Food depackaging plant recognized for design

Food Packaging

The Muscatine, Iowa Organic Recycling Center (MORC) this month received a pair of awards from the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) of Iowa. MORC, which opened in May 2020, received the grand prize in the water and wastewater category and the overall 2020 competition’s Grand Conceptor award for the design by Stanley Consultants, a global provider of engineering, environmental and construction services.

The facility operates a depackaging machine that separates food waste from packaging.

Jon Koch, director of Muscatine’s Water and Resource Recovery Facility, said businesses up to 200 miles away have expressed interest in hauling organic waste to Muscatine for recycling and noted that MORC is one of just three municipally owned facilities of its kind in the U.S. and the only one in the Midwest.

The ACEC competition is based on such elements as innovation, new applications of technology, enhanced public awareness and future value to the engineering profession.

The facility enables cost effective processing of packaged foods previously sent to the landfill due to prohibitively high labor costs to depackage the food. A depackaging machine uses spinning paddles to break open the packages and separate the packaging from the organic waste. The packaging is then either recycled or disposed of and the organic waste is pumped into a large treatment tank where it is blended and fed into the same anaerobic digesters that operate to clean the city’s municipal wastewater.

Bacteria in the digesters break down the organic matter and generate biogas that is mostly methane, the primary component of natural gas. The process also produces biosolids, a nutrient rich fertilizer that is applied to farm ground to naturally replenish nitrogen and phosphorus to the soil.

According to Koch, based on projected revenue from tipping fees, the $3 million project will pay for itself in four to six years.

Stanley Consultants has been the prime consultant and engineer for the project for over six years. During this time the firm has provided a variety of design concepts as the project evolved, as well as preliminary and final design and permitting.

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