Organic residuals continue to deliver gains in waste diversion, GHG reductions, job creation and environmental benefits
Certified Compostable Committee working to support the path forward
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. Today, the #1 material being recycled across Canada, organic residuals, are delivering local gains in waste diversion, greenhouse gas reductions, skilled job creation and all the fertility and environmental benefits associated with returning compost back to the soil. The multiplier effect through the amassing of these many individual local initiatives are creating solid gains for both provincial and national success stories. An industry has been created, still junior but with “good bones”, ready for exponential growth with heightened emphasis and greater financial support.
The mandatory certified facility operator requirements in the Province of Alberta 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 1000 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.
The years of experience in collection and processing are benefiting new diversion programs. This knowledge base is now turning its attention to end market development, 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 agronomic benefits, has begun to establish understanding and credibility with potential 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.
The ongoing challenge for product consistency and aesthetic quality remains. Far too often, the facility processors are caught in the crossfire of diversion inputs and end market demands. Physical contamination of feedstocks and the diversity of same is an ongoing issue. Certified compostable packaging and products offers strong light at the end of this 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 Municipal Waste Association, is trying 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. Our industry’s past twenty-five-plus years of real-life experience makes us prepared for these discussions, open for added investment and ready to deliver ever-greater results.
Traditionally, waste management companies have operated using a simple "management of waste" approach to operating a MRF. Throughput targets and continuous operation (minimal downtime) were the main driving forces. The industry has changed however, and the focus moving forward is now on optimizing system performance and reliability, in conjunction with increasing recycling rates and a drive for a "greener" and more sustainable tomorrow.
When considering the addition of, or upgrade to, an "intelligent" MRF, for municipalities or private operators, the main factors should always be the client's (operator) current requirements, and evolving market needs, which include throughput, reliability, output quality, and adaptability. Equally important is a full understanding of what is really expected from any proposed system. Having an engaged and focused mindset for the project with the client from the beginning, will impact and drive the entire design process. This then impacts the overall project result, through to the productive, efficient, ongoing operation of the facility itself.