It’s in the BAG
Envirem Organics has grown into one of Canada’s largest volume composting operations based on creating solid industry relationships and higher value products for a wider range of markets
Envirem Organics Inc. was born out of the construction industry. In 1994, Bob Kiely, the company’s current president and GM, started at Envirem Technologies, Inc., part of a New Brunswick-based construction firm involved in contaminated soil remediation. Envirem Technologies then evolved into Envirem Organics in 2010, of which Bob Kiely is founder and owner.
“When I started in organics in 1994, I wanted to do things differently,” explains Kiely, who has a background in civil and environmental engineering. “I wanted to be more of a recycler. A lot of times, in those days with contaminated soils, for example, material was burned, put in a pile and never got to market. Much of it went to landfill. The goal of Envirem was really to create a more full-circle recycling company.”
Based near Fredericton, New Brunswick, Envirem Organics now deals mainly with organics recycling and composting, and less with industrial contaminated soils. The business has grown significantly since 2010. Kiely says the key to their growth has been a focus on R&D, investment in facilities, equipment and quality control, along with the development of a range of solid relationships in the forestry, agriculture and fishery industries, including an exclusive partnership with Groupe Westco, one of Canada’s largest poultry producers.
Envirem Organics is now one of the largest volume organics recyclers in Canada. With about 130 employees, at eight sites – six of which are primarily large composting sites – the company processes about 500,000 tons per year of organic waste. This includes between 200,000- to 300,000 tons of forestry waste, as well as fishery and agriculture waste. Forestry waste is the largest material the company processes by far, and recently, Envirem has started handling residential organics through a contract with Fundy Region (greater Saint John, New Brunswick.) The company also operates pelletizing plants and two biofertilizer plants, where they produce organic fertilizer, which is used as an alternative for chemical fertilizers.
At Miramichi, New Brunswick, Envirem’s largest site, the bulk of the company’s compost product is packaged for market – approximately six million bags per year. Kiely says that with their ninth facility, which recently began production in Maine (their first location in the U.S.), by 2018 their goal is to get closer to eight million bags produced yearly.
Diversified product, diversified markets
“As we have grown our compost markets, we have invested heavily in R&D and we look for every opportunity,” explains Kiely. “Our end markets range from horticulture and commercial agriculture to wetlands construction, remediation and retail, bagged product for consumers.”
Agriculture waste processed by Envirem consists mainly of poultry manure, potato sludges and byproducts. “We also do a lot of municipal biosolids composting, and this past fall, we signed a long-term 15-year contract with Saint John, New Brunswick, to compost their municipally-collected source separated organics.”
Kiely expects this to be a growth area going forward, especially considering how the company markets their finished product. He says that while many composters might say they’ve got one type of compost and they sell it to 10 different markets, at Envirem Organics, they produce 10 different composts, all for different markets. “We’re in a great position to get to the right markets, because of our marketing, our locations and our ability to package and move different types of compost.”
He talks about their seafood waste compost, which ends up mostly as a bagged, retail product, as an example of the kinds of specific markets they serve.
“Seafood compost has good market appeal, especially in the northeast U.S. and we ship it to Ontario and all over,” he says. “There’s an ‘anti-manure sentiment’ with some buyers, so seafood compost is an option for that. And we have organic-certified seafood compost as well. So we’ll sell it not just retail but to organic growers in the agriculture industry.”
For fishery residuals, Kiely says they get a lot of different kinds, because of their different site locations.
“We’ll get everything from lobster shells and crab shells to herring, and then in the southern part of the province, we get a lot of aquaculture industry residuals,” he says. “So we get many different species of fish. In aquaculture, there are significant kills at times because of disease. We were involved in a couple of those situations with CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) where all of a sudden a fish farm becomes contaminated with disease and then we’ve got large quantities we have to dispose of in a very short time. At some of our large-scale sites, which are full of carbon, we can deal with a big influx of product, versus an in-vessel composting site that doesn’t have the surge capacity.
“And because we’re managing such a high volume of forestry residuals, we can go out to the fishery guy or the farmer with low-cost options for their waste disposal,” continues Kiely. “We need their nutrients. Fishery waste and poultry manure create value. I can take seafood compost and create an organic-certified product that has more value, and sell it for more money.”
Besides compost product, Envirem also makes organic products through pelletizing.
“We’re not just in composting, we’re big into converting organics into a variety of marketable products,” says Kiely. “And with that, especially being remote, we’re trying to ship product a long ways. We look at drying it, pelletizing it, and creating high value out of our products.
“We have three pellet mills and two organic fertilizer plants. We’ve grown substantially as a supplier of organic-certified inputs into organic-certified agriculture production.” He says this involves detailed site audits, and buyers often look at a processor to provide a detailed background on where the product is coming from, how it is handled, and what the contamination opportunities are. “We also have several products for retail sales which are approved through OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute). Approval is based on our ingredients and meeting their organic standards.”
Kiely adds that because New Brunswick is a very large supplier of peat to global markets, they have spent a good deal of time researching and developing peat additives. “We can take dry compost, add it to peat and make more finished, high-value products here in New Brunswick. We’re doing some research right now on drying compost to get the right weight. Compost is about 30- to 40-pounds per foot. Peat is about five or six pounds per foot. So you can’t put our weighted product and put it in a bale and ship it all over the world. It’s too heavy.”
Creating industry partnerships
“The opportunity for compost in agriculture is huge,” says Kiely. He says the growth of the organic fertilizer market, and organic food and vegetable markets, is particularly significant. “But, if you are a farmer that has been using chemicals for years and pesticides, how do you make the switch to organics and organic fertilizers? We have to make organics more user-friendly for farmers. Organic products that are pelletized, drier, spreadable, with better nutrition, and which produce better results – all those things are important to farmers and for building these markets. So creating that value with compost is what we do, and it is our challenge.”
Besides his partnerships in the agriculture and fishery industries, Kiely has established many long-term relationships with many of the large forestry companies in Atlantic Canada.
“We really worked early in the process with local forestry companies,” he says. “They generate a lot of residuals.” He adds that due to landfill spec changes that have come about over the last few decades, forestry companies have increasingly needed to look for alternatives to building expensive landfills or transporting waste to landfill. Kiely says when they really started evaluating this issue, Envirem was there with an alternative.
“You’ve got forestry companies that, first of all, now understand that recycling improves their environmental scorecard, offers a solution to not adversely impact the environment and reduces their carbon footprint. Forestry companies are buying into sustainability and this has become a big part of our growth.”
Envirem is also working with Ducks Unlimited and with food industry giant McCain Foods.
“We made a big stride this year with building many acres of constructed wetlands, using compost, and partnering with Ducks Unlimited,” says Kiely, who adds that wetland construction and rehabilitation and their work with McCain Foods are examples of how Envirem is developing the potential for large, national markets for compost.
“We’re committed to agricultural trials, we’ve just completed year three and had great success on significant acreage trials [at McCain Foods],” says Kiely. “We’re not just dealing with small plots anymore. We’re dealing with over a hundred acres in McCain’s pipeline trials. The major challenge however is that their potatoes only harvest once every three years, so these trials are just showing initial results and results have been very positive so far. Favourable results can significantly impact potential markets across Canada.”
Understanding compost and the way forward
The biggest challenge Kiely sees for composting is the task of promoting understanding to the public and to the industry. He notes that this is something that the Compost Council of Canada works very hard to do.
“It’s about making sure composters in the industry are in compliance with quality standards,” he says. “We are a founding member of the Compost Council’s Compost Quality Alliance (CQA) which is a group of us with a focus on making sure all composters know the pros and cons of compost – because all compost isn’t the same.
“The most important thing we need in our industry is that the people that are producing compost are following procedures, are trained, making sure their compost meets safety regulations and know the quality of their product,” continues Kiely. “Government regulates the safety of compost but the CQA program is essential for composters to know the quality and efficacy of their products for marketing. So it’s really the compost industry and composters that must take the lead and I’m very proud of the national work being done by our Compost Council of Canada promoting the CQA program.”
Kiely continues: “All compost facilities in Canada should have operators that are certified and trained and all compost should be tested in the CQA program. Composters need to make sure they know what’s good and bad about their compost, and promote good product. If an operation does something wrong with compost in one area, it impacts us nationally.
“Doing the research and doing the product development and the market development to sustain input/output is so important,” he continues. “If not, you’re just short-term service.”
He adds that many composters look on the waste side and the processing side, and they’re not focused on product development or research and market development.
“Since day one, our initiative has been to invest and become a good developer of products, so then we can feed the pipeline with organics rather than having organics and then searching for markets.
“In the short term, we’re looking for sustainable sales. In the long term, we’re looking to create products that have much bigger geographic markets, and that have much more value.”
This article was originally published in Recycling Product News, April 2017, Volume 25, Number 3.