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Get Stuffed - Food waste need not be wasted

A Canadian company converts food waste into fertilizer on an industrial scale Every crust you don’t finish, every leaf that wilts, every piece of meat that turns bad or gets left on the bone typically winds up in Whistler’s landfill, taking

A Canadian company converts food waste into fertilizer on an industrial scale

Every crust you don’t finish, every leaf that wilts, every piece of meat that turns bad or gets left on the bone typically winds up in Whistler’s landfill, taking up valuable space and adding to the stench that has caused more than one mountain biker to go over the bars.

Or at least that used to be the case.

International Bio-Recovery Corp. of North Vancouver is offering an alternative to local restaurants and grocery stores – keep the organic waste separate, and they will haul it to their central facility to convert it into a high-grade fertilizer.

A lot of people raise a stink about garbage – IBR harvests it.

The conversion process, which was developed by IBR is called auto-genous thermophilic aerobic digestion – a unique system that uses bacteria and oxygen to speed up the natural decomposition process.

The kitchen waste is first sorted into solids and liquids, removing as many non-biodegradable products, such as metal, glass and plastic, as possible. The solid waste is sent to one facility for extended treatment. The liquid part forms a slurry which is fed through screens to remove more non-biodegradables.

The remarkable part of IBR’s process is that it can process biodegradable waste materials that have 20 per cent non-biodegradables in the mix – traditional methods of treating biodegradable wastes have been unable to effectively process waste with high quantities of contaminants. Their process also allows for the digestion of meat and other animal products, something that conventional composting can’t do.

The slurry then enters the digestion process, and waxed cardboard waste can be added to the mix to help balance solid and liquid content.

The thermophilic aerobic treatment provides enhanced aeration using a system that was developed and patented by IBR.

The aeration device is submerged, saturating the slurry with the oxygen bacteria need to thrive. After digestion, the slurry is cleaned, de-watered, and dried out for conversion into pellet fertilizers.

There is no real smell associated with an IBR plant thanks to a biological air cleaner. Nor is there any release of harmful gases or toxic liquid waste – these waste byproducts are generally associated with anaerobic decomposition that occurs in landfills.

The plant is also operated in negative air pressure, ensuring environmental integrity and that the neighbours never get a whiff of what’s going on up the street.

IBR also charges less per kilogram than the landfill would – about $55 a ton. They also use their own trucks and independent contractors to keep the waste coming.

Nesters Market and Pharmacy was one of the first businesses in Whistler to start sending their organic waste to IBR, and according to store manager Bruce Stewart it’s been a relatively painless process.

"It makes a little more work for us, separating garbage, but it’s forced us to be more aware of our garbage, and more aware of what we’re sending to the landfill. Any time we can reduce the amount of waste we’re sending the landfill, we’re always going to do our part," says Stewart.

From an economic standpoint, Stewart says the daily cost of sending waste to IBR are about the same as landfill costs.

"It’s just a wash. When we do the math we found that it’s not costing us more to do it. There’s no benefit other than being a good community company and being a bit more environmentally friendly."

Stewart estimates that Nesters diverts about 200 pounds of meat and produce away from the landfill every day to IBR, or more than 10 per cent of their total garbage load.

The IBR plant in North Vancouver has been processing about 100 tons a day, the maximum capacity for a plant of its size, says IBR corporate communications director Daniela Louie. From that point it takes five days to process – one day to separate, 72 hours to digest, and another day to make and package the fertilizer pellets.

IBR is in the process of opening up another plant in Ladysmith on Vancouver Island, and has received orders for plants from as far away as Singapore and Indonesia.

"We’re lucky in Canada that we have a lot of space to dump our garbage, and spread it out. In places like Europe and Asia where it’s very congested and very polluted, they don’t have a choice anymore," says Louie. "Because you don’t wind up with gases, smells, or a danger of explosions you can put a plant almost anywhere."

In addition to relieving the pressure on landfills, and avoiding the creation of greenhouse gas and water pollution associated with biological waste in landfills, IBR is also returning nutrients to the soil.

"When we eat we take the nutrients from the land, and are not really putting anything back. We deplete the soil this way, and have to use more fertilizers and more chemicals to grow our food. By converting what we don’t eat into fertilizer, we are putting the nutrients back," says Louie.

This will be the first year that IBR fertilizer will be available to the public. Although the original plant opened in 1998, it wasn’t until the last six months that the research and development was completed.

The test results for the fertilizer are better than they every imagined they would be, and according to Louie, it will lower the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides in agriculture.

"It’s a lot to take in all at once, but this technology is new, and we’re still learning about all the benefits."

IBR’s current list of client/customers in the Lower Mainland includes the airport, the Hotel Vancouver, and the Fairmont Hotel chain.

For more information on IBR, visit their website at www.ibrcorp.com.