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UGA Bioconversion Center Can Help Solve Waste Problems

Bioconversion is a big word for a simple idea. Mostly, it's composting. And University of Georgia
scientists are using it to eliminate waste problems.

Simply put, bioconversion is turning materials that can be toxic to the environment into safe,
value-added products. It's the wave of the future as more and more landfills fill up and close.

At the UGA Bioconversion Research and Demonstration Facility in Athens, considered by waste
management experts to be one of the best in the nation, researchers study how to handle waste.

"We're taking the university's waste products, from animal bedding in the barns to leaves and
grass clippings, and composting them," said Wayne McLaurin, an Extension Service horticulturist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

"The composted product is then put back into the university landscape as mulch and soil
amendments," he said.

But the university is just one of Georgia's waste producers.

"For example, Georgia food processors produce millions of tons of by-products and waste every
year," McLaurin said. "Getting rid of all that waste is a big economic burden for industry."

The state is urging a 25 percent reduction in solid waste going to landfills over the next two years.

The bioconversion research focuses on trimming waste volume, creating alternative products,ΓΏ preventing groundwater pollution, developing soil amendments, using hard-to-convert compounds and minimizing odors.

The new facility is a cooperative effort between the CAES and Georgia Tech.

The seven-acre facility has four acres of windrow composting, complete with viewing windows to
view the layers of compost. It also has, among other things, enzyme digestion tanks for composting
chicken carcasses from poultry farms.

Right now, the windrow composting includes four piles eight feet high, 10 feet wide and more
than 200 feet long. Each stack reaches about 140 degrees inside. And each has to be turned once a
month to incorporate all the material.

"When you compost, the original mass is reduced by 70 percent in the breakdown," McLaurin
said. "It's great to have the compost in this kind of facility. People can see the stages the compost is in, the process it goes through and the ways we use it to make the university grounds beautiful."

"This project allows us to use all our waste," McLaurin said. "It saves landfill space and saves all
our dumping fees. It makes a usable product out of a waste product. And we're helping nature
recycle."

Twice a year, the UGA scientists offer training in waste management and composting for city site
managers, landfill compost operators and workers from private operations.

"During these trainings, we offer hands-on experience in all the phases of composting," McLaurin
said. "We're able to discuss the biological process, the materials you can use, the chemical process
and the application of it, and all the University-generated materials we're working with."

The next compost training will be in March. To learn more about it, contact your county extension agent.

(Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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