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Ontario Releases Updated Composting Guidelines


As did many others I received a personalized letter, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE), in my email inbox yesterday indicating that at long last they had updated Ontario’s compost framework. This includes new standards and guidelines.
This has been a long time coming. The original Interim Guidelines for the Production and Use of Aerobic Compost in Ontario composting guidelines were released in 1991 and aside from some minor tinkering in 2004 have remained unchanged since that time. They were released when Ontario’s composting industry was nascent, still focused on back yard composting but moving quickly to industrial scale composting of leaf and yard waste and eventually source separated organics (SSO).
Of course the industry has progressed considerably since that time and had long outgrown those guidelines. MOE Approvals personnel had long since stopped solely relying on these guidelines particularly after the steep increase in the collection and composting of SSO in Ontario. That increase was met with considerable growing pains for the industry, as it up-scaled the size of composting facilities and quite frankly tried to keep up with the amount of SSO in the marketplace. The MOE also had to increase its intellectual capacity to deal with permitting larger and more complex facilities. While, as there always is, there is still room for improvement both the industry and the MOE have come a long way.
The draft of these new standards and guidelines was released in November 2009. It took almost three years to have them finalized and approved (it should be noted that an election also intervened which added at least a year to this process).
During that time the MOE offered industry what I consider to be extraordinary latitude to help shape these guidelines into something that would be meaningful and mutually beneficial. I know that the industry was grateful for this opportunity.
The Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), the Composting Council of Canada, the Municipal Waste Association (MWA), the Ontario Waste Management Association and the Regional Public Works Commissioners of Ontario (RPWCO) were invited by the MOE to provide detailed comments and meet with the MOE on a number of occasions.
I was privileged to represent the OWMA and can say that these various groups worked very diligently together to develop a consensus. I was further privileged to be part of a technical team that drafted the various groups final comments to the MOE and participated in detailed discussions with them.
Ultimately you never get everything you want and while much of our input was accepted some of it of course was not. While it will take a while for the industry to figuratively digest (I mean compost) the final version of these documents I can say with confidence that there is some relief (and even a little jubilation) that this has come to pass.
The composting framework is split into two and includes:
• New compost quality categories and standards, set out in a new document “Ontario Compost Quality Standards” (Standards) and supported by regulatory amendments; and
• New composting facility guidelines, set out in the updated document “Guideline for Production of Compost in Ontario” (Guideline).
See http://www.ebr.gov.on.ca/ERS-WEB-External/displaynoticecontent.do?noticeId=MTE3NjAy&statusId=MTc2MDM4&language=en for more details.
While standards and guidelines do not in themselves make better compost, composters or grow an industry it does provide up to date information for those in the industry or those considering joining the industry. It should give the industry some level of confidence that the government continues to see composting as an important waste diversion solution.
No one’s work is truly ever done. A possible next step is the development of Anaerobic Digestion standards and guidelines (as they have done in Quebec) so that the full suite of organic waste diversion opportunities have the benefit of fulsome guidance.
I have included some additional details on the new composting standards and guidelines, excerpted from the MOE letter below.


Key Excerpts from the MOE Letter are Included Below:
These changes take effect January 1, 2013. The update is intended to encourage the composting of more materials and to support the development and operation of robust, sustainable composting facilities.
The update establishes three categories of compost (AA, A and B) in place of the current single category (“unrestricted use compost”). Effective January 1, 2013, regulatory exemptions from the need for ministry approvals for use and transport will be available for compost that meets Category AA standards, or Category A standards plus labeling requirements (“exempt compost”). Category B compost will require government approval for use (i.e., an Environmental Compliance Approval (ECA) off-farm; an approved NASM Plan on-farm) and transportation (i.e., an ECA).
The ministry has put in place a 2-1/2 year transition period to allow adoption of the new standards for “exempt compost” in a reasonable timeframe. To qualify for use and transport exemptions during the transition period, compost created at facilities with an ECA issued before January 1, 2013:
• Does not have to meet the new foreign matter and maturity standards until July 1, 2015 provided they comply with the new Category AA standards for metals and pathogens and all other conditions relating to the quality of compost in their ECAs.
•Must meet the new Category AA compost metals, quality of feedstock and pathogen standards, effective January 1, 2013.
Effective July 1, 2015, facilities must meet all of the Category AA standards, or Category A standards and labeling requirements, in order to produce “exempt compost”.
The new standards will supersede the compost quality standards that are currently included in or referenced through the facility ECA. As a result, you do not need to apply for an amendment to your existing ECA in order to adopt the new standards. However, you will need to apply for an amendment to your ECA if you would like to make changes to the types of materials you can accept (e.g., biosolids) or to the facility processes or equipment.
The ministry strongly encourages you to assess whether you will require any ECA amendments in order to comply with the new standards. In the event that you do, you should submit your application for amendments as soon as possible and well before July 1, 2015. ECA application information is available on the ministry’s website at:
http://www.ene.gov.on.ca/environment/en/industry/assessment_and_approvals/environmental_approvals/STDPROD_097095.html
New Composting Facility Best Practices Guideline
The new Guideline is now in effect. It is designed to assist facility developers and operators by providing information about best practices in facility siting, design, operation and maintenance. Ministry approvals staff will use the Guideline to assist with the review of applications for new and amended facility ECA.
For further information on this update, including links to the new Standards and Guideline documents and revised regulations, please see the ministry’s final decision posting on the Environmental Registry at: http://www.ebr.gov.on.ca/ERS-WEB-External/displaynoticecontent.do?noticeId=MTE3NjAy&statusId=MTc2MDM4&language=en
and the ministry’s website at: http://www.ene.gov.on.ca/environment/en/category/organics/.


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