As discussed in my last blog post one of the highlights of the US Composting Council conference was the excellent session on Anaerobic Digestion and Integration with Composting.
It is clear that there are excellent opportunities to integrate off farm activities with on farm activities. This concept is something that is growing in Canada. Currently, there about 37 on farm AD facilities in Ontario each of which can receive some off-farm waste. Others are being constructed across the country.
Much of this development (in Ontario) is being driven by managing water quality issues through better management of manures (i.e. Walkerton) but really sweetened with dollars from Feed In Tariffs.
This potential for at least partial integration of off farm and on farm waste management has the added benefit of getting organic wastes where they ultimately belong and that is on farm land. It was clear from some other presentations that agricultural use of compost was still a puzzle waiting to be cracked in the US.
In Canada building on the foundation built by others companies such as Orgaworld Canada, Aim Environmental Group and others are making great inroads getting compost onto farm land by effectively communicating directly with farmers.
Nonetheless on farm anaerobic digestion offers an addition opportunity to bring organic wastes back to the place from which they originated in the first place.
There was also an excellent session on compostable plastics. I remember many years ago having an early morning session at a Composting Council of Canada conference where a small working group of manufacturers and council members had a similar discussion. It was a boisterous session as I recall. Many of the issues we talked about that day are the same today although effective certification programs have been developed over the years. As it did then the key issues today are about veracity and clarity. Does the product do what it says or implies? Is the consumer being mislead?
There continues to be considerable opportunity for both consumers and composters alike to be confused. Some of the confusion is natural but a great deal is foisted upon them by unethical manufacturers of products that want to benefit from the green wave without actually doing anything (other than colouring their products or using misleading words).
The key challenge is to educate consumers and composters on what is compostable and what is not. The BPI’s Compostable Product mark is widely recognized in the US and Canada (Canada also has their own mark). However the mark sometimes gets lost on the product or does not have meaning to the consumer. Another critical challenge is to make the mark and product distinctive enough that other non conforming products cannot be confused for it. Matthew Cotton, one of the presenters, effectively brought that point home when he held up two identical looking bags- one with the compostable mark and the other without. This may ultimately necessitate some truth in advertising legislation clearly defining what is compostable (as defined by BPI and others) and not allowing others to mislead through wording and packaging.
I went away from the conference with some conclusions:
1.The full gamut of organic waste processing should be considered under one umbrella- composting, AD, off farm and on farm.
2.It may be prudent to consider a North American organics association that encompasses the foregoing and works towards process and product standardization that would benefit all jurisdictions.
3.There is merit to considering a full and single North American “compostable” mark with added features to more clearly identify these products from other non-conforming products.
Copies of some presentations and papers can be found at: