Zero Waste Golf Course

Back. Wayyy... back, in 2011, I interviewed Josh Heptig of Dairy Creek GC about his efforts to go Zero Waste. It became one of the most popular posts on Turfhugger at the time and definitely contributed to my choice to begin to integrate many of the same techniques on the golf courses I worked with at that time.

Here it is...

The Quest for a "Zero Waste" Golf Course - 2011

Seems impossible doesn't it? Well not for Josh Heptig of Dairy Creek Golf Club. His efforts were recently the focus of this short article, where they discussed how he shares his "waste" in the form of fertilizer with 2 other courses Morro Bay Golf Course and Atascadero’s Chalk Mountain GC.

I was so impressed by this ambitious goal and great example of sustainability, that I contacted Josh to learn more of his efforts... (Also, don't forget to check out Josh's blog, he regularly gives updates on his efforts.)

Turfhugger: Why "Zero Waste"?

Josh Heptig: Why not zero waste? With all of the questions about sustainability zero waste is the ultimate answer. It is the right thing to do and we have a great group of relationships to make it happen.

A zero waste golf course would be one at which course wastes, including food wastes, are reduced, recycled or reused to their highest potential.

San Luis Obispo has a history of "first in the world" projects, such as "the Motel Inn", "SLO Farmers Market”, or the first in the nation "indoor smoking ban", which have been a source of pride for local citizens and reproduced around the globe. From our search of the internet there does not appear to be another golf course claiming to be zero waste so we would be the first. We expect that Dairy Creek, as the first zero waste course in the world, will be a "pilot" program that will attract global attention from golf and environmental enthusiasts, eco-tourists and others who are interested in emerging environmental protection practices.

Turfhugger: What were your initial goals?

Josh Heptig: Our first goal in this zero waste project is to educate through demonstration how composting food wastes, worm binning and compost tea brewing can benefit the homeowner, the community, and the global environment.

Our second goal in this project is to use the organic fertility products that we manufacture to reduce irrigation water usage, pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Reducing water usage, pesticides and fertilizers from Dairy Creek Golf Course will reduce the potential for excess runoff into the Morro Bay watershed.

Turfhugger: Can you explain more about each of your diversion methods or processing techniques?

Josh Heptig: Three main ways:

1. Food Waste Composting - Diversion of food and organic wastes from landfill is one of the highest priorities in modern waste management all around the world. Landfilled food and organic wastes decay anaerobically which releases harmful methane gas into the atmosphere. Large waste generators, like restaurants, schools and golf courses are very important prospects for development of diversion methods that promote the aerobic degradation of site generated organic wastes, which does not release harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. But large waste generators are actually a small part of the community food waste problem. It's the municipal accumulation of all household food and green wastes that really add up in the landfill.

The food waste composting demonstration will illustrate the importance of diverting food and organic wastes from the landfill, and the added value of the resulting compost as a replacement for expensive and unsustainable fertility products. The composting of the golf course food and green wastes will take place in two vessel composters provided by the SLOIWMA. These composters are specially designed to compost pre and post-consumer food wastes. The food waste composting operations will be operated on a daily basis by trained volunteers under the supervision of EPA Inc.

2. Worm Binning - Commercial-sized and home-sized worm bins will be provided to the project by EPA Inc. to demonstrate another method used to aerobically consume organic wastes. The vermiculture process ultimately creates worm castings, a premium soil additive when used alone, blended with compost, or as ingredients for the brewing of actively aerated compost tea. Research reveals anecdotal accounts in which worm castings are a successful replacement for inorganic fertilizers and pesticides and creates soil and root conditions that reduce water usage.

The worm bins make very nice demonstrations that model the exponential growth potential for the beneficial landscape microbiology in compost and tea. While most of the beneficial biology we work with in organic fertility products is microscopic, the worms are visibly wiggly and fun to work with

for all ages, although particularly interesting for youthful school kids. The worm bin operations will be operated on a daily basis by trained volunteers under the supervision of EPA Inc.

3. Compost Tea Brewing - Nhya Roots, a Northern California manufacturer of certified organic fertility products, will provide to the project a state-of-the-art bio generator which will be used to propagate a richly bio diverse liquid, referred to as "actively aerated compost tea" (AACT). Anecdotal evidence shows that the addition to the landscape of the beneficial biology in AACT will stimulate root growth and plant vigor, prevent pest infestations and to reduce the quantity of water needed for successful irrigation maintenance. The goal of this demonstration will be to illustrate how the process, ingredients and practices of compost tea brewing may be utilized on commercial projects or at home. The compost tea brewing demonstration will be operated on a daily basis by trained volunteers under the supervision of EPA Inc.

Turfhugger: Where are you right now? Are you really "Zero Waste"?

Josh Heptig: At this point right now we recycle all materials that we possibly can with out infrastructure. We recycle aluminum, glass, paper, cardboard, and plastics. Dairy Creek is irrigated with 100% reclaimed waste water and was designed in that fashion to be an environmentally friendly venue.

We do not harvest any of our grass clippings and either leave them to decompose within the turf and return the nutrients to the soil or dispose of them in our green waste facility that is a natural compost site. We are not far off in the grand scheme, but we have some hurdles yet to navigate.

Turfhugger: How far does your effort to be Zero Waste go? Do you try to reduce electricity or water too?

Josh Heptig: As far as we can take it! We have grand plans to build a solar energy system and possibly wind generation as the course exists in an area with substantial amounts of wind coming from offshore. There has been talk of utilizing energy paddles within out reclaimed waste water line to recoup some of the costs we pay to pump water to the golf course from the water treatment plant.

We are constantly monitoring our energy consumption from all aspects of our operations through energy audits (GRG did an audit, reviewing Cart Charging, Irrigation Pumps, and Lighting) that help us to make decisions based upon the biggest bang for our buck combined with our needs. We would love to eliminate our need for trash waste units at the golf course all together and even begin to tinker with generating our own bio-diesel from the fats from our food and beverage operations. This will be an evolving mechanism and who knows how far we will be able to reach.

Simply we hope to reach as many people as possible to show how easy it can be for them to make a difference in their home, place of business, and communities to do what is right to make our lives more sustainable and if we can help change the perception of golf courses as polluters and resource wasters, then that is feather in our cap.

Turfhugger: What is your return on investment?

Josh Heptig: Luckily in our situation we do not have any out of pocket expenses other than some of our staff's time. Our compost vessels were granted to us via Integrated Waste Management Authority (our local waste management organization), much of the lumber for the infrastructure was donated by Hayward Lumber (local lumber yard), the worm bins and volunteer labor have been donated by Environmental Protection Associates Inc. (EPA Inc., the non-profit we are collaborating with) and Eco-Rotary International (a non-profit charitable organization in the US), and the current tea brewer is owned by Nyha Roots (one of our partners).

The rest of the costs ~ $5,000 will be captured by a grant from the Morro Bay National Estuary Program (MBNEP). We are not actually sure how much cost will be saved at this point because there really is not any data relating to actual composting or tea brewing available with quantifiable results. Our hope is to provide those figures by working in conjunction with California Polytechnic University's Horticulture Department. We anticipate the total costs to getting our facility operational to be around $27,000 with labor, grants, and hard costs.

Currently we are spending $0 for water as we have an agreement with a local prison to use their tertiarily treated waste water and we pay the pumping costs to the tune of $70,000 annually. If we can save 10% of the energy costs for pumping the water alone the ROI would be 3.8 years. That's not including potential fertility and pesticide reductions. So a course paying for water and pumping would have an even quicker pay back.

Turfhugger: When do you expect to break even?

Josh Heptig: We are conservatively expecting a 10% reduction in water/electrical costs and we expect to save $5-10K ($7.5K) on fertility and pesticides on top of that. So I expect that we will have captured our investment in just over two years.

Turfhugger: Okay, now back to the process, how do you screen/filter the compost so that it can be small and uniformed enough to be spread evenly?

Josh Heptig: To be honest we have not developed that mechanism at this point. We have plenty of landscaping around the property and we plan to use the compost in those areas in the beginning. These areas will not need a screened product as uniformity is not a concern. We positioned our compost facility adjacent to our irrigation pump house so that we could direct inject the tea into the irrigation lines and out to the course wall to wall, thus reducing the need to use the compost directly on the turf.

Turfhugger: How have you managed Turf in the past? (product wise)

Josh Heptig: I have always imagined a golf course with as few inputs as possible. My career has been centered in the Mid-west private club industry until coming to San Luis Obispo. My members were not willing to experiment fully with what we have designed here at Dairy Creek and until I met Richard with EPA Inc. these plans may never have been fully realized. Our relationship with EPA Inc. has really been the perfect storm of which Richard and I are both appreciative. (Richard also runs the Green Golfer Foundation, Think SurfRider Foundation for golfers - check it out here)

We have both brought our different resources and talents to the table to allow such an unprecedented facility to be developed. So my experience in the past has been a mix of primarily inorganic substances mixed with a variety of organic materials driven by my thoughts towards being an environmental steward. Each facility I have worked at has been different in member expectations, environmental concerns, soil structure, and needs. I have experimented with different organic products on all turf surfaces, tee to green, and found many of the products to to cost prohibitive and I believe much of that high cost is associated with the lack of demand because there has not been good quantifiable research available to the turf professional that doesn't just sound like a sales pitch. We hope to change all of that!

Turfhugger: Are you monitoring your soils?

Josh Heptig: You bet we are! We sample our soils at least once per year if not twice and with this program we have collaborated with Cal Poly to take base measurements, which will define how much if at all we have been able to modify components within our soils. We will watch fertility figures, microbial activity, disease incidence, moisture content, color, etc.

Like I stated before we hope to prove that this is a viable option for golf courses or other facilities that can utilize their by-products to reduce the amount of waste going to landfills. At the same time we will be protecting and conserving our precious natural resources in an effort to create an even better living breathing ecosystem than golf courses already are today!

In closing, Josh takes us on a tour of his green waste management efforts.