Ask Paducah - Compost Facility

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Rick MurphyCompost Facility

You may not realize it, but Paducah is known across Kentucky for its recycling efforts.  Located at 1560 North 8th Street is a large City of Paducah facility that provides the community with a product for purchase and recycles tons of organic material.  The Compost Facility keeps brush, limbs, leaves, grass clippings, and sludge from entering a landfill.  For this edition of Ask Paducah, City Engineer-Public Works Director Rick Murphy explains how this facility got started and how it works. 

How did the Compost Facility get started?   The Compost Facility is a local service initiated in the mid-1990s by the City of Paducah Solid Waste Division in cooperation with the former City of Paducah Wastewater Treatment Division.  This is before the creation of the Joint Sewer Agency (JSA).  Former employees, Wastewater Plant Superintendent Kevin Murphy and Solid Waste Superintendent Sarah Phillips, worked together to create the facility. 

How does it operate?  The bulk, organic yard waste is collected around the city and ground into a mulch-like substance.  Then, the waste product from the wastewater treatment plant, known as sludge which has the appropriate biological properties, is mixed with the ground up organic waste.  After the sludge and mulch are mixed together, they “cook” outside in compost rows for 30 to 45 days maintaining a constant core temperature of 135 to 145 degrees.  Periodically, a large piece of equipment (a scarab) which looks like a gigantic rototiller is used to agitate the compost rows.  The time it takes for the compost to “cook” varies depending upon the weather and moisture content.  The decomposition process creates a significant amount of heat which means the employees monitor the temperatures and watch to prevent spontaneous combustion. 

The facility is staffed by a supervisor, an operator, and a laborer.  Also, a couple of times a year, we have a grinding contractor come in to grind the material into a usable form.  The grinding costs us about $100,000 per year.  If you look at the annual budget for the facility, it operates with a deficit; however, you have to look at the benefit it provides by keeping the city from paying to put all that green material in a landfill.

How is the facility providing a recycling benefit?  The facility was created to reduce disposal costs by preventing tons of brush and other organic matter in addition to wastewater sludge from entering a landfill.  The City of Paducah pays for each ton of material that is taken to a landfill or hauled off for recycling.  In 2015, the Facility turned 20,161 tons of brush, leaves, and other debris into compost.  Using the current cost of $41 per ton for disposal at a landfill, the Facility saved nearly $827,000 in disposal fees.  Regarding the wastewater sludge, 6861 tons were used in 2015.  That substance costs more in disposal and would have cost around $343,000.  So together, this Facility kept more than 27,000 tons of material from entering a landfill which would have cost nearly $1.2 million in disposal costs.  Those are impressive recycling numbers.

Is the product safe to use in gardens and flowerbeds?  Yes, the product is safe to use in gardens and flowerbeds.  We use it across the City in the parks.  It may have an initial odor, but it quickly dissipates.  The product is tested every two months for items such as fecal coliform bacteria, pH, and heavy metals such as mercury, selenium, lead, and copper.

Can the public purchase the compost?  Yes, we have several products for the public to purchase.  The premium compost and the leaf compost, which is a little fluffier, cost $15 for a 2 ½ yard bucket.  For that cost, we will gladly load up your trailer or the bed of your pick-up truck.  We also have two products that are only $5 for a bucket-load.  Those products are the wood chips and the wood chip compost.  They have larger pieces of organic material in them.

The Compost Facility is open Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m.  We also urge City residents to drop off their brush and limbs at the facility at no charge.  There is a charge for commercial entities such as lawn services to drop off materials.  

Any plans to expand the facility?  I would like to increase our production surface as well as improve our bulk storage area.  We bought a trommel screen a few years ago to screen the wood chip compost to create a more consistent, homogenous product of higher quality.  Our product now is even a higher grade.  Plus, we have had companies come in and buy our compost by the semi-load to use at reclamation sites.  Our product has environmentally-friendly properties that are good for the reclamation of previously contaminated sites.

You seem to be proud of this product and the facility’s history.  The City of Paducah Compost Facility was the first of its kind in Kentucky and the surrounding area.  We often get inquiries from other cities about the process and the cost savings.  Recently, representatives from Louisville and Henderson visited our site to look at our model.  When you consider the quality of the material compared against the cost of the material, it’s second to none.


For more information, visit Compost Facility or call 270-444-8567.  


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(Edition 8 – August 23, 2016)