A number of years ago, I received a button that says “Compost-ing happens.” And yes, it absolutely does.
But whether it’s what happens in a backyard compost bin, at an onsite or centralized composting or anaerobic digestion facility, it requires the combination of appropriate feedstocks, good operational practices and effort to help make Mother Nature’s composting “recipe” happen.
More now than ever, the “recipe” depends on government attention to allow us to cook.
Political vision, fair and appropriate regulatory frameworks, economics and compost market development can influence the speed and sustainability of organics residuals recovery and composting in any jurisdiction.
Our latest composting survey identified that composting and anaerobic digestion facilities processed over 3.9 million tonnes of organic residuals in 2005. While this is an over 10-fold growth since The Composting Council of Canada’s original survey in 1993, we have probably yet to tap no more than 40 per cent of our potential!
And when you delve into the details of our survey, it is clear that the provinces who have had their teams consistently focused on organics residuals recovery for many years are way ahead of those that haven’t been paying attention to the potential that the resourcefulness of organic “waste” can offer to meet their diversion goals.
In many parts of Canada, centralized composting facilities are diverting a wide range of organic residuals — from residences, businesses, forestry and agricultural resource industries as well as wastewater processes. Backyard compost bins continue to be used and purchased.
Coincident with the development of composting “factories,” compost as a product is becoming a market category. Included in manufactured topsoil, filter berms, soil growing mediums as well as compost’s ever-increasing and proven benefits in bioremediation, erosion control, agriculture and landscaping are serving to expand demand and revenue for compost producers.
Our experience continues to deepen and expand with every new initiative and every day of operational experience.
The challenge now is not only to continue to expand our organics recovery infrastructure but also to do so in the context of increased public and, by consequence, political concern for environmental action.
In Ontario, we have just experienced political campaigning at its worst. For the first time in our Council’s history, we have waged open war on an issue. We did this because while we believe that all aspects of society should be involved in organics residuals recovery, we also believe that the recovery and processing system for organic residuals needs to be environmentally right and economically fair to all.
And while we threw ourselves in front of the train (and were able to get leaf and yard as well as wood waste materials removed from the proposal), we could not make it stop.
Although the complete regulation has yet to be posted, the press conference has happened and the media release has been issued. And thus, the priorities (and search for votes) are blatantly obvious.
Versus consistent environmental rules and economic fairness, regulations will be changed to eliminate the Certificate of Approval (C of A) process and enable organic residual waste from the IC&I sector to flow onto agricultural land. As well, subsidies of up to $400,000 are to be granted to enable these facilities to be built; the final product will be able to be sold according to federal regulations versus the outdated provincial regulations that govern the “non-agricultural” composting and anaerobic digestion facilities operated by Ontario municipalities and the non-agricultural-land-based private sector.
So, if this is the new playing field, then we encourage our members to assess this new opportunity and take advantage of it as they deem appropriate.
And while financially our Council is not rich, our weapons arsenal through this experience has become wealthier. Add to the fact that our collective efforts have the ability to divert well over one-third of the waste stream, compost contributes to soil health and vitality and our actions can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as sequester carbon, we have proven that, with the support of our members, we have a great capacity to fight.
And we will continue to do so to make sure that organics residuals recovery, composting as well as anaerobic digestion happen through means that are both environmentally and economically sustainable.
Susan Antler is executive director of The Composting Council of Canada. Contact Susan at firstname.lastname@example.org