BYRON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A plan to revolutionize what happens with trash in Kent County is on hold as county commissioners delayed a vote on the Sustainable Business Park.

The vote was supposed to happen on Aug. 23, but commissioners have tabled it until at least October.

Stephen Faber, the Kent County Department of Public Works communications and marketing manager, said they want more information on how the park would function and its impact on waste haulers.

He said the park would drastically improve waste management in Kent County.

“We would go from about a 28% diversion rate in the county today to up to 65%, doubling our ability to divert from a landfill with the opportunity to do even more,” said Faber.

A bioenergy facility would be the anchor tenant at the business park, with the company Anaergia in negotiations to partner on the facility.

Plans from Anaergia show how the process would work, sorting through waste in one part of the facility and taking the organic components, mainly food and even diapers. The organic material would go through a machine, essentially squeezing the liquid out of the waste. The liquid would then go through a process to become a renewable natural gas.

“It can be a replacement for any other fossil fuel-based gas. It’s the only carbon-negative fuel. It’s a really great product that we’re making from stuff that people are throwing away,” said Faber.

Carbon negative means that using this gas takes more carbon out of the atmosphere than burning it puts into the atmosphere.

As for the non-liquid portion of the waste, it would be incinerated at the waste-to-energy facility, which opened in 1990 in Kent County. The facility can handle about 200,000 tons of material but takes in about 275,000 tons, with the extra 75,000 going to a landfill.

Faber said putting all the waste through the sorting process at the business park first would lead to most of the material at the waste-to-energy facility being dry, which would increase the incineration capacity.

“There is about 600,000 tons of material generated in Kent County from residents and businesses. We’re only right now handling about 200,000 of that (at the waste-to-energy facility). This will allow us to handle about 460,000 tons,” said Faber.

What about the smell of a biodigester? Faber pointed to the waste-to-energy facility as a comparison, noting that anyone outside the building wouldn’t know how much waste is on the other side of the wall.

“We have really strict odor control. Also, all that waste (at the sustainable business park) actually gets tipped inside a building. You’re not just out in the open air. There isn’t stuff just sitting there. Then there are the scrubbers and everything that is associated with that. It will definitely smell better than a landfill,” he explained.

Faber said sorting through the waste is very similar to what the county already does at the recycling center, with magnets, drums and optical sorters going through everything. They recently started using artificial intelligence robots to target specific materials at the recycling center and would use the same technology at the business park.

Faber said a solution is necessary to the landfilling problem in Michigan because we will run out of space eventually.

“We have more trash buried per man, woman, and child than any other state in the nation,” he said.

The Kent County Department of Public Works opened the first landfill in the 1960s after closing down dumps and burn piles that posed a health and environmental risk.

The South Kent Landfill opened in 1982. Workers are currently building the final cell of the landfill, which means it’s almost time to shut it down.

“Landfills are a major contributor to global greenhouse gases. Active landfills produce a lot of methane because of those diapers and the organic material and other things we throw away,” said Faber.

He said the sustainable business park will allow them to capture and turn that waste into something valuable. It’s not a new concept; it’s been tried and true in many other areas of the country and the world. He thinks this is where the industry is going.