Communication for Sustainable Development

Investors are enthusiastic about organic waste recycling

While many sectors of the American economy struggle to attract investment capital, it appears that investors – particularly the new breed of sustainable investment funds – are enthusiastic about the future of recycling organic waste. This vast commodity stream is largely untapped and promises healthy returns with the right business model and technologies.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that we produce approximately 246 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) per year, of which nearly 60 percent, or 160 million tons can be roughly categorized as organic waste – wood, food scraps, vegetative debris, paper and cardboard. In food scraps alone, the EPA estimates that over 97 percent goes to landfills.

For decades recyclers have been realizing profits from paper and cardboard, but there is a wealth of other carbon-rich organic material waiting to be profitably turned into renewable energy, soils and fertilizers.

One company pioneering organics recycling on a large scale is Harvest Power, a North American producer of renewable energy and fertilizers from organic waste. Since its founding in late 2008 as a privately held company, it has been able to attract a number of blue chip investors and is beginning to reap returns.

In an interview with Paul Sellew, Harvest’s chief executive officer, he had this to say:

How much capital have you developed since your founding?

“We’ve used a combination of debt, equity and grants approaching $200 million dollars.”

Why are investors interested in organic recycling?

“I think they view it as a resource that is under-utilized in our society in a resource-constrained world. It makes sense to maximize the value of these waste streams/resources through an approach such as we are bringing to the market.”

What type of investors are you attracting?

“Along with our management team, our first investor was Kleiner Perkins out of Menlo Park, California. We have also attracted significant investment from European investors including Munich Venture Partners, Generation Investment Management and Rabobank, an international Dutch bank. Then we have a strategic investor as well with Waste Management.”

Are you a technology and process developer, or a market developer?

“We are basically an owner and operator of organics processing facilities. Our approach is to maximize the value of organic waste streams. That’s a combination of producing renewable energy from them and then using the residual from our renewable energy technology to further process it into pelletized organic fertilizers or a compost based soil amendment product.”

What type of customer is interested in your processes?

“Generators of organic wastes –municipalities, food processors, retail grocery stores, large generators of food waste either at the commercial or industrial level and certainly at the municipal level. Right now the vast majority of states and communities are separating out yard waste, leaves, grass and brush. Food waste is now where yard waste was 15 years ago, meaning it is at the beginning of being separated out of the MSW stream. Those two streams, yard waste and food waste, are principle feedstocks for our process.”

How many projects have you developed to date?

“We have built the largest composting and organics processing facility in Canada, outside of Vancouver in Richmond, British Columbia. There we will operate North America’s largest high solids anaerobic digestion facility which is also going to be producing megawatts of renewable energy integrated into our composting operation. Under construction is our bioenergy facility in London, Ontario which will be operational by the end of this year or by the beginning of next year. We own and operate a composting operation in Tulare County, California, and we also operate a facility in Tullytown, Pennsylvania in partnership with Waste Management. There will be a number of other opportunities that we will be announcing shortly.”

How are organics developing?

“We are going into areas where the organic waste is being separated out. We are now composting yard and food waste and then where we have sufficient food waste we are building our renewable energy facilities – right now we have the two largest in North America under construction. The energy component of our story is basically a new model that Harvest is bringing into North America. We anticipate that the model that we are creating will be duplicated and there are enormous growth opportunities. You just have to look back and see the growth of the American composting industry over the last 15 to 20 years. There are close to 5,000 composting facilities of various sizes operating today. When I got involved in this business 25 years ago there were only a few hundred. I think that food waste, which ironically is produced in about equal quantities to yard waste, is going to follow the same pattern. There’s a large scale infrastructure build-out story here around reprocessing food waste.”

What revenues have you generated and what do projections look like?

“We are a company that has about 150 employees and we have been producing about $30 million in revenues per year. We are profitable. This year we anticipate finishing the year at over $100 million in revenue.”

What is the future of organic recycling?

“I’m bullish. In a way it’s like saying we’ve just discovered a new natural gas field, or a new oil field. Through technology we are releasing the energy potential of organics and unlike solar and wind which is dependent on the sun shining or the wind blowing we are producing power on a 24/7/365 basis, baseload power…the best kind.”


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