The Canadian composting industry continues to grow stronger. More than ever before, organic materials are treated as a resource rather than as a waste. Residential backyard composting programs continue to prove their effective management of organic residuals and large-scale composting “factories” continue to be established, capturing organic feedstocks and transforming them into valuable products for a variety of markets and applications.
The Composting Council of Canada–an advocacy group with members from the public and private sector and academe–conducts a biennial survey of centralized composting operations across the country to identify current operating practices and trends. Overall, the results of the 1998 survey show that the Canadian composting industry continues to move forward.
The total number of centralized composting facilities increased to 344 facilities, up by 92 facilities from the 1996 survey. (See chart.) The increase comes primarily from Alberta (up 68 facilities), reflective of industry growth and improvements in tracking measures. The Council received input from 244 of 344 identified facilities (a response rate of 71 per cent).
Of the 244 facilities surveyed, 42 surveys were from facilities in Atlantic Canada (17 per cent of total), 94 were from Quebec and Ontario (39 per cent) and 108 were from Western Canada (44 per cent).
Our survey says…
The facilities reported processing 1.65-million tonnes of organic materials in 1998, an increase of about 197,000 tonnes from 1996. Regional composting was as follows: Atlantic Canada, 235,500 tonnes; Quebec, 565,000 tonnes; Ontario, 519,300 tonnes; and, Western Canada, 328,900 tonnes. Additional organic recycling programs were available in most jurisdictions, including residential backyard composting, grasscycling initiatives and land application efforts.
Survey respondents included 93 private (38 per cent) and 151 public facilities (62 per cent). On a tonnage basis, 1.28-million tonnes (78 per cent) were composted at private operations. Overall, facilities are processing at 51 per cent of their total capacity.
Windrow composting continues to be the most common operating method (138 facilities), with eight of the facilities indicating that they have indoor windrow operations. Aerated static piles are used at 61 facilities. In-vessel composting is the method of choice for 23 operations surveyed (9 public and 14 private facilities).
One-third (or 82) of the facilities are located at the municipal landfill. Other locations included 67 exclusive or stand-alone sites, 17 on-farm operations and 14 material recovery facilities.
Leaf and yard trimmings continue to be the most common materials composted (182 facilities), followed by wood residuals (85 facilities). Food residuals from both the IC&I and residential sector are composted at 54 facilities (22 per cent of the total). Proportionally, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island have the greatest number of sites which compost food residuals (7 facilities or 54 per cent of total operations in both provinces), which is proof of provincial commitments to maximize recovery of all organic materials.
Other frequently composted organics include animal manure (39 facilities), paper materials (34 facilities, including sludge, corrugate, boxboard and soiled papers) and biosolids (33 facilities, with the majority in Quebec  and New Brunswick ). For the first time, hydrocarbon-contaminated soil composting was identified by two facilities in Alberta, indicative of the advent of the oil industry’s involvement in composting as a materials management process.
Collection methods range from drop-off by private haulers and residents (135 facilities) to curbside residential programs (77 facilities). Plastic bags continue to be the most common collection container, with 95 facilities reporting usage. Paper bags were used by twenty facilities. Wheeled carts are utilized in 31 programs, with 11 in Atlantic Canada.
Approximately 845,000 tonnes of finished compost was produced in 1998: 134,100 tonnes in Atlantic Canada; 257,000 tonnes in Quebec; 278,200 tonnes in Ontario; and, 176,100 tonnes in Western Canada.
The majority of compost product sales are in bulk format, sold at a variety of price points, with the average price range being $20 to $30 per tonne. Twenty-eight facilities sold product in bags. In-house staff primarily handles marketing. (Only nine facilities indicated that they were using an outside sales broker.) The two most frequently cited barriers to marketing compost products are transportation costs and undeveloped markets.
Facilities have started to produce compost products for specific applications. Twenty-nine facilities reported that they were involved in custom blends while 67 said that they would consider it based on market demand.
The survey shows that compost usage is wide and varied. Private and public landscaping programs are common markets and the end markets include: residential usage (121 facilities), nurseries and greenhouses (48), topsoil blenders (43), garden centres (45) and agricultural customers (45), land reclamation (29), golf courses (28 facilities) and landfill cover (48).
For more information on composting issues and The Composting Council of Canada, see www.solidwastemag.com. The Council’s conference will be held in Toronto, Ontario on November 3-5, 1999.
Susan Antler is the executive director of The Composting Council of Canada, based in Toronto, Ontario.