Biosolids compost

The City of Missoula collects and treats wastewater generated in the Missoula area. They produce about 2,000 dry metric tons of biosolids each year, which are sent via a conveyer belt to their neighboring compost facility, formerly EKO Compost. In 2012, the City of Missoula bought the land under EKO Compost for $1.5 million and in 2016, the City bought EKO Compost itself. Now Missoula makes about 25,000 finished cubic yards each year of their city owned compost product – Garden City Compost. Garden City Compost is in high demand and is sold in bulk to local customers.  

Biosolids compost Missoula
Starr Sullivan, the City's wastewater superintendent, holds a handful of Garden City compost.  Credit: Tom Bauer, Missoulian

EKO Compost was a private company started by Dr. Joseph Horvath in 1977 to take advantage of biosolids produced at the Missoula Wastewater Treatment facility for making compost. It was a successful private/public partnership that lasted until the City of Missoula purchased it in 2016 and opened Garden City Compost.  

biosolids conveyor
100% of biosolids are delivered from the treatment plant to the neighboring compost facility via conveyor.    Credit: Starr Sullivan

In 2015, EKO Compost informed the City that they wanted to sell the composting business. The City jumped at the offer. A city-owned composting facility, next door to the treatment plant, gave the City a composting site with virtually no transportation costs and ensured complete control over its biosolids and their beneficial reuse. 

Purchasing EKO Compost seemed too good to be true. And it was. First, the City had to negotiate with the State regulatory agency. Through some negotiation with the State it was agreed the City could proceed with a permit and operational approval.  But the challenges kept coming. Next, the City had to deal with unmaintained equipment. EKO Compost had virtually stopped repairing and maintaining their equipment many years prior to the City purchasing the compost facility. A considerable amount of capital was needed to repair and replace the equipment and improve management of the facility and the organization of the green waste drop off program. Poorly maintained equipment meant that odor complains from the neighbors were a constant issue, and that the City could only sell bulk compost since the EKO bagging operation and equipment was in poor condition and not cost effective. Helping the City through all these challenges was Anderson Montgomery of Helena, Montana, a consultant firm hired to help the City with transition.

green yard waste
Green yard waste is loaded into a grinder prior to composting.  
Credit: Tom Bauer, Missoulian

Now, the City is working to improve the operations and management of the facility and to make the necessary capital investments. The City has toured other successful compost facilities to gain input on lessons learned and best practices. The biggest asset the City acquired was the retention of some of the EKO employees. Once given resources and support of the City and with their experience and knowledge they are slowing improving all aspects of the operation and maintenance of the compost facility. In addition, the City will install two new 40-horsepower aerator blowers to help eliminate odors. The folks in and around Missoula have been very supportive of beneficial reuse of the biosolids and green waste but one issue of concern by the community that’s familiar to all Northwest Biosolids members is odor control. Odor has been the number one complaint by the treatment plant and composting facility’s neighbors for several years.  The new aeration blowers will help control odors and improve the composting process, resulting in a better product. The City has strong commitment to these goals.

The City's two new 40-horsepower aeration blowers, prior to installation.
Credit: Tom Bauer, Missoulian

The City has done internet outreach, conducted one on one contacts with businesses, done interviews with the local media, and sent out over 20,000 newsletters to residents of Missoula. It will take some time but I truly believe the City is committed to and will achieve a “show case’ compost facility in the next few years.