If Nature Grows It, Ohio Compost Recycles It

Craig Bauer, owner of Ohio Compost, leads a tour of the recycling facility for Penta students. MIRROR PHOTO BY KAREN GERHARDINGER

BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Got unwanted grass clippings, branches, leaves or trees? 

“If nature grows it, we’ll recycle it,” said Craig Bauer, founder of Ohio Compost –Northwest Ohio’s largest recycler of not only natural materials, but also concrete and asphalt.

While customers dropping off materials to the 50-acre Monclova Township site see backhoes and other equipment at work, it takes a tour to appreciate the scope of the work and its impact on the environment.

On Saturday, July 13, the Whitehouse Tree Commission is teaming up with Ohio Compost to host a public open house with stations to show the grinding of raw material, turning compost rows, running material through a sifter and the finished product. 

Earlier this month, Bauer led a group of teens from Penta Career Center’s Equipment Camp on a tour of the operations. Employee Tyler Barnes – a Penta graduate – operated an excavator, scooping up compost, topsoil and yellow sand to make an engineered soil used in bio-swales. The customer provides specifications and Ohio Compost mixes up a smaller batch first for lab testing before mixing up large amounts for projects, Bauer explained.

Bauer Lawn Maintenance (BLM), Bauer’s commercial landscaping business, used 5,000 yards of engineered soil in the Toledo Zoo’s parking lot.

“We manufactured those soils here and installed them, and they planted plants that will eat up the oils. It filters out the contaminants from the parking lot runoff before it hits the sewer system and goes into the streams and rivers,” he said.

The mulch and compost for those soils is made on-site. Residents, commercial contractors and area municipalities bring brush, grass, leaves and wood that are sorted into piles.

The grass is mixed with leaves or plant material, then placed in rows that reach 140 degrees inside.

“It’s the temperature that causes decomposition,” Bauer said, watching as Barnes operated a row turner. The piles are churned once a week to allow the carbon dioxide to escape while introducing new oxygen. 

“You have to have the proper balance of carbon matter and grass, so it doesn’t stink,” said Bauer, admitting that after his first attempt resulted in a bad stench, he took a compost education course at The Ohio State University.

After getting the composting process refined, Ohio Compost also began taking in tree limbs and trees. The limbs are ground up and turned into mulch that is sold by the yard, while the trees are sorted out. Soft woods like cottonwood or pine are ground into mulch, but the hard woods like oak, maple and cherry are now sold as firewood.

Stepping up onto a large grinding machine, Bauer explained how the machine takes a 30-inch log and pushes it through in a process that takes about 30 gallons of diesel an hour. 

In addition to green waste, Ohio Compost takes asphalt and concrete that are crushed into stone that can be used in driveways, parking lots or as backfill for foundations. Bauer is also looking into someday offering recycling of horse manure, because there’s a need. To do so would require a permitting process and another parcel of property.

“We try to figure out the needs of the community and serve those needs,” Bauer said.

Operating a composting facility wasn’t what he had in mind as a teenager, when he was a Penta student learning small engine repair. To earn some money, Bauer began mowing for commercial customers when he was 16.

“I started with two push mowers from McBride Equipment in Maumee – I paid $80.00,” Bauer said. “I’d take my pickup to school with the lawnmowers in the back and my stinky grass and park it behind the FFA building.”

Bauer Lawn Mainten-ance (BLM) quickly grew. By the mid-1980s, he had landed the Food Town account and took care of 25 stores in the Toledo and Adrian markets. The 44-year-old company, which has over 50 seasonal employees, more recently did the landscaping for the First Solar building on Tracey Road and Glass City Metropark.

With so many commercial clients, getting rid of grass clippings, limbs and other yard waste got to be an issue, especially when the Lucas County Solid Waste Management District decided in 2011 to no longer offer free yard waste disposal.

“One of my employees said, ‘You ought to open up a recycling yard,’” he recalled. “I did my research, and the following year we opened.”

As he looked for properties to operate a recycling center, Bauer said he had support from Monclova Township, which is now one of several communities that pay to have Ohio Compost take their residents’ yard waste. 

Maumee, Holland, White-house and five area townships, including Monclova, Swanton, Waterville, Spencer and Providence, have contracts, but Ohio Compost also takes in material at reasonable rates from commercial and residential customers from all over.

While he jokes that he gets paid to take the material and gets paid again to sell it in its new form – whether mulch, firewood, gravel or soil – Bauer said he feels that he’s providing a valuable service to the residents, commercial contractors, municipalities and the environment.

“If we didn’t recycle, people would be burning their brush – which is illegal – or taking it to a landfill. And we’re taking a lot of pressure off the municipalities by taking their leaves and grass.”

The Saturday, July 13 open house will take place at 1:00 p.m. at 10839 Sager Rd. – the corner of U.S. 20A and Whitehouse Spencer Rd.

For information, visit www.ohiocompost.com.

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