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Compost as a toxic waste?


In May an argument resurfaced between the Composting Council of Canada (CCC) and Stewardship Ontario (SO) over the definition of compost as a fertilizer and negative implications from its inclusion in Ontario’s stewardship program for municipal hazardous and special waste.
The argument dates back to last year when compost got sideswiped in a debate over definitions, and compost somehow got included in the management of fertilizer wastes in the new stewardship program. The CCC’s Executive Director Susan Antler had casually mentioned to me in a dinner conversation how ridiculous it was that compost was being labeled as a “toxic waste” in Ontario and I sat there dumbfounded.
My subsequent investigations unveiled a complicated policymaking discussion in which various stakeholders (mostly the CCC and SO, along with the environment ministry) wrestled with whether or not agricultural fertilizer should be included in the new household haz-waste program, and if so, how to do it so that a potentially toxic waste stream of fertilizer would be properly disposed, without somehow tarnishing the reputation of compost, and (especially) without adding to the price of a bag of compost, of the variety typically sold to consumers at home and garden centres.
The CCC has worked for years to build consumer awareness of the benefits of using compost as a soil amendments, and partially because of its efforts large-scale Green Bin programs are in place across Canada. The last thing the CCC wants to see is any policy that creates negative perceptions of compost just as new standards are leading to greater and greater acceptance and utilization of compost.
I followed up by calling Waste Diversion Ontario’s Executive Director Glenda Gies, and asked her what was up. She assured me that neither WDO nor SO had any intention of harming compost’s reputation, and that the CCC’s concerns had been addressed in the final version of the regulations and the program. I put the idea of writing about this on hold.
So it was surprising for me to read an “e-Lert” from Stewardship Ontario dated May 10 that discussed the issue in terms that were negative for fertilizer and a bit sensational (with the heading “How do you solve a problem like fertilizer?”). I subsequently read a letter that the CCC sent to SO’s CEO Gemma Zecchini that pretty much sums up the CCC’s concerns.
The issue is complicated, but if you read the e-Lert and the CCC’s subsequent letter, you’ll have a pretty good introduction to the issue. I’m putting this on my blog to create greater awareness and in hopes that the MHSW program is tweaked so that its conducted in a way that satisfies the CCC’s concerns. I hope the environment ministry and WDO people sit down with SO and the CCC to work this all out.
First, here’s the e-Lert text:
How do you solve a problem like fertilizer?
Association reps, stewards seek administrative solution
The Ontario Agri Business Association (OABA) and the Canadian Fertilizer Institute are leading efforts to find an administrative solution that would allow stewards to exempt sales to carded farmers from being reported to SO and having to pay fees. The decision follows an SO meeting last week, during which stewards and association representatives discussed the expanded definition of fertilizer under phase two of the MHSW plan – and what it might mean for Ontario’s agricultural community.
Under the consolidated MHSW program, which takes effect July 1, a fertilizer is any product defined under the Fertilizer Act and regulated under the Fertilizer Regulations. Introduced to cover the 85% of returned fertilizers not currently included under the MHSW plan, the revised definition dramatically increases the materials defined as fertilizers under the program.
While the definition continues to be restricted to products in packages of 30 kg or less, critics say that a good portion of these are sold to farmers who could be forced to subsidize the cost of managing leftovers they had no part in creating.
“I have no problem with stewardship. We accept the responsibility, and understand that there’s a cost to be borne for the stewardship of that product,” one steward said. “We’re quite prepared to pay for our share. What our company is not prepared to pay for is the care of and the appropriate handling of residual product that is created by other people and other markets.”
Stewardship Ontario CEO Gemma Zecchini, who stressed that SO doesn’t levy fees on farmers or interfere with any commercial relationship, said that steward rules may provide the flexibility to exclude material sold directly into the farm community, provided the carve out for carded farmers is administratively doable.
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Second, here’s the letter to SO from the CCC:
May 17, 2010
Ms. Gemma Zecchini
CEO, Stewardship Ontario
1 St. Clair Ave West, 7th Floor
Toronto, ON M4V 1K6
Dear Ms. Zecchini,
e-Lert of May 10, 2010 and Fertilizer Exemption Discussions
It was with great surprise and then ensuing concern that discussions are underway with only a select group of fertilizer category interests to seek an “administrative solution” to “solve a problem like fertilizer”.
Why should one type of product or target group sales be given preference versus the original “judgment” set out and approved by the Board of Directors of both Stewardship Ontario and Waste Diversion Ontario as well as sanctioned by the Honourable Minister Gerretsen, Minister of the Environment?
As you know, we continue to object to having compost products be declared “municipal hazardous or special waste” in Ontario through the MHSW plan. Our concerns have not been addressed despite considerable input from both our Council as well as members.
We now read that there are discussions to exempt sales for a specific target market. Despite what is said in the article (How do you solve a problem like fertilizer?), Stewardship Ontario, the MHSW program and its impact on compost products will indeed interfere with commercial relationships as well as market development (particularly when the issue is sensationalized with headlines such as “How do you solve a problem like fertilizer?).
If certain products can be considered for exemption, we respectfully ask once again that compost products also be exempted from the looming MHSW program.
We also respectfully ask that Stewardship Ontario open any discussions pertaining to the fertilizer category to all companies and organizations that are impacted by the currently approved MHSW program plan direction. Only then should decisions be made that can change the unfortunate current direction of the MHSW plan.
We look forward to hearing from you regarding next steps.
With respect,
Tom Hennessey, Ontario Chair
Scott Gamble, National Chair
Susan Antler, Executive Director
cc : Glenda Gies, Waste Diversion Ontario
The Honourable John Gerretsen, Minister of the Environment
John Vidan/John Armiento, Ontario Ministry of the Environment


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