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Compost from sewer sludge? It happens

The city of Austin, Texas, sells a soil conditioner it calls “Dillo Dirt,” a compost made of municipal sewage sludge mixed with yard waste, wood chips and sawdust.

The idea behind the popular fertilizer with the armadillo inspired name is to produce a saleable, useful product out of waste that otherwise would wind up in a landfill.



Someday, Nevada County may have to come up with a catchy name for its own for a sewage sludge product – perhaps “Guano del Oro.”




At least, county officials listened with interest Thursday as organic farming expert Bob “Amigo Bob” Cantisano talked about turning yard waste into compost at the McCourtney Road Transfer Station.

The county could heap grass clippings, pine needles and other organic material into long, narrow piles called windrows, add water and mix it regularly using low-maintenance heavy equipment, Cantisano explained during a slide show he presented to the county’s Solid and Hazardous Waste Commission.

At the end of three months, the steaming piles of yard waste would be transformed into compost, which the county probably could sell, Cantisano said.

“This is a way to recycle things and make some money,” he said.

Those at the meeting asked if the windrows would produce dust or odor, or attract insects.

“No dust problems,” Cantisano said. “If you do it right, you’ll have no odor or fly problems.”

“(Sewage) sludge could definitely be composted” for such things as landscaping, he said, but homeowners probably wouldn’t want to use it on their gardens.

He said the city of Los Angeles sells sewage sludge to a company called Kellogg Supply Inc., which uses it in retail fertilizer products.

As in Austin, Nevada County officials are eyeing the possibility of composting sludge from its sewage plants. They said the idea is at a very early stage.

Tracey Harper, county recycling coordinator, announced that the county was selected to get technical assistance from the state to develop the concept of using sewage sludge compost to reforest areas still scarred by hydraulic mining.

The U.S. Forest Service would very much like to use this compost because lack of organic matter on old hydraulic mine sites has thwarted past reforestation efforts, she said.

Cantisano said he’s traveled the world helping set up composting programs, including in India, Mexico and El Salvador.


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