportedly sells out of its similar compost product every year.
The Soil Dynamics plan doesn't include specifics about how it would offset yard waste hauling costs, a sticking point for Omaha leaders. Officials also note the plan likely would require millions of dollars in upgrades to the wastewater treatment plant to produce a cleaner sludge that could be used in gardens and backyards. Some city council members suggest that the compost product idea is at least worth looking into during hauler contract considerations.