More and more municipalities are going beyond the traditional recycling focus contained in their blue boxes and bags to include organics collection and composting programs. Agricultural interests are turning their attention to composting to manage manure, mortalities and crop residues. And wastewater treatment and other industrial processes are investigating and incorporating the power of composting into their operations.
For those of us who have been preaching the “Compost!” gospel year in and year out, hallelujah! It’s about time.
While it’s important that composting increases across the country, it’s equally important that compost managers and producers collectively retain the confidence of consumers, regulators and the general public about the value of composting and the beneficial end products that can be produced.
The large scale composting industry owes much to the backyard-composting heritage for the positive reputation and trust that currently exists.
When you compost in your backyard, you know what you have put in to your bin, become acquainted with how the process works and are able to confidently use the compost product that is produced for your gardening needs.
And once you start to see the results of its use, you realize that you want more and discover that you can never really make enough in your own bin. So you go to the nearby store to buy more compost. All with the expectation that the compost products sold in those bags are just as good if not better than your homemade version.
The expectation for quality compost products that deliver against their consumer promise is a given. Clear labeling and directions for use is a must.
With this in mind and through the input of The Composting Council of Canada members across the country, the council is spearheading two compost product-focussed initiatives to retain and solidify consumer trust and performance expectations in compost products.
New quality standards
The first initiative — the review of the National Compost Standard — as directed by the Standards Council of Canada and operated through the Bureau de normalisation du Quebec is focused on re-examining the existing parameters of the standard. These parameters include: trace elements; maturity; foreign matter content and pathogens; and, to determine what, if any, science-based adjustments are required. This review, involving a 15-person panel representing producers, end uses and all other interests, has the cross-country support of every provincial environment ministry as well as Environment Canada and has received funding for the review from a variety of regulatory sources across Canada.
Furthermore, the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are supportive and active participants in the review to ensure that the standard harmonizes with current and upcoming federal and provincial requirements.
The second initiative — the development of voluntary agronomic declarations and lab testing protocols — is also being championed by Council members and in co-operation with international sister associations. The support from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and its C.A.R.D. (Canadian Adaptation and Rural Development) Fund program is providing the means to make this a reality.
Both initiatives, currently in progress, are scheduled for completion and introductions into the Canadian marketplace by spring 2004. Their specifics will be discussed in detail at this year’s National Composting Conference (to be held in London, Ontario from September 24 to 26). All those involved in the composting industry are encouraged to attend the conference and participate in these discussions to help mold the direction and destiny of the industry.
To ensure a successful, environmentally and economically sustainable composting industry over the long term, we need to make sure that we not only capture the organic materials that otherwise would be discarded in landfills but that we manufacture and market quality compost products that meet consumer expectations.
Both these initiatives are essential to make this happen.
Susan Antler is the executive director of The Composting Council of Canada. E-mail Susan at email@example.com