From toilets to trees: Sustainable farm recycles waste

EUGENE, Ore. - Tons of treated sewage from Lane County is being turned into fertilizer for a tree farm located in northwest Eugene.

Biocycle Farm is owned and operated by the Metropolitan Wastewater Management Commission, and is the largest waste-sustained farm in the country.

Since it was built in 2003, the commission has used the farm to study ways to recycle waste Eugene and Springfield.

Researchers planted the first phase of roughly 150 acres of poplar trees in the spring of 2004. They've since added two more phases (spaced out nearly 3 years apart), making a total of 400 acres filled the fast growing trees.

Ken Vanderford of the Eugene Public Works said they chose poplars because of their aptitude for the waste project at Biocycle Farm.

"Hybrid poplars are uniquely suited to our program because they consume a lot of water and a lot of nutrients in their rapid growth. We produce a lot of water and nutrients," he said.

The research farm contracted Lane Forest Products to harvest the wood and produce pulp for paper. The trees will also make hog fuel, which can generate electricity.

Harvesting the first 12,700 trees should last through the fall.

The commission hopes that revenue created from the sale of hog fuel and wood chips will offset the cost of operating the farm. But even if no profit is made, Todd Miller, an environmental management analyst with the City of Springfield, believes the program is sustainable.

"The Biocycle Farm itself is the most cost effective tool we have for managing the community's bio-solids, so if we get revenue off selling this material it makes it all that much more cost effective," Miller said.

After the first phase of trees is harvested, officials will evaluate their efforts, and the results of the program. Then they will decide the most efficient way to proceed, and use cleared land.