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Kingston's Emu Topsoil wins excellence in recycling award

Ron Phillips of Emu Topsoil holds a batch of finished compost at the Kingston facility. The company recently won an award for the excellence in recycling. - Brad Camp/Staff photo
Ron Phillips of Emu Topsoil holds a batch of finished compost at the Kingston facility. The company recently won an award for the excellence in recycling.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff photo

KINGSTON — It might be deemed trash by some, but it’s actually a treasure.

Green waste or yard waste that is, once it’s turned into a nutrient rich soil additive: compost.

Aside from small-scale personal composting efforts, someone has got to process Kitsap’s organic materials on a large scale.

It took him six years and several thousand dollars (which he’ll continue to pay annually) but Ron Phillips finally received a legit, commercial composting permit for his 16-acre Kingston facility.

Phillips who owns Emu Topsoil in both Kingston and Poulsbo, received his permit last April. He wanted Kitsap County to have its own composting facility.

But since receiving his permit it hasn’t been all roses for Phillips.

Emu’s Kingston site has the ability to process 200,000 tons of green waste each year.

Last month the site turned 259.66 tons of material into compost, but to reach capacity they need to process some 10,000-12,000 tons each month.

The problem is Phillips doesn’t have enough material, and has been long-hauling organic waste from King and Mason counties for seven years. He recently stopped transporting material from Mason County, but still receives some 80 yards (there’s approximately 900 pounds to the yard) each day from King County.

“I have a 16-acre compost facility and nothing to compost,” said Phillips.

Accelerating Emu’s lack-of-product conundrum is a good portion of Kitsap County’s compostable yard waste is taken to Mason County for processing at North Mason Fiber.

Sales tax dollars are also being hauled out of the county.

Green waste is a raw and rather useless material, but once processed it becomes very valuable, monetarily valuable as residents and larger organizations hand over the cash for compost, a portion of which goes back to county coffers as sales tax.

“It’s like taking hundred dollar bills and burning them and Mason County is getting the tax dollars,” Phillips contends.

He claims about three years into his six-year permitting process, Kitsap County entered into a long-term contract with North Mason Fiber for the compostable material.

When contacted about the alleged contract North Mason Fiber owner Robert W. Dressel said he’s worked “hand in hand” with Kitsap’s solid waste for the last 11 years, but wouldn’t discuss terms of the contract, and never denied there was a contract. Dressel did say he’d already lost one contract, which is hurting business.

However, Pat Campbell, senior program manager of the Solid Waste Division for Kitsap’s Department of Public Works, said no contract exists or has ever existed.

“We don’t have a contract that sends compostable material anywhere,” she said.

Bainbridge Disposal and Waste Management, both private companies, haul and dispose of Kitsap’s solid waste. The county has no authority to direct where the two companies haul material, Campbell said.

She said most of the South End’s green waste is taken to North Mason Fiber, located in Belfair, as it’s closer and saves on transportation costs.

Regardless, the choice is the haulers’.

Dean Churns, Bainbridge Disposal owner, said the company is now splitting its compostable materials between Emu and North Mason Fiber, whereas in the past it all went to North Mason.

“There’s two super good, quality facilities and it just makes good business sense to keep part of the product in our own county,” Churns said. “I’d be nice if the county could take it to someone in Kitsap but it only makes sense for them to go to North Mason. It’s right next door.”

Campbell did say county staff is doing what they can to encourage people to take advantage of the services Emu offers, and has stopped accepting yard waste at the county transfer station in Hansville as an incentive for people to take it to Emu.

Phillips will continue to pay for his yearly permit and haul in material to compost, after all he’s been in the topsoil business since 1989.

It’s safe to say he knows good dirt. He has a special soil-creation recipe — it’s not written down anywhere but stored in his memory — and he’s the only one of his staff of eight who mixes the soil. Phillips is in the soil/compost business to do his part to reduce his own carbon footprint and to preserve the area’s natural resources for years to come.

The county recently recognized Phillips’ commitment to the environment by awarding Emu with the annual Excellence in Recycling Award.

Phillips was honored by the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners on Monday in Port Orchard.

“I’d like to thank all my customers because without them we wouldn’t be where we are today,” Phillips said regarding the award.

April 26 is Yard Waste Amnesty Day and staff of Kitsap’s Solid Waste Division will collect yard waste from the public, free of charge, at the Emu Composting Facility from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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