Cotton’s trash could be an environmental treasure. A joint effort between Cotton Incorporated, the USDA and Ellis Brothers Gin in Alabama is on the verge of bringing to the market a product that may change the way folks look at gin waste, and adding value to something that once was a nuisance.

By turning cotton gin waste into landscaping mulch, the developers are hoping to capitalize on the need to reduce soil erosion at road and house construction sites.

In California, for example, laws regarding water runoff and soil erosion control require a cover over bare dirt left for more than 14 days.

Responding to the requirements, road and house builders often use blankets made of recycled paper, wood or coconut husks to hold the water and soil in place. A good rain often washes these products away, however.

In contrast, the cotton waste product mattes itself to the soil and reduces erosion. “Research has shown that we can reduce soil erosion by a factor of 10 compared to mulch made from wood products,” says Tom Wedegaertner, director of cottonseed research and marketing at Cotton Incorporated.

“There’s no question, this is very, very exciting,” he says. “The products we are competing against have a retail price of $200 to $250 per ton. I’m convinced that cotton waste product can be made for a cheaper price.”

The cotton waste project is another spin off from the cottonseed coating work done at the USDA Gin Lab in Lubbock, Texas.

Through the years, various efforts have failed to find a use for cotton gin waste. The problem is its abrasiveness. It’s used in cattle feed, but that’s a “low-end business,” Wedegaertner says.

By dyeing the cotton gin waste, it looks like shredded bark, he says, and can be used for hydra seeding mulches. This avenue is a high-end market and one that is rapidly expanding.

“By next spring, we may very well have a commercial product coming out of Ellis Brothers Gin in Centre, Ala., for use by the hydra seeding industry in Atlanta,” Wedegaertner says.

“We are right on the cutting edge of a developing technology and we want to be right in the middle of it as it develops,” Wedegaertner says.

e-mail: cyancy@primediabusiness.com