OMAHA — An entrepreneur wants to mix Omaha's sewage sludge with yard waste to create a compost product.
Andy Harpenau, founder of Soil Dynamics, is proposing that Omaha officials consider the sludge-yard waste product as a more efficient alternative to the city-made Oma-Gro compost.
Omaha spends $3.5 million annually to collect yard waste separately and $1 million to create and package Oma-Gro, the soil additive made from yard waste. Oma-Gro generates less than $200,000 for the city, which isn't close to covering the production costs.
Harpenau said the sludge-yard waste compost could recoup the extra cost of collecting yard waste separately from garbage.
Omaha doesn't use its sludge, which is a cleaned-up combination of human and industrial waste from the city's wastewater treatment plant system. Omaha spent nearly $900,000 last year to haul it away. The city paid farmers about $40,000 to put it on their land, where it's used as fertilizer.
Harpenau's plan calls for a private company to oversee and operate Omaha's wastewater treatment operations, which could reduce the cost of making sludge. The company could then market and sell the sludge-yard compost to farmers and gardeners, splitting the revenue with the city.
Mayor Jean Stothert's administration said it is open to making improvements but want a consultant to determine the best uses for sludge and yard waste.
"We'll let that expert tell us if we could maybe do something more profitable or if we're doing things right," said Jim Theiler, the city's assistant director of public works.
Omaha is considering its next 10-year waste-collection contract, which must be signed by 2020. The new contract is expected to total about $30 million a year.