MUSCATINE, Iowa—When Jon Koch, Water and Resource Recovery Facility Director saw methane gas getting flared off he saw not only waste but opportunity. He saw a chance for Muscatine to begin recycling organics into sustainable energy and to put itself on the map through doing it. After eight years of planning, the City of Muscatine brought the first step of Koch’s vision to life by opening its high strength waste receiving station.
The high strength waste receiving station reduces landfill waste by taking expired food and separating it from any packaging. The reclaimed food gets collected and taken to the water and resource recovery facility for processing in anerobic digesters (used to treat sewage), which convert it into fertilizer and natural gas. The removed packaging gets cleaned during removal, allowing for recycling. In the months ahead, the water and resource recovery facility will restore several decommissioned digesters, allowing the high strength waste receiving station to process more organics and for the City to sell natural gas and fertilizer on a larger scale.
Many large food processing companies have zero waste policies. However, few Midwestern states have high strength waste receiving stations to process their expired food, causing them to travel long distances to responsibly deal with their byproducts. By opening the high strength waste receiving station, Muscatine has marked itself as one of the first cities in the region to offer organics recycling.
West Liberty Foods, a local company with a no waste policy, took advantage of this service for the first time on Jan. 22, the first day the high strength waste receiving station operated. Rick Lindsay, a warehouse manager for West Liberty Foods, shared that the new facility will help his company significantly, reducing the distance expired food must travel for processing and eliminating the need to unpackage it by hand. “I’m going to save quite a bit of money,” he stated. In the lead up to opening the high strength waste receiving station, Koch communicated with ConAgra, Hy-Vee, Hy-Vee distribution, Kraft Heinz, Nestle, and Purina, each of which plans to begin using the facility to experience benefits similar to those Lindsay sees for West Liberty Foods.
As the high strength waste receiving station begins to operate at full capacity, Koch anticipates opening its services to the public. Koch would like to see reusable compost buckets made available to the community that they could return when full or for a local company to begin curbside organics pickup, similar to how trash and recycling get picked up currently.
With the high strength waste receiving station now online, Koch feels pleased with the progress made so far and the additional waste reduction capacity it will have in the future: “I think it’s probably the coolest thing I’ve ever done. It’s the right thing to do,” he said. “I’m pretty proud of our community for saying this is what we want to be known for,” he added. His efforts have helped Muscatine lead the way in sustainability.