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Village of Yellow Springs Finds A New Way To Dispose Of Biosolids

A filtration pool at the Yellow Springs Wastewater Treatment Plant on Grinnell Road.
Chris Welter
/
WYSO
A filtration pool at the Yellow Springs Wastewater Treatment Plant on Grinnell Road.

The company that runs a biodigester in Greene County has stopped accepting human waste. That means local municipalities need to find other ways to dispose of the sludge that comes out of their wastewater treatment plants.

Renergy (also known as Dovetail Energy, LLC) COO Cari Oberfield told the Dayton Daily News in August 2020 (before the company stopped accepting human waste in October) that about 20% of what Renergy takes in is municipal waste. The bioenergy company is now focusing on food and farm waste instead, Oberfield said.

Nearby residents have complained of the smell and potential health and environmental hazards from Renergy's Fairborn operation for some time, including at a protest last year at the Bath Township Trustee Building. Some residents even filed a lawsuit last month against the company and the property owner, Tom Pitstick, who leases his land for the operation. Furthermore, since Pitstick is a Bath Township Trustee, which is where the biodigester operation is located, residents have also raised concerns about transparency. In December, the Ohio Ethics Commission issued a subpoena for Bath Township records regarding Pitstick and Renergy.

Renergy used to pick up the Village of Yellow Springs's sludge a few times a month from the wastewater plant on Grinnell Road, and took it to their facility just down the road in Fairborn. The bio-energy company would pump the village’s sludge into its machine, which was filled with bacteria that consumed the organic waste. Renergy captured the gas put off by the bacteria, selling it as ecologically friendly energy. Then, the solids that were left over were given away for free to local farmers to use on their fields as fertilizer.

Josué Salmerón is Yellow Springs Village Manager.

“The value that it created for us is it’s putting the biosolids in what is a sustainable life cycle." He said during a Zoom interview, "It's a win-win. It’s just down the street from us. It limits our transportation costs. So I'm sad to see Renergy go away, because from a business perspective it was solving a lot of problems. It solved the business problem for us: what do we do with our biosolids? It solved the business problem for the farmers. And Renergy got to make money, right?"

The village now rents a machine that presses their sludge on site at the wastewater treatment plant.

The pile of wastewater treatment byproducts (or biosolids) at the Yellow Springs Wastewater treatment facility. Tomato plants have started to grow.
Chris Welter
The pile of wastewater treatment byproducts (or biosolids) at the Yellow Springs Wastewater treatment facility. Tomato plants have started to grow.
A close-up of three unripe tomatoes that sprouted from the unpressed biosolids pile at the Yellow Springs Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Chris Welter
A close-up of three unripe tomatoes that sprouted from the unpressed biosolids pile at the Yellow Springs Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The biosolids are then ready to be picked up and taken to a landfill in Brown County, east of Cincinnati. Salmerón says the cost of pressing and sending the sludge to the landfill costs the village a bit more than the contract with Renergy did.

Environmental reporter Chris Welter is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.