A new facility just outside Manassas in Prince William County is expected to extend the life of the county’s landfill for 15 years and more than double the county’s yearly composting capability for food and yard waste.
With an official ribbon-cutting today, the new Freestate Farms advanced composting facility on Balls Ford Road will divert an anticipated 80,000 tons of waste each year and reduce the carbon footprint of the county’s Dumfries Road landfill.
The new facility, which more than doubles the capacity of the already-running Freestate Farms composting site, is a public-private partnership built by the company on county land but financed by Freestate Farms. Construction began in 2018 and, at the time, was expected to be completed by the end of 2020.
Deborah Campbell, a spokesperson for the county’s solid waste division, said an audit conducted in 2014-15 showed that about 30% of the waste going into the landfill was food and yard waste.
“So that material had the potential to be composted, which is a much better use of that material than burying it in the landfill because when you bury it in the landfill, once it decomposes then it generates methane -- or greenhouse – gases,” she said.
This weeks’ ribbon-cutting was the culmination of the company’s phase one project at the site. Rich Reidel, a spokesperson for Freestate Farms, said work on phase two -- which would further expand the facility’s throughput to over 100,000 tons per year -- is tentatively scheduled to begin in 2024. Prior to phase one, the facility could compost roughly 30,000 tons of waste.
Reidel said the compost plant will use advances in composting technology to increase the throughput. Material will first be moved through a shredder that will open waste containers and allow the compostables to be separated from other materials by about five workers on a sorting line. Compostable food waste will then be combined with dead plants in “bunkers,” where additional oxygen will be pumped down through the material.
“What you want when you’re composting is air,” he said. “... Oxygen prevents methane gas from being released. Dead leaves will stop it from stinking with the right ratio … which enables us to be a really good local partner in terms of odor.”
After about 15-20 days in the bunkers, the material will then be moved to “mass aeration beds,” after which it will be screened one more time for any material that hasn’t fully composted or wasn’t supposed to be there in the first place. For most material, Reidel said, the process takes about 45 days, much quicker than the facility’s previous turnaround. The final product is then sold as fertilizer.
The county government, businesses and individuals will pay for the composting on a per-ton basis, but Campbell says the plant will probably also receive material from nearby jurisdictions.
“I’m very excited that this is coming online and that we will finally be able to handle yard waste in a more beneficial way to the environment and to our community,” Campbell said. “And hopefully more businesses and more residents will start to use that in place of fertilizer, so we can do yet another thing that helps our environment and is sustainable.”