Wayne County compost project fuels up with highway roadkill

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SALEM, Ohio – Motorists traveling through Wayne County on U.S. Route 30 are probably seeing fewer dead deer in the median and along the road’s shoulder.

That’s because Bill Leitch, county highway manager, and his crews are busy collecting the carcasses to use as fuel for their latest project.

A Wayne County pilot program started in January 2001 by the Department of Transportation composts the deer. The county is involved in the project because of ongoing compost research at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster.

Just for deer. “Mother Nature gets us every year, especially at this time, and there are always a bunch of carcasses laying out there that nobody likes to see,” Leitch said.

“This program is just for deer, which are really the only animals we usually take off the roads,” he said. The removal of some large dogs is also permitted, but they can’t be used in the composting project.

Highway workers “don’t really bring many deer in,” but sometimes are dispatched “to pick up stinky animals, bones in yards, and animals that cause a public nuisance,” he said.

Art, not science. The deer compost project is more of an art than a science.

“You can set up all the rules and guidelines you want, but in the end, it comes down to just doing it as you go,” Leitch said.

The Wayne County project allows the department of transportation to use materials they have on hand, including manpower and roadkill, in the Class II facility. The bins used to contain the compost are fashioned from concrete highway barriers – the same ones used in infamous construction zones – placed end to end in a 12-foot by 12-foot square. The only other ingredient is moist ‘green’ sawdust.

“The key to successful composting of any type is moisture and air. We are using the dust between the carcasses to allow that air to get in and do the job,” Leitch said of the quicker aerobic compost method.

Oxygen plays an important role in odor reduction and elimination in composting.

Layered. Sawdust and carcasses are layered alternately, including a 12-inch base layer of moist sawdust. A 2-foot deep layer of sawdust is maintained to cover the pile, in order to avoid odors and protect the pile from scavengers.

Temperatures are recorded inside the pile at regular intervals, as required by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. The piles create heat as the composting occurs, normally reaching between 130-170 degrees, and then dropping to stabilize near 110 degrees.

The process takes roughly 90 days, Leitch said, depending on the weather and other conditions. A loader is used to mix and turn the pile.

Inspection of the compost during turning shows no signs of hide or flesh, few bone remnants and no odor. Odor-causing bacteria like salmonella and E. coli are naturally filtered through the decomposition process.

The compost is also tested for minerals, maturity and pathogen content. State regulations also require cured compost from animal carcasses be tested for metals, foreign matter, pH, and salinity.

After 90 more days, the compost is mixed in equal proportions with fresh sawdust and reused to start the process again.

Stockpiles. Leitch is currently working with four piles, all of which came from the original source.

“Obviously, over time the volume will easily build up if we continue the project,” Leitch said.

The department intends to use the compost in land applications, including mixing with topsoil for roadway seedings, but does not intend to pursue the project any further.

“It’s really not that exciting, just four piles of sawdust laying around,” Leitch said.

Since composting is not the core business of the ODOT, Leitch is working to advocate the establishment of larger and more efficient compost facilities in each county or region, each capable of handling a wide variety of animal carcasses. Currently, the composting project is private and not open to the public for carcass disposal.

“Farmers everywhere have been doing this for years with their dead livestock, so the whole idea is nothing new. The idea of using roadkill is new though, so it will be interesting to see where we go from here,” Leitch said.

Facility. Ohio Class II solid waste composting facilities accept only source-separated yard and animal wastes, authorized bulking agents, and other materials, such as animal carcasses. Bulking agents include straw, sawdust, and shredded newspaper and cardboard.

Most farm animals, including chickens, hogs, cattle and horses can be composted at Class II facilities. Ohio law requires animals used to be free of infectious diseases, according to the state EPA.

A state license and registration must also be secured to operate the facility, and financial assurance, which assures funds will be available for the proper closure of the facility, must also be provided.

There are currently nine Class II facilities statewide registered with the EPA’s Division of Solid and Infectious Waste Management.

For more information on composting or solid waste management, contact the Ohio EPA at 614-644-2621.

(You can contact Andrea Myers at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)

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