MONCKS CORNER — Berkeley County’s waste management overhaul took another step forward Thursday when McGill Environmental Systems announced plans to build an industrial-scale composting operation at the county landfill off U.S. Highway 52.
The North-Carolina-based company had been looking to expand into the Lowcountry for years before entering into a public-private partnership with the county this year. McGill will process the county’s organic waste — yard clippings and treated human waste — in exchange for essentially free land.
The contract was not available Thursday, but county and company officials said McGill will pay only a nominal rent to operate what will be its seventh facility on the site of Berkeley County Water and Sanitation’s yard waste operation.
Mark Schlievert, the county’s director of solid waste, said the arrangement will reduce taxpayer cost and risk while presenting McGill with a business opportunity. He called it “pretty much a wash.”
“If they take the sludge and handle that for us, we’ve already won,” Schlievert said.
McGill’s would be the first such facility in the state, company spokeswoman Lynn Lucas said. The permitting process has just begun, but McGill expects to be open by the end of next year.
The company plans to hire between 15 and 25 people, who will work in roles ranging from plant technicians to drivers. “When we start out, we start out slow,” Lucas said.
James McGill helped develop the idea of the aerated static pile at Rutgers Univeristy in New Jersey in the mid-1970s, Lucas said, and founded the business in 1991. Since then the company has grown to six facilities — two in North Carolina, one in Virginia and three in Ireland — employing nearly 100 workers.
McGill looked at the Bushy Park industrial park near Goose Creek, but building at the landfill made the most sense, according to county and company officials. Lucas would not say how big the local building will be, though Schlievert said it would be expandable.
When it’s completed, McGill will have a combined annual processing capacity of 500,000 tons, according to the company. It now turns out about 400,000 cubic yards of compost products every year.
Gary Gittere, a company sales and marketing manager, said how McGill makes its product, from compostable flatware, food waste and sludge, is a “little bit of a secret.”
According to the company brochure, the process involves computer-controlled air flow through the compost to maintain adequate oxygen for microbes breaking the waste.
Gittere did say McGill’s compost is about two-thirds green waste and one-third post-consumer food waste. Customers for McGill’s line, which includes SoilBuilder and SportsTurf, include garden centers, parks and recreation departments and the S.C. Department of Transportation.
County Supervisor Dan Davis put the company’s arrival in the context of the broader effort to make productive use of the county’s waste.
“I’m sure some of you weren’t expecting to come to talk about garbage and trash, but that’s what we’re here to talk about,” Davis told the crowd at the Berkeley County Council Chamber. “And we’re sort of uniquely qualified to talk about that.”
Last year the county unveiled a methane-gas generator at the landfill, operated by Santee Cooper, with Google buying the associated energy credits. That plant produces enough electricity to power 1,500 homes, Davis said Thursday.
Berkeley also is in talks with a company, BioEnergy, that proposes to build an anaerobic digester at the landfill, the byproduct of which would be biodiesel fuel.
Davis said yet another company is interested in building “an algae operation” at the landfill that would make productive use of other waste streams there.
Davis said some of these technologies sound “science fiction-ish,” but they all are proven and have the potential to make Berkeley County uniquely progressive.
“If we are able to do this,” Davis said, “this will be the only place in the United States where all these processes are going on at the same time. It’s very exciting.”
Reach Brendan Kearney at 937-5906