Turning trash into fertile compost

Rama Vasudevan


Tom Leonard

Executive Director

Sevier Solid Waste, Inc. (SSWI)

Monday, April 10, 2023

11:30 a.m.

Crowne Plaza Hotel

401 W Summit Hill Drive, Knoxville


SSWI is owned by the cities of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Sevierville as well as by Sevier County. Tom Leonard oversees the operation of the solid waste processing and recycling program. Instead of landfilling the solid waste collected in Sevier County — including nearby Dollywood and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park — SSWI turns it into a composting material using large rotating drums called digesters.

Everything from food waste to paper and plastic can be mixed together. In the 185′ long, 12′+ diameter continuously rotating digesters, air and bacteria break down the mixture into an organic material that can be used as compost. Careful screening helps prevent non compostable material from entering the mix. The operation has been in existence since 1988.

The material collected used to go into a landfill but that is not an option you want to use in a tourist area like Sevier County. Landfills require lots of land and are expensive to operate. The digestion and composting option diverts 70 percent of the entire waste stream, saving money and land. It produces over 50,000 tons of Grade A, nutrient-dense compost each year.

SSI compost is available free of charge to the public to spread on local farms, use for erosion control, enhance vegetation, or apply to topsoil mixtures.

The SSWI website shows many examples of how the compost is used in the region.

Tom Leonard took charge of the original composting facility, almost 25 years ago, after the company that had built it was unable to run it profitably and a contracted big waste management corporation also failed to do it economically. With enormous persistence and great skill he succeeded to improve and tune the process such that it became less expensive than hauling all the waste to a landfill or incinerator, as is done almost everywhere else. Visitors from all over the world have come to study his operation.

With the addition of new equipment to break down plastic bottles as well as aluminum and tin cans, SSWI now anticipates to decrease the landfill portion of the waste stream to as little as 15 percent.

For more information on TSK and its meetings, please email the secretary, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call him at 865-679-9854.

SSWI composting plant

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