Turning our trash into cash

Gibson

The air is filled with gulls and buzzards and eagles as bulldozers push piles of household hash into neat rows that represent the future of the planet.

Harvey Gibson, compost manager for Charleston County, shoves a long temperature probe into a seven-foot-tall pile and watches the needle move upward of 130 degrees.

"It's pasteurizing," Gibson said. "This one is about done. We'll be turning it over a few more times and then it will be ready to use as compost."

Looking around, there is row after row of this brown stuff that once was growing in our yards. After we hauled it out to the street, it was collected and deposited here, where it will serve as cover for the landfill or be sold back to you to make your garden grow.

A fairly new process, full-scale composting is a byproduct of the county's decision to shut down a decades-old trash incinerator. It's a green answer to the burning question of what to do with our trash.

April special

A massive complex West of the Ashley, Bee's Ferry Landfill has been receiving truckloads of trash for decades. But management of our waste products is changing fast, and for the better.

All your yard work effort shows up here in the form of 400 trucks a week loaded with 2,500 tons of trash that will be converted into dark, rich compost.

After it's ground up, it sits in long rows where biological processes "cook" the material for several days to eliminate weed seeds.

Whereas the county once purchased dirt to lay a cover on the landfill each day, this compost material now serves that purpose and cuts costs.

The rest is bagged and sold to the public. To publicize the new process, the county is running an April special, selling 20-pound bags of compost for $1, or a ton for only $5.

Learning curve

Charleston County is actually ahead of the game on this issue that every government entity will be forced to deal with.

"This not only converts yard trash into useable material, it prolongs the lifespan of the landfill," Gibson said. "I'm proud of what we're doing out here. It's like watching a new baby grow."

The biggest issue for composting is getting all the plastic out of the product when it arrives. There is an effort afoot to get people to use reusable packaging. But it's all part of the huge learning curve that lies ahead.

Indeed, many people are composting at home now, something Gibson sees as the wave of the future.

"More home composting would actually put us out of business," he said with a laugh. "We're a long way from that, but what a way to go."

Reach Ken Burger at kburger@postandcourier.com or 937-5598.