By Tony Biasotti, October 2, 2016
Agromin, an Oxnard-based composting company, recently marked a
milestone of sorts by processing its 5 millionth ton of green waste
since it started 23 years ago. The bigger milestone, though, is the
growth spurt the company is going through, which has it on pace to
process its second 5 million tons in less than half as long.
now has seven composting facilities in California, with two additional
ones fully permitted and under construction. Its annual revenues, now
around $25 million, have been growing at about 23 percent per year, and
Bill Camarillo, the company's CEO, said he expects the growth rate to
accelerate in coming years.
One big reason for Agromin's bright
future is the slate of climate-change legislation signed recently by
California Gov. Jerry Brown. The legislation, chiefly Senate Bill 32,
makes the state's program to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels
by 2020 even more ambitious — the new goal of SB 32 is to get emissions
by 2030 to be 40 percent lower than 1990 levels.
Part of the plan
to reduce greenhouse gases involves diverting more green waste, food
waste and other organic material from landfills, and that's where
Agromin comes in. Its composting centers accept organic waste and use it
to produce fertilizer and other soil products it sells to
agribusinesses and consumers.
By 2025, cities and counties in
California will be required to divert 75 percent of their organic waste
from landfills. Camarillo estimates that less than half of the state's
current total of 32 million tons a year of organic waste is now kept out
of landfills, which means millions of tons of extra material is on the
way, and that means extra business for companies like Agromin.
"The future says that we don't have enough compost centers in
California to manage all this organic material," Camarillo said. "We're
short in excess of 150 composting centers."
Camarillo wouldn't say how many of the new composting centers he thinks will be built by Agromin.
"We hope many of them. ...We're pretty excited about the future," he said.
goal of keeping organic materials out of landfills is to reduce the
amount of methane released into the atmosphere. Modern landfills capture
some of the methane released by decomposing organic material, but
composting centers can capture all, or nearly all, of it.
Methane is the second-most-prevalent greenhouse gas in the
atmosphere, after carbon dioxide, according to the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency. Methane actually has a bigger warming effect than
carbon dioxide, but carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere much longer,
so its overall effect is bigger.
Reducing methane emissions is
part of the state's climate-change strategy and is covered in SB 32, the
legislation recently signed by Brown. State Sen. Fran Pavley, a
Democrat whose district includes eastern Ventura County and the western
San Fernando Valley, wrote the bill and has been the chief lawmaker on
climate-change legislation in the state for the past decade.
is one of the short-term pollutants," said Timm Herdt, a spokesman for
Pavley. "By taking steps to capture and use the methane so it isn't
released into the atmosphere, you get a much quicker bang for your buck
in terms of global warming."
To collect more organic waste,
Agromin and companies like it will need to expand beyond green waste and
into food waste. Agromin has a pilot program through which it accepts
waste from restaurants and supermarkets; it plans to greatly expand that
program in the future.
The next step will be curbside composting, allowing residents to put
food waste in either their green waste bins or a separate composting
container. That's not required by state law, but it seems almost
inevitable if the state is to reach its targets, Camarillo said.
of the new Agromin composting centers is planned for Ventura County, on
land owned by Limoneira Co. outside Santa Paula. Agromin already has a
composting center there, but it wants to more than triple the size of
the facility, add capabilities for food waste and generate electricity
by capturing the gases created during composting.
The Limoneira project would replace Agromin's current facility near Ormond Beach in Oxnard.
whole strategy is to get out of that coastal zone area," Camarillo
said. "We like being by the ocean. It's beautiful over there, but it’s
not the easiest place to do business."
Agromin is deep in the
county's permit process for the Limoneira facility. A year ago, it
received a preliminary zoning clearance, a big step and a sign that the
Ventura County Board of Supervisors supports the project. Camarillo said
the timetable for opening the new facility, if all the permits come
through, is sometime in 2019.
As Agromin expands its reach in the
state, it is running into new competition, some of it backed by big,
wealthy investors. If there is a gold rush in green recycling, he likes
"They have money, but they don't have the
experience," he said. "We're a first mover, and we have to move quickly
in order to stay out front."