Wake Up and Smell the Coffee

Sustainable Resources Group, a firm dedicated to helping organizations turn costly waste into revenue-generating income streams, is embarking on a new project that has the potential to be the biggest initiative in company history.
By Ron Kotrba | September 03, 2018

Making sustainability a profitable reality—that’s the tagline of Sustainable Resources Group LLC based in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, 40 miles west of Philadelphia. Founded in 1985 as Land Resource Recycling Management Inc., in its early days the company primarily managed land application of biosolids in New Jersey, according to Peter King, vice president of SRG. King has been with SRG for 19 years and is “the heart and soul of the company”—as described by others within the firm—given his knowledge of all aspects in what SRG does and his willingness to get down and dirty on jobs other firms might turn away.

In 2001, LRRM became a wholly owned subsidiary of ECOR Solutions Inc., and the company expanded to managing food processing and drinking water plant residuals through land application, composting, animal feed, energy production and manufactured soils. In 2008, ECOR Solutions and LRRM combined and took on a new name: Sustainable Resources Group. “This new name better describes what we do today,” King says.

Chairman Greg Campbell says SRG has provided sustainability solutions to the food processing, water and wastewater industries for more than 20 years. “We turn organic waste that would otherwise end up in landfills or streams into either a source of energy or useful products such as animal feed, fertilizer or soil additives,” Campbell says. “We also are actively using anaerobic digesters to turn high-BOD (biochemical oxygen demand) waste into energy.” The company has a fleet of vacuum tankers, frameless dump trailers, walking floor and van trailers. SRG also leases property for drying processes and liquid storage.

King says SRG is actively working with seven on-farm anaerobic digesters where liquid food processing residuals are mixed with manure to create gas for power generation. Connor Gingrich, an SRG project manager with a focus in sales and marketing, says in the coming years, SRG plans to offer turnkey operations for large corporations looking to find better renewable power options. “Ideally,” Gingrich says, “we will implement a digester than can provide power directly back to where we are receiving the material from.”

The majority of SRG’s revenue, according to Campbell, comes from Fortune 500 companies committed to environmentally sustainable solutions. “Most people don’t realize that these sustainable solutions are almost always less expensive for our clients than sending waste product to a landfill or other, less environmentally friendly solutions,” he says. “SRG works closely with our clients to engineer solutions to minimize waste streams, saving them millions of dollars each year.” 
Case Study
In one case study that exemplifies how SRG can turn problematic, costly waste into revenue streams for its clients, SRG was engaged to investigate a problem managing sludge at one of its client’s out-of-state manufacturing facilities. Liquid waste from the prepared foods manufacturing process was piped to an on-site pretreatment facility for dewatering. The remaining solids were then transported to a landfill where more than half of the daily truckloads were rejected for high free liquid content. The cost of trucks returning to the plant, and having to repeat the dewatering process, was significant. SRG identified high levels of grease in the sludge, making dewatering particularly difficult.

After gaining approval and permits from the state, SRG conducted a study on various land applications for the sludge. The month-long study ultimately indicated that the overall cost and inefficiency of the process eliminated this option as a viable alternative. After investigating other uses, composting was identified as an economically viable solution. Eight months later, SRG implemented a process for collecting sludge at the plant and transporting it to a nearby composting facility. A decade later, SRG was still transporting 30 tons of dewatered waste a day with dump trailers from the plant to the compost processor. The client eliminated a sludge problem and reduced annual waste management costs by nearly $100,000, while concurrently moving closer to becoming landfill-free by having waste repurposed.

While conducting the sludge management study, SRG also identified large volumes of high-quality oven grease that was going directly into the sewer lines. SRG recommended the grease be captured for transport and resale. Nearly 20 tons a week of high-quality grease that was once being wasted, causing potential problems for the city sewer system, is now collected and generating revenue for the client.

Another challenge at the client’s plant was high amounts of organic waste from a frozen foods manufacturing process. SRG assisted in the design and implementation of a recycling solution for nearly 12 tons generated daily. After setting up the means for collection, the food waste is powdered and sold for use as a chicken feed ingredient.

On top of solving various organic waste challenges, SRG also implemented a solution for the client’s cardboard recyclables, redirecting 125 tons of corrugated cardboard a week to a local paper mill, which buys the material. The client is now 100 percent landfill-free and saves $225,000 a year because of the changes SRG implemented.

“As an organization, SRG is excited to help other organizations meet their profitability and environmental goals,” says Jason Litman, SRG business unit manager. “We believe those two areas are not mutually exclusive. This ‘win-win’ attitude is what makes SRG a great partner for organizations across the country.” Litman joined the company in early 2018 with more than 10 years of leadership experience across multiple industries in supply chain, logistics and project management experience.

When asked where he believes some of the biggest untapped resources in industrial waste reside, Gingrich says the food processing industry is megalithic. “SRG is building a strategy to best implement our methods to a larger clientele,” Gingrich says. “By doing so, we expect to have a presence all over the U.S. by 2025, whereas right now we are mainly in the Northeast, Southeast and a bit into the Midwest.” Gingrich is a Penn State student studying energy business and finance, with minors in information sciences technology and Spanish. “I joined the company last November and have focused on different projects for the company, looking at where we can best expand our business,” he says.

Spent Grounds
One of the most promising areas SRG has identified for expansion is in finding practical applications for spent coffee grounds. “We are working on a brand new partnership in the Northeast involving the collection of spent coffee grounds,” Litman says. “SRG will save our customer from having to send the grounds to a landfill, which is expensive and harmful to the environment. We have a few different options of how we can recycle these grounds and turn them into a product sold to consumers. This has the potential to be the biggest initiative in our company’s history.”

Litman and Gingrich are heavily involved in SRG’s spent coffee grounds project. As the business unit manager, Litman is responsible for all profit/loss and business development-related matters on the project, while Gingrich’s role is developing the best strategy to make spent coffee grounds a viable byproduct for purchase.

Gingrich says the spent coffee grounds project is SRG’s largest biomass-related work. The firm recently solidified a contract with major food company and instant coffee pioneer Nestlé for its spent coffee grounds left over from its instant coffee production process. Instant coffee is made from brewed coffee that is then dehydrated through one of a few different techniques. Instant coffee production, therefore, results in spent coffee grounds just as brewing coffee does. According to Gingrich, in late November, SRG will begin the collection of Nestlé’s spent coffee grounds. The company hopes to leverage this arrangement to eventually move toward collection of a majority of spent coffee grounds produced in the U.S.

Since 2004, SRG has been supplying spent coffee grounds to Jarden—recently bought out by Royal Oak Enterprises—for the production of fireplace logs. Royal Oak produces 700,000 fireplace logs a year from spent coffee grounds supplied by SRG. “Our current emphasis on spent coffee grounds could ultimately divert millions of tons of waste grounds from landfills and turn it into useful products or energy,” Campbell says.

In addition to soil amendments and fireplace logs, SRG finds spent coffee grounds versatile enough for many applications. “We have looked at the fuel pellet industry,” Gingrich says, “and realized it was a pretty flooded market. So we moved our focus to the cosmetics industry, using the coffee in face scrubs as well as the activated carbon market.”

SRG is currently developing grilling pellets from spent coffee. The company had a booth at the 2018 Pellet Fuels Institute Annual Conference, where grilling pellets was a hot topic. “We wanted to get our name out there in this industry,” Gingrich says. “We believe using spent coffee grounds for grilling pellets is quite a revolutionary idea—and what better way to show off our process than the PFI Conference. A large focus of the spent coffee grounds project is to find ways to use the coffee in grilling, which we believe to have a great effect on flavor.”

SRG prides itself on making sustainability a profitable reality. As a result, it mainly focuses on the food processing industry to help companies achieve more sustainable options for their waste through land application, composting and different processes, such as turning spent coffee grounds into cosmetic ingredients, fireplace logs or grilling pellets. “Every day, we focus on new ways to not only be innovative in the industry, but how to achieve sustainability during that process,” Gingrich says. “We are looking to break through the composting market in the Southeast U.S. while acquiring more spent coffee grounds for our coffee project in the process. Over the next few years, as this project helps our company grow, we will be implementing new strategies to take organic residuals to new heights.”

Author: Ron Kotrba
Senior Editor, Biomass Magazine