After talking to Starr at the Missoula Wastewater Division about EKO Compost, we couldn’t resist going over the fence and prodding around a bit. We found ourselves an impromptu tour with Jason, the work supervisor that day. If there were any reluctance about the sanitation of the compost material, it was all eliminated when Jason offered his compost-covered hand and shook ours willingly and enthusiastically. He apologized for his experience with only the practical side of making EKO Compost but his tour was very educational.
The EKO Compost is made up of two types of materials: biosolids from the local treatment plant and organic material from the community. EKO Compost is located directly adjacent from the Missoula Wastewater Division separated only by a small fence.
A conveyor belt brings the biosolids from the treatment plant over the fence into a bin.
The organic material consists of anything from tree branches and grass clippings to Christmas trees that locals haul in themselves. EKO Compost provides free dumping for people in the town for just about anything. He noted that people sometimes bring in engine blocks or a truckload of gravel. These inputs obviously do not make into the compost but they will still accept it because they want to help out the community. (They try to find some use for it like using the gravel to build paths through the compost facility.)
The organic material is put through an industrial grinder which makes the larger items easier to mix. The biosolids and organics are then mixed in a ratio of 1 to 5.
In the first phase, the mixture is taken and laid out in large piles they call “pads.” These pads are fitted with internal tubing hooked up to a blowing system which helps to circulate the air and remove moisture content.
The pads sit for about three weeks in which natural microbial metabolism processes work their magic. Larger solids are broken down and nutrients are released. The metabolism processes also release heat and raise the temperature to above 140-155 F which helps to kill off any pathogens.
In the second phase, the composted material is laid out to dry out and then broken up.
The dried out material is put through a screening process which removes any rocks and larger unbroken down material.
The result is an earthy soil/barky like material – something you would expect to see at a Home Depot – which is exactly where they sell it! In addition, they sell to local farms and gardens. Jason said that resorts and golf courses were also big customers because the fertilizer works great for grass lawns. Finally, another buyer were mine reclamation sites – which helped to transform old mine sites back into fertile or at least aesthetically pleasing land.
I was surprised to hear that the entire process only took about 2-3 months because usually it takes at least a year. Jason said that the circulation process helps to really speed up composting times. Also, their final product is much chunkier than a finish compost soil product.
EKO Compost has been around since 1977 and has been doing so well that they have expanded into locations in Idaho and Hawaii. I asked Jason if there was a stigma attached to using human waste as fertilizer and, while he said he had heard about it, it didn’t really seem to affect their business. I’m sure this is partly attributed to how well it has worked but also because they label their ingredients as organic matter and “biosolids.” This likely decreased the association with human waste. It seems to be all about the marketing. It was also relieving to hear that EKO Compost annually reports to the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
Sometimes people poke fun at Jason for composting shit to which he replies, “let me get this straight: you pay to get rid of your shit and then we sell your own shit back to you. Who is stupid now?”
For a more catchy tagline we were thinking “my friends might give me shit… but I sell it back to them” for a double entendre.
Having seen two waste treatment plants already having issues removing their biosolids, I was enthralled to finally see a working marketable strategy.
1125 Clark Fork Lane
Missoula, MT 59808-5157