Introducing the Compost Liberator, a Whitehorse invention

A Whitehorse inventor has unveiled a new machine he claims will revolutionize the composting industry.

A Whitehorse inventor has unveiled a new machine he claims will revolutionize the composting industry.

Garret Gillespie showed off his Compost Liberator, the product of seven years of work, at his Boreal Compost Enterprises facility on Mount Sima Road Jan. 27.

The machine, which looks like something out of a sci-fi movie, removes plastic, rocks and other contaminants from compost. Gillespie said it will prevent industrial compost facilities from having to pay to send large loads of unusable material to landfills.

The Compost Liberator has four large chutes attached to a central machine on wheels. The raw compost travels along the first chute to the top of the machine, and then flows down into the belly of the beast, where Gillespie has installed a vibrating table and an air flow.

The movement helps to stratify the material, with the plastic floating to the surface. “The air flow catches the large surface area and light weight of the plastic and carries it away,” Gillespie said.

The plastic travels up one of the chutes and is spat out the end. Rocks come out another chute. And the last chute serves up pure, uncontaminated compost.

Gillespie said the Liberator can remove all types of plastic from compost, even tiny fruit stickers.

“This machine can remove on average 99 per cent of those items,” he said.

Contamination in municipal compost can be a major problem. In 2012, the Toronto Star reported that 15 per cent of municipal compost consisted of contaminants that ended up in a landfill.

Dan Jordan, the waste services supervisor with the City of Whitehorse, said that when the city began operating its compost facility in 2008, about half the material it received was not actually compostable.

“For every yard of finished compost we would get, we would get a yard of plastics,” he said.

And plastic bags weren’t the only problem. “We found engine blocks, we found car batteries…,” he said. “You were never surprised.”

Gillespie estimates that contamination at large compost facilities can range from 10 to 60 per cent of the total material. He said the benefit of his invention isn’t just that it cleans up compost, but that it separates out contaminants like rocks, which can actually be sold. That leaves much less material to be trucked to a landfill.

“What they’re dumping instead is just that garbage,” he said, pointing to the plastics chute, “which is about a 98 per cent reduction in the weight.”

Gillespie’s Compost Liberator is still a prototype. In the next few months, it’s going on its first North American tour, starting at a composting facility outside Victoria, B.C.

“The idea is that we will run the pants off of this thing across North America and see what falls off, and then redesign it, basically, to improve it,” he said.

The prototype can process about 25 tonnes an hour of heavily contaminated material. But Gillespie said that won’t be enough to keep up with the volume at larger facilities. He’s hoping to eventually design a Liberator that could handle 250 tonnes.

For the moment, he’s hoping to have the original model ready for sale within the next few months. He’s working with the Vermeer Corporation, an Iowa-based manufacturer, and the machines will be built at a facility in South Dakota. They will likely sell for $200,000 to $400,000, he said.

But Gillespie said research and development for the larger models will stay right here in Whitehorse.

“To develop these bigger machines… that’s many millions of dollars’ worth of research and development work,” he said. “And a lot of years.”

As for the city, it doesn’t have plans to buy one of Gillespie’s contraptions. Whitehorse doesn’t have the same volume of compost as larger cities, and Jordan said contamination isn’t nearly as big of a problem as it used to be, thanks to public awareness and education.

“The amount that this can handle is considerably more than the city produces,” Gillespie said.

But Jordan thinks there will be a demand for the Compost Liberator elsewhere.

“It’s quite an amazing feat,” he said. “And I think this piece of equipment that he has is going to be a game-changer, for sure.”

Gillespie has received about $200,000 in funding from Cold Climate Innovation at the Yukon Research Centre.

Contact Maura Forrest at maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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