BioCycle August 2009, Vol. 50, No. 8, p. 46
OVER the past 20 years, we have had the privilege to experience the personal commitment of folks who are dedicating their lives and talents to make compost happen. There have been great days and days when your heart breaks with news that rocky roads and more often than not financial realities have rendered the end of a journey forward.
Through thick and thin, there was never, ever any doubt that what we collectively are doing and saying with our compost actions were worth it. So it is with utter disbelief that we are faced with a looming potential reality that really should not be our destiny.
In 2006, the Ontario Ministry of Environment (MOE) issued a draft regulation that would require the producers of household hazardous and special wastes to develop and fund a diversion program for specific materials. According to the press release at the time, “Materials that are corrosive, flammable, reactive or toxic are considered hazardous wastes and carry the hazardous symbol. Special wastes, while not necessarily harmful to users, can be detrimental to health and the environment if handled improperly.”
Included on the list of material categories were paints, solvents, batteries, oil filters and containers, antifreeze, pressurized containers such as propane cylinders, fluorescent bulbs and tubes, pharmaceuticals, sharps and syringes as well as fertilizers and pesticides.
Stewardship Ontario (SO) was designated by MOE as the industry funding agency for development of the Municipal Hazardous and Special Waste (MHSW) plan, with Waste Diversion Ontario (WDO) being the organization to whom SO’s recommended program would report. The program was split into three phases based on material category.
Implementation of Phase I began on July 1, 2008. Fees were collected from brand owners of designated materials and products, and channeled into SO for subsequent disbursement to municipal hazardous waste collection programs throughout the province. Costs of the first year plan were estimated at $23.1 million (Cdn).
COMPOST NOT A “SPECIAL WASTE”
Because compost is federally regulated under the Fertilizers Act and Regulations, the Compost Council of Canada (CCC) was involved in Phase I discussions to ensure that compost products would not be categorized as a fertilizer and by consequence, a “special waste” under Ontario’s MHSW initiative. We were assured that it was not the intent to include compost products in a MHSW program whose “primary purpose … is to divert hazardous household wastes from landfills or sewers…. wastes (that) can be harmful to public health and the environment if not managed properly.” (http://www.ene.gov.on.ca/envision/land/wda/mhsw.htm)
This assurance was spelled out specifically in the fertilizer definition of the Phase I plan, the key section from which the MHSW program was then developed. Because of this assurance, it came as a great shock to learn that during the setting of definitions for Phase II and III, both composted manure and compost products that state nutrient claims are being proposed to be captured in this municipal hazardous waste collection program.
If approved by MOE, this would require brand owners of these compost products to financially contribute to the establishment of a near $2 million (Cdn) collection and promotion program to encourage the return of unused fertilizer to municipal hazardous waste collection depots. Based on the amount of “fertilizer” estimated to be returned, the proposed plan estimates the cost/metric ton of materials managed to be $3,200 (Cdn).
Needless to say, our Council has vigorously objected to this proposal. In one of the many plan iterations, we were successful in having the definition specifically exempt all compost products. This was then objected to by others affected by the program with subsequent drafts reversing the exemption.
A letter-writing campaign by CCC members across the country voiced considerable concern about the impact and program consequences of this proposal to compost market development. This effort resulted in a number of meetings but no substantive change to the plan with the exception that the $0.41/kilogram product charge to brand owners of designated products (equating to a $7.60 fee per 18 kilogram bag of compost (which, at best, retails for $5/bag)) has been “deleted,” replaced with a placeholder referred to as “measured return share.” In the final approved document, this footnoted phrase is defined as the “actual management cost, as well as a share of the budgeted common costs and deficit recovery… It is Stewardship Ontario’s intention to move to a set fee rate as soon as reliable data on sales into market and quantity available for collection are obtained.”
Incredibly, this could result in even greater negative economic consequences to impacted brand owners who will not be able to factor reliable eco-fee charges into their sales terms (assuming that there might even be a consumer in existence in Ontario who would want to pay for a compost product for use in their garden and soil which, under this plan, would be categorized as designated municipal hazardous or special materials).
SO’s plan has been approved by WDO and submitted to the MOE for review. There is a 30-day public consultation process that enables everyone to review the plan and provide comments.
COMMENT BY AUGUST 30
We encourage all compost advocates to use this consultation period wisely and provide input based on what you believe to be right. August 30, 2009 is the “forever hold your peace” deadline for comments to MOE. After this deadline and based on comments, it will be the Ontario Minister of the Environment who decides whether or not to pursue this proposed course as approval of the MHSW plan rests with his signature.
Specifics of the proposed MHSW program can be found by visiting: www.ebr.gov.on.ca and citing the EBR Registry Number: 010-7325. All comments must be received by the MOE no later than August 30, 2009 (c/o fax: 416-325-4487 or mail: Waste Management Policy Branch, 135 St. Clair Avenue West, Floor 7, Toronto, ON M4V 1P5). For more information, contact The Composting Council of Canada @ 416-535-0240 (ph) or email: email@example.com.
Susan Antler is Executive Director of the Composting Council of Canada.