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Organic residuals delivering diversion gains

The most diverted material in Canada is providing local gains in GHG reductions, job creation and environmental benefits

Organics recycling has long left its pioneering days, with the risky early times being nurtured by a roster of individual entrepreneurs, both in the private as well as public sector, who saw the potential, understood the "rightness" and stepped up to make good change happen.

An industry has been created - still junior but with "good bones" - that is ready for exponential growth, with heightened emphasis and greater financial support. Research has always been a key component in helping to advance organics recycling as well as build understanding and success about compost. We remain indebted to the ongoing involvement of scientists and researchers who have done much to support the work of local advocates to build sustainable infrastructure and demand for compost.

Currently, organic residuals are the #1 material being recycled across Canada, and are delivering local gains in waste diversion, greenhouse gas reductions, and skilled job creation, not to mention all the fertility and environmental benefits associated with returning compost back to the soil. The multiplier effect through the amassing of many individual local initiatives are creating solid gains for both provincial and national success stories.

The mandatory certified facility operator requirements in the Province of Alberta is a good case in point. This program has delivered a roster of over 150 industry professionals who have undergone both classroom and real-life training in large-scale composting. This is paralleled through a voluntary operator certification program across the rest of the country, supported with a science-based, practical operator course that has helped train over 1,000 industry advocates. The course has been refreshed through the ongoing inclusion of "lessons learned" and technology improvements with near-term plans to include anaerobic digestion systems training. 

Our collective years of experience in collection and processing are benefiting new diversion programs as well. The industry's knowledge base is now turning its attention to end market development, and realizing the need to focus on the agronomic realities of the products being produced. The Compost Quality Alliance (CQA), a voluntary initiative built from a base of adherence to regulatory requirements, with the added value of advancing agronomic benefits, has begun to establish understanding and credibility with potential end users. With the CQA analysis also including nutrient values coupled with ever-greater field research, sales pitches are gaining "street cred" with high-volume and high-value end users. 

Still, the ongoing challenge for product consistency and aesthetic quality remains. Far too often, facilities and processors are caught in the crossfire of diversion inputs and end market demands. Physical contamination of feedstocks and feedstock diversity is an ongoing issue. Certified compostable packaging and products offer a strong "light at the end of the tunnel." But there remains many obstacles on this path that need to be addressed.

The Certified Compostable Committee, spearheaded by The Compost Council of Canada in partnership with the Ontario-based Municipal Waste Association, is working to support the path forward. The compostability testing standard is being supplemented with a proposed standard for real-life trials, enabling brand marketers to provide added support for their compostability claims. 

The practicality of "one-off" versus "total category" of products and packaging with compostability claims remains a huge hurdle for fully supporting these valued materials by facility processors. Like any change, the first steps are difficult but necessary and so it is very important to applaud the initiatives by individual brand owners who are stepping up to improve the impact of brand packaging on organics recycling systems.

In the year ahead as more government policy and program implementation focuses on climate change, soil health, food waste and waste diversion, the role of organics recycling becomes ever greater. 

More interest from different industries will be evident and present in discussions going forward and our industry's past twenty-five-plus years of real-life experience makes us prepared for the discussions, open for added investment and ready to deliver ever-greater results.

"Feed the soil ... COMPOST!" is an ongoing mantra and will be a focus during International Compost Awareness Week (May 7 - 13, 2017). Healthy Soil Matters, a soon-to-be-launched education program from our Council, is focused on the biology of soils and their many functions to support plant vitality and productivity. From bacteria and fungi to the mighty earthworm, the critters in our soils must be fed good food and have good soil conditions to function properly, with compost being of fundamental importance. With the support of interactive workshops and education materials as well as establishing ever stronger connections within the industry, the "reasons why" we recycle organics will no longer be discussions of "if" but "when?"

As we gear up to welcome Calgary's soon-to-be-opened 145,000-ton centralized compost facility, we invite the industry to join us at our 27th Annual Organics Recycling conference in Calgary from September 18th through 20th. A tour of the new Calgary facility, in addition to cross-country updates and in-depth discussion about current "hot topics" will be conference highlights. And we'll have a chance to reflect on our pioneering spirit and the many, many efforts and lives which have built our country of today and for the future, in this Sesquicentennial year for Canada.

As our advocates have always known, all roads lead to compost. The benefits of recycling organics and returning compost back to our soils are fundamental truths.

This article was originally published in Recycling Product News, April 2017, Volume 25, Number 3

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