Driven by the need to address the conservation of natural resources, the management of landfill space, the restoration of soil quality, and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, a new industry–composting–has emerged in Canada. From residential backyard to large-scale centralized approaches, composting provides the means to capture and utilize organic waste.
In less than a decade, the industry has realized exponential growth, both in terms of the number of centralized and onsite facilities established and the number of backyard composters distributed. And yet, despite over 200 facilities, the distribution of over 1.2-million backyard composters, and approximately 1.4-million tonnes of organic materials processed annually, it’s estimated that the industry has not even tapped 20 per cent of its potential!
Goal and objectives
The Composting Council of Canada serves as a forum for industry spokespeople from both the public and private sectors. The Council’s goal is to ensure that the industry develops and that it does so in a manner which is both economically and environmentally sustainable, obtaining and retaining the confidence of its host communities, consumers, regulators, and politicians.
To achieve these objectives, The Council’s advocacy efforts focus on awareness-building, and understanding of composting and its potential, supporting of the planning and implementation of composting programs, and aiding the development of viable end markets.
Education and advocacy
Educational efforts focus both within the industry and towards the general public. To serve the industry, The Council has a series of knowledge and networking services to deliver timely and relevant communication, information, and training. The annual national conference, to be held this year in Ottawa November 4 to 6 (see sidebar, page 31) keeps the composting community up-to-date on the latest developments in technology, applied research, processing and equipment, and marketing and composting initiatives and programs. With attendees and exhibitors from across Canada and internationally, the conference also provides the venue to meet and network with leaders in the industry.
The annual conference is supplemented with regional events throughout the year, targeted to meet local development needs and interests. Ongoing partnerships have been established with provincial recycling councils, educational institutions, and other waste management associations to offer educational opportunities which are of benefit to members and supporters.
Training program and events
In the upcoming year, The Council will invest heavily in the introduction of a new training program designed to promote compost facility operator knowledge and sound operating techniques. The program will fulfil an unmet need identified by facility operators and technicians, public planners, regulators, and consultants to provide structured, short-burst technical training. Beginning September 1998 in Atlantic Canada, the four-day classroom and hands-on training program will guide participants through topics which will include: feedstock recovery and preparation, composting, odour treatment, curing, screening and refining, and storing and packing. Accompanied by The Council’s Compost Facility Operating Guide, it’s expected that the program will be offered on a regular basis throughout the country.
The establishment and maintenance of public acceptance of composting programs and facilities is often an underestimated variable in the success of community efforts. To build public confidence and understanding in composting, The Council spearheads an annual awareness-building program known as “National Composting Awareness Week.” The program has become a mainstay in the annual composting promotion programs of over 150 communities across Canada. This year’s theme, “Return to your roots…Compost!” was designed to establish stronger linkages with the horticultural community (strong endorsers of the use of compost for improved gardening results). The message was reinforced through The Council’s long-term association with Canada’s leading gardening media personality, Mark Cullen. A cross-country speaking tour and public appearance events enabled The Council and its national and regional partners to reach and involve over 15-million Canadians in composting efforts and applications. Plans for the 1999 program will involve an expanded schedule of events spanning from spring to early winter, developed in conjunction with the City of London, Ontario.
To support the inclusion of composting programs in a community’s integrated waste management efforts, advocacy efforts build on the roster of proven, in-market success stories. The Council develops and distributes a range of information documents and guides on networking opportunities as well as provides support to address local issues.
Research and market expansion
Biannually, The Council surveys the industry from the perspective of facility operations, collection and composting methods, tonnage processed and produced, and marketing efforts. This information serves the important function of tracking industry progress as well as identifying trends, opportunities, and issues. The information provides the supporting evidence for discussions with key target groups–government, industry investors, media, and others–on the success and support requirements of the industry. Plans are currently underway to gear up for the 1999 survey which will include an even greater emphasis on end markets than in previous years.
Expanding the end market usage of compost represents a significant opportunity to build the economic value of the industry. Many Council members are devoting considerable research effort to the areas of agricultural applications, silviculture, turf grass management, and soil remediation and reclamation.
In cooperation with Environment Canada and Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada, The Council recognized the need to build long-term markets for finished compost. The three organizations have embarked on a three-year research project to study the impact of municipal and industrial waste-derived compost in agricultural applications. The research, to be completed this year, evaluates compost’s nutrient and soil-amending properties to define its agricultural marketability and to establish procedures to produce compost products with desirable characteristics for specific agricultural and horticultural uses. The results will be used to enhance discussions with industry groups and individual sites on the increased use of compost for various production benefits.
Significant work has already been done to establish compost quality standards that define the usage of the end products. Based on input from members, The Council is currently conducting a national survey of finished compost quality to determine achievability of these guidelines. Over the next few months, a comprehensive survey will be sent to all composting facilities. Following tabulation, the results will be analyzed and used in future discussions with provincial and federal regulators on behalf of industry.