Essentially, composting is a controlled biological process in which a succession of microbial elements, helped by moisture and air, convert organic material into a clean, fertile byproduct similar to soil. Most people think of composting as something to be done in their back yard with kitchen scraps and yard waste to help improve the soil in their garden or flowerbeds.
However, composting can also be done commercially, on a large scale, and can convert endless tonnes of waste into a useful product. Canada’s landfills are filling up and compostable material–soil, wood, paper, leaves, grass, food scraps, and much more–comprises more than 50 per cent of what is thrown away. With Canada’s top soil disappearing, the question arises: How should the next generation of experts be trained to divert this valuable material?
Unique to North America, the Composting Technology Centre at Olds College in Olds, Alberta, promotes the wise use of organic waste through applied research, education, and demonstration. Established in 1995, the centre conducts research projects which involve agri-food waste, pulp and paper, commercial forestry byproducts, biosolids from sewage treatment, and packing plant waste. Manure from Alberta’s thriving livestock industry is just one example of a waste product that has been successfully composted at the centre. Researchers address odour, pollution, and storage problems often covered in the media.
As well as applied research, the centre offers hands-on composting courses and programs for those interested in the opportunity to gain practical experience in the leading-edge commercial composting industry. Students can choose between a one-year certificate or a two-year diploma program. In addition, the centre delivers off-campus programs for municipalities, industries, and institutions.
The centre also works with industry in the areas of municipal waste management, agriculture, forestry, and the oil and gas sectors. Staff provide expertise in the areas of (for example) process management, microbiology recipe formulation, and site development.
Thomas Clark is senior project manager at Olds College in Olds, Alberta.