Plymouth K-Lime Turns Waste into Nutrients

Farmers in eastern North Carolina are excited about a fertilizer option available from Domtar’s Plymouth Mill. Plymouth K-Lime is a potassium (periodic table symbol: K) and lime blend that’s creating healthier crops, saving farmers money and reducing the amount of waste being sent to the landfill by the mill.

It’s a win-win-win situation that has captured the attention of the industry and has earned Domtar two awards for environmental leadership.

Back to the Beginning

As part of a larger 2013 corporate initiative to repurpose manufacturing byproducts and reduce landfill waste, the Plymouth Mill began taking a closer look at its manufacturing byproducts. These waste products can sometimes be difficult to handle and reuse, but they also have individual characteristics that make them potentially beneficial.

“We knew that the residuals of our manufacturing process contained nutrients that, in the right concentrations, could be beneficial to our farming neighbors,” explained Diane Hardison, Plymouth Mill environmental manager, who noted that local farmers grow cotton, tobacco, corn, soybeans, peanuts, wheat and more. “We saw an opportunity to blend those byproducts to create a nutrient-balanced material that works well as an amendment to local soils.”

Building off of existing research that showed the benefits of using wood ash in agriculture, the Plymouth Mill and consultants from Advanced Residuals Management (ARM) experimented with different blends to balance out the extreme properties of each byproduct. They refined the mix for local use and licensed it with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture.

Plymouth K-Lime blending process
Raw materials are carefully blended to create the right mix of nutrients for each field.

They also created a sales and distribution model that saves local farmers money by selling and spreading the material, using state-of-the-art spreaders, at one-third the cost of traditional fertilizer. At the same time, the income gained from Plymouth K-Lime helps offset material reuse costs for Domtar.

“We wanted to make sure the material not only had value to Domtar but could also be of true benefit to farmers,” said Elwood Black, a technical consultant with ARM. “We routinely send off samples of the material to document its quality, and we calibrate it to spread the exact amount [of Plymouth K-Lime] needed for a particular field. We tailor our operations to each farmer’s needs.”

A Better Fertilizer for Farmers

Plymouth K-Lime has been in distribution since late 2013, and local farmers have been very pleased with the results. Chris LeFever farms corn, wheat, soybeans and rapeseed on 900 acres near the mill, and he’s been using Plymouth K-Lime for some time. It works well, and it saves him as much as $35 per acre over traditional fertilizers and soil amendments.

“I like that it’s all-natural, and the particle size is really good,” LeFever said. “It’s clean, it breaks down well, and the roots get at it right away. With commodity prices going down and so much cost going up, the savings really help.”

Environmental and Economic Impact

But perhaps the biggest benefit of Plymouth K-Lime is its environmental and economic impact on Domtar and the local community. Hardison says the Plymouth Mill produces 30,000 tons of Plymouth K-Lime each year — all of it material that would otherwise be sent to the landfill at a rate of 190 tons per day.

Plymouth K-Lime facility in Eastern North Carolina
Manufacturing byproducts, which would otherwise be sent to a landfill, are processed and blended to create Plymouth K-Lime.

“Where we’re really seeing an impact is no longer having to put waste in a landfill and having to pay to monitor and manage that waste,” Hardison said. “We also don’t anticipate ever having to build another cell for our landfill.”

Today, Plymouth K-Lime is reducing Domtar’s  landfill waste by more than 90 percent. The project has cut annual landfill operating expenses by $150,000, and landfill operations down to just one day a week from five. The project will also help avoid future capital expenses of building new cells, which cost $3 million to $5 million each and need to be built every five years over the lifetime of the mill.

And the local economy? “In a rural area like Plymouth, which is highly agricultural, the more you can reduce costs for the local farmers, the bigger the impact you can have on the community,” said Kevin Fritze, Domtar’s corporate services and sustainability coordinator. “It really helps folks to have access to a lower-cost fertilizer that can improve the health of their crops.”

Plymouth K-Lime Earns Awards

Those types of savings, environmental wins and community benefits have earned Plymouth K-Lime a 2016 Product & Project Award from Environmental Leader. “The Domtar K-Lime project epitomizes the practical application of technology to improve sustainability across environmental, economic and social dimensions,” the organization said. “Taking materials that were being sent to the landfill and finding some sort of beneficial use for them is such a great example of sustainable innovation.”

Domtar was also recognized as a leader in sustainability in 2015 by the American Forest and Paper Association. Plymouth K-Lime earned an Innovation in Sustainability Award for being “a fantastic example of innovation and how sustainability can be simultaneously good for the environment and the bottom line,” according to AF&PA President and CEO Donna Harman.

 

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