Work Begins on Black Earth Compost’s New Plant


Construction has begun on a new composting facility at the town’s former landfill site off Pine Street. 

Andrew Brousseau, one of the three partners in Black Earth Compost, now operating off School Street, not far from the Manchester Athletic Club, says the new facility should be completed by October, enabling the company to begin its move from one end of Manchester’s Limited Commercial District, to the other.  

“We will transition operations from School Street to Pine Street through the first half of 2024,” wrote Brousseau in an email.  “Hopefully residents will be dropping their autumn leaves at the new facility in Fall of 2023.” 

Construction of the $1.5 million facility on the site of the current transfer station broke ground weeks ago after more than two years of planning and board approvals.  The last approval was the Conservation Commission in 2020 because the site abuts wetlands and woods owned by the Manchester Essex Conservation Trust.  

So far, most of the work has been initial site work—clearing of trees and blasting to prepare the ground for a considerable compost operation that will process up to 40 tons of food waste each week from residents and businesses from across Boston’s North Shore and metro west, according to owners.

Black Earth has been operating for five years from its School Street facility, and late last year the company finalized a 30-year lease with the Town of Manchester to take over the Pine Street site.  Residents have benefited from the relationship with discounted weekly curbside food waste pick-up.  They can also drop off yard clippings and, if they like, pick up free finished compost—a.k.a. “black gold,” an expensive soil supplement sold at retail to gardeners.

Black Earth Compost began in 2010 as one-man, one-truck operation in Gloucester, collecting food scraps from homes and restaurants around Cape Ann and turning it into compost, which was sold to farmers and home gardeners.

Brousseau joined founder Conor Miller in 2011 and the company has been growing ever since.  The processing plant moved to Manchester in 2017.  The company now has 30 trucks and collects from residents, schools, supermarkets, and colleges as well as restaurants across eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island. In addition to Manchester, the company has processing plants in Framingham and Groton. 

While the biotech company, Cell Signaling, is beginning to present plans for a new research facility at a neighboring lot off Atwater Avenue, Brousseau said that the moves by the two companies are not connected. 

“Cell Signaling (is) only just now embarking on the new research facility,” wrote Brousseau. “This compost site move has been in the works since 2018.” 

Brousseau said that Black Earth Compost wanted to build a modern indoor compost facility and the town identified the landfill off Pine Street as a potential site in 2018. 

Brousseau said that the Pine and School Street sites were about the same size, both allowed easy access to trucks delivering the food scraps and both would have allowed for the building of a new plant. 

But Black Earth Compost chose the Pine Street site because, Brousseau wrote, the town was less likely to want to use it for any municipal uses because it was a landfill. 

Black Earth Compost is paying for all the construction costs of the new facility and site improvements, wrote Brousseau.  But the town paid for engineering oversight to ensure the safety and integrity of the landfill. 

Brousseau wrote that about 40 tons of food scraps will enter the new facility each week, with about 50 percent coming from residents and the other 50 percent coming from various businesses. 

He added that the amount of traffic going to the new facility on Pine Street will be about the same as the amount of traffic now going to the School Street plant. 

“The new facility will make a superior finished compost product because of the controlled, indoor processing of the compost,” wrote Brousseau. 

Brousseau explained the process for turning food scraps into compost at the new plant will involve: 

Unloading the food scraps indoors. 

Aerating the food scraps by air blowers for three to six weeks. 

Any runoff from the food scraps is captured by floor drains in the building and recycled into the compost to keep it at an optimal moisture level. 

The compost is moved outdoors and travels by conveyor to the top of the landfill for curing. 

“Odors are always a possibility with any type of composting,” wrote Brousseau, who said the facility will be fitted with odor-mitigation technology, 

“The new facility is designed to capture and prevent the smelly odors from the initial stages of composting,” he wrote. 

The finished compost is very rich in nutrients making it a valuable resource for anyone growing plants, flowers, vegetables or fruit.  

In exchange for being allowed to build the new plant, Black Earth has provided the town a low, flat rate for town-wide food scrap collection for the next 30 years.   

In addition, Black Earth will manage the town’s transfer station, saving the town that cost during the contract period. 

The transfer station at Pine Street is only open on Saturdays during construction.  It will reopen on Wednesdays and Saturdays when construction is complete around October. 

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