Some businesses start with a very clear intent and steadily grow in pursuit of that single goal. Others are businesses of opportunity, identifying moments of potential and exploring the possibility that those moments may prove fruitful. Missouri Organic Recycling clearly began as a business of opportunity. In 1991, Dave Anderson was a chimney sweep when the State of Missouri banned green waste from landfills. Dave thought the idea of bringing in brush to transform into firewood could be a good opportunity. That never did pan out; but the opportunity opened the door for a much larger and more lucrative opportunity than Dave ever imagined.
“The material my dad ended up taking in was mostly grass and leaves and sticks and twigs,” admits Kevin Anderson, Vice President of Missouri Organic Recycling. “You couldn’t sell that as firewood. So we ended up not really having a choice. We had to evolve and become a true organics business.”
Learning in Real Time
It took a good ten years of trial and error, exploring markets and researching different ways to cure and process the organics they were bringing in. Mulch came first, as it was the most obvious next step in the woody material processing chain. Compost followed, which then led into the production of custom soil blends. And by the middle of the 2000s, Missouri Organic Recycling became one of the leading processors and providers of high-quality organic products in the Kansas City area.
“It’s safe to say we had no idea what we were doing in the beginning,” Kevin says with a chuckle. “But we figured it out. Because of the nature of the kind of material we were getting, you couldn’t sell all of it as a single output. So that forced us to create new products and explore different ideas. We went to yard shows and listened to what people wanted and sold to landscapers and homeowners until we finally arrived at a sustainable offering.”
Pursuing the Food Waste Market
The next opportunity arrived in 2004 when Missouri Organic Recycling began what is now their award-winning FRED program with the support and cooperation of several state and regional organizations.
“Food Residuals Environmental Diversion,” clarifies Kevin. “Our FRED program was born from a $150,000 grant that allowed us to improve our composting pad and purchase a collection truck. With the support of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources we began accepting food waste to divert that material from area landfills.”
At first, the company pursued the proverbial ‘low-hanging fruit’ by partnering with large food producers to accept large quantities of waste and off-spec product.
“We knew we could easily compost that material with no contaminations,” Kevin explains. “It was low margin but big supply that we could count on all the time. Once we built up to a steady customer base of about 10-12 big processor companies, then we began going after the source separated consumer waste from grocery stores, restaurants and corporate cafeterias.”
Solving the Contaminant Challenge
That’s when the real challenges started. SSO can be tremendously valuable but it comes with layers of headaches in trying to extract the inorganic contaminants. Kevin admits that after ten years of that, they were ready to find a better solution.
“We used to just hand sort, then blend everything into compost windrows and hope to clean it on the back end,” he continues. “But that was immensely time consuming, and it made our site a real mess. Larger contaminants would get chopped up with the turner and would blow around. Small pieces kept passing through the screen, it was difficult to achieve product purity.”
In the fall of 2018, that all changed when the company acquired a Tiger organics processing and depackaging system from Ecoverse. The difference has been dramatic. They immediately realized a cost reduction in sorting out contamination, and can easily process material far faster than by hand. To emphasize just how dramatic the savings have been, Kevin offers an economic picture.
Streamlining with a Tiger Food Waste Processor
“Prior to the Tiger, it would take us about $46 per ton to sort and separate contaminants from our incoming food waste stream, including the cost of disposing of the waste we collected. With the Tiger, we expect to cut those costs down to $25 per ton for everything, including the cost to run the machine, and can process material way more quickly than we could manually.”
Several years ago, the Tiger was a revolutionary concept with little competition, but that is no longer the case as other manufacturers have attempted to duplicate its function. Kevin admits they explored several options before making the decision to go with a Tiger.
“We looked at a few other machines but we didn’t like how they performed and the amount of contaminants that they let through. The Tiger was clearly more precise and thorough,” he reviews. “Also, we love how the Tiger is a tight, compact package on a single chassis. No other machines come close to the efficient footprint, and they require so many other component purchases too … conveyors, hoppers. The Tiger is just install and go.”
Today, Missouri Organic Recycling sees about 15,000 tons of SSO pass through their system, but Kevin expects they can easily double that to 30,000 tons within the next two years. He agrees that food waste recycling is not such the odd business that it was five years ago, and as a result the potential is huge.
“Most people really have no idea of the volume of this material that still goes to the landfill,” he concludes. “There are so many opportunities yet to uncover, and we’re excited that we put in the time and effort to be in the position we are today.”