A Decade Later, AgriRecycle Plant Serving Key Role On Shore

BERLIN — The Perdue AgriRecycle facility in Seaford, Del. is celebrating its 10th Anniversary this month.

The facility, which was the first of its kind in the country, is still the largest converter of chicken litter to organic fertilizer for American farmers, including those in Worcester County.

“It has served as an alternative for poultry growers on the Eastern Shore,” said Steve Schwalb, Perdue’s Vice President of Environmental Sustainability. He explained that some farmers, especially smaller operations, couldn’t utilize all of the poultry litter they produced effectively. However, the AgriRecycle facility is able to take that material and produce large quantities of organic fertilizer, which can then go back to the farmers.

More than 160 farmers on Delmarva allow Perdue to process their poultry litter in exchange for having their chicken houses cleaned.

Schwalb pointed out that, while the fertilizer was great for farms, it could be used for much more than that.

“Perdue AgriRecycle produces organic fertilizer for America’s top golf courses, municipal parks, suburban gardens,” added Jason Maloni, the Senior Vice President of Levick Strategic Communications, a public-relations firm that represents Perdue. “Even the dust remaining from the process is vacuumed up and provided to mushroom farmers.”

Maloni also stressed how important it was that the fertilizer the facility made was organic.

“Organic is highly desirable,” he said.

Schwalb agreed, remarking that the fertilizer was “slow-release” and actually improved the terrain it was used on in the long-run.

“It bulks up the soil; you end up having a better soil,” he said.  

Beyond the desirability of the fertilizer, the AgriRecycle facility concentrates on making its product environmentally friendly.

In the 10 years since its opening, the facility has converted 1.5 billion pounds of litter into 850 million pounds of fertilizer. Half of the fertilizer the AgriRecycle plant produces is shipped nationwide, removing the nutrients it would create from the watershed and subsequently the Chesapeake Bay.

“This means a cleaner Chesapeake Bay ecosystem,” said Maloni, who added that the Perdue facility is the only one in the nation “measurably moving nutrients from the watershed.”

Schwalb cited the AgriRecycle plant as one of Perdue’s greatest environmental successes to date.

“It was a vision [Chairman of the Board] Jim Perdue had 10 years ago,” he said.

Despite the size and productivity of the facility and the $44 million spent constructing it, Jim Perdue has stated that AgriRecycle does not and might not ever make the company a lot of money.

“It wasn’t designed to be hugely profitable and to this day has been at best a break-even operation. But more important than profit is the fact that we’re doing something hugely beneficial for the environment,” he said.

Schwalb remarked that the facility was only one among a number of programs and initiatives Perdue was implementing in an effort to become a “greener” company.

Currently, the company is working on a $12.8 million environmental renovation of its corporate headquarters. A large part of that will be the installation of 11,000 solar panels, which will eventually cover an area as large as 10 football fields, at both the headquarters and other company properties. Those panels are estimated to provide 25 percent of the electricity those locations use every year overall. At peak solar times, they may provide as much as 90 percent of needed energy for short bursts.

Other green changes will include better heating and air conditioning units, more environmentally sound materials, many of which will be recycled, and “premium” parking spaces for employees with hybrid cars.

“The renovation centers around resource utilization,” said Schwalb.

Once completed, the goal is to achieve a gold certification by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards. LEED is considered a benchmark when judging the positive environmental impact of a building and has four possible ratings: bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. Though the corporate headquarters won’t likely reach that last ranking, Schwalb explained that even achieving gold is nearly impossible for a simple building renovation; usually, to get that high of a rating the building has to be designed in advance to meet LEED’s strict standards.

Another environmental program that Perdue is involved in is Operation Clean Streams. Several years ago, 30 Perdue employees joined the program and removed 1,800 pounds of waste from the local watershed. This year, the number of employees involved has risen to 1200 across several states; they removed 50,000lbs of garbage from watersheds in Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, and Delaware.

“Lots of folks really have a passion for it,” said Schwalb.