Gretna Sanitation is dedicated to finding ways to reduce the amount of waste and recyclables that wind up in landfills, says company Vice President Andy Harpenau.
“Being a waste hauler gives us the ability to divert waste from the landfill to something much more useful such as composting,” Harpenau says. “Sure, it’s cheaper to mix and dump, but we’ve retained customers just because of the fact that we have higher diversion rates than other haulers.”
As landfills reach their capacity and shut down operations, waste haulers must look for alternative and possibly more distant sites which, when time and transportation costs are figured, results in higher costs passed on to their customers. “Gretna Sanitation believes that if people just recycled and composted more, it would make a world of difference,” says Jean Waters, energy and environmental engineer with the Nebraska Business Development Center (NBDC).
“Gretna Sanitation has established a composting site to reuse and recycle yard waste, turning it into high-value compost,” Waters says. “For the purposes of creating compost from yard waste, Gretna Sanitation does business as Soil Dynamics, successfully diverting 30,000 yards of manure, grass, leaves and wood waste from the landfill.”
Waters says NBDC worked with Gretna Sanitation to identify funding from the Nebraska Environmental Trust and the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality to be used to obtain equipment needed for the composting operation.
“In addition, we have connected Gretna Sanitation with an innovative researcher from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln regarding a unique waste-to-energy project which also results in a high-quality compost soil amendment,” she says. “They truly believe in working with the community to find better ways of handling waste.”
Harpenau says landfill rates and other costs associated with waste hauling will continue to increase. “The Sarpy County landfill was set to close in 2014, but because of the recycling efforts is now projected to stay open until 2016,” he says. “As their rates increase, people will start looking for alternatives.”
Composting is one of the most viable alternatives, Harpenau says. “It’s safer, cleaner and if run properly makes money, too,” he says. “We grind trees and sell mulch and yard waste compost. We’re really trying to make a difference.”
Gretna Sanitation is also experimenting with food-waste composting. They have started with a small plot because neighbors initially expressed concerns about possible odors from the operation. Harpenau says his company will use the pilot-sized food waste operation to be a “proving ground” to help alleviate the neighbors’ apprehension.
Working with entities dedicated to sustainability such as the NBDC and P2RIC affords business people like Harpenau an opportunity to exchange useful information. “When you meet with like-minded individuals,” he says, “you always come away with good ideas.