Commentary: USCC Value Proposition

Michael Virga

Michael Virga
BioCycle April 2013, Vol. 54, No. 4, p. 51

In late February, BioCycle became the official magazine of the US Composting Council (USCC). In addition to solidifying a partnership between the two organizations, this step defines new opportunities for collaboration that will strengthen our abilities to move the organics management industry forward. Part of this new partnership is a quarterly column in BioCycle. In this first installment, I want to discuss the value proposition for USCC members, as well as some exciting events about to unfold.

Like any member-based trade and professional association, the USCC strives to provide as much in the way of services and value to its membership. We also seek to differentiate our association from our peers to ensure that we are the “best game in town” for compost manufacturers. We can’t remain static. The key is to understand the needs and priorities of our members and prospective members and address them. We also have to continuously improve the value proposition in order to retain and recruit members.

Based on member surveys and feedback, what are the highest priorities for USCC members? A forum to learn and exchange ideas, legislative and regulatory advocacy on behalf of the industry, and compost market development top the list. The USCC Annual Conference & Tradeshow provides continuing education, training, showcases new equipment, products and services and enables extensive professional  networking. We will continue to improve this show to provide the best forum possible.

Saving money with a USCC membership is also very important. All key programs are discounted for members, including conference registration, training programs and membership in our Seal of Testing Assurance (STA) program. Through Orbitz, USCC members are now eligible for significant discounts on personal and business travel once they are registered. Council members at the Medium Business level and higher have the opportunity to add complimentary individual memberships for their employees. New USCC members who join at the Small Business level and higher receive a complimentary one-year subscription to BioCycle.

With regard to USCC initiatives this spring, two are of critical importance to highlight: the Million Tomato Compost Campaign, launching on April 21, and the Council’s Position Statement on persistent herbicides in compost.

Million Tomato Campaign

As part of a nationwide outreach to help grow healthy food for community gardens and food banks, compost manufacturers from across the nation are teaming with the USCC in the Million Tomato Compost Campaign by donating compost to community gardens. The campaign is bringing together the nation’s compost producers, chefs, community gardens and food banks to introduce Americans to the value of compost and how it helps build healthy soil that produces sustainably grown, local food for the nation’s communities. All of the compost producers participating in the Million Tomato Compost Campaign manufacture STA-approved compost, which certifies that their compost meets federal health and safety standards and has passed stringent testing measures which ensure on-going quality and safety. The campaign will promote compost use and drive demand for USCC members’ products.

Celebrity Chef Nathan Lyon, cohost of PBS’ Growing a Greener World and author of “Good Food Starts Fresh,” is the spokesperson for the campaign, encouraging community gardens to grow their own tomatoes in soil improved with compost and offering healthy tomato-based recipes for families. Lyon is also host of Discovery Health’s and Fit TV’s A Lyon in the Kitchen, and guest chef/expert on TLC’s Real Simple Real Life and Home Made Simple. “Great Food Starts Fresh” was named one of the top cookbooks of 2012 by the Washington Post.

Other partners in the campaign include Keep America Beautiful, the American Community Gardening Association, American Public Garden Association, Chef’s Collaborative, local chefs, community gardens and food banks. The USCC developed a tagline that encompasses the essence of the campaign — Compost: Nature’s Way to Grow! The tagline will remain long after the campaign has concluded. We need to saturate the market to help brand the product and the industry and the benefits of compost. Use the tagline wherever you can — in product literature, on your website and email signature, everywhere. Please join the USCC in celebrating the Million Tomato Compost Campaign. Participate, donate, get active in your community.

Statement On Persistent Herbicides

The USCC is getting ready to release a formal Position Statement on Persistent Herbicides, one of the most pressing and critical issues facing compost manufacturers today. Certain pyridine-based herbicides approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency meant to kill or suppress broadleaf weeds, manage to pass through mammals into the manure unscathed after the treated grasses are eaten. Furthermore, some can survive the composting process intact, hence the term persistent herbicides. When present in finished composts in the low parts per billion concentration range, these herbicides can have a significant and negative impact upon sensitive garden plants.

The most prevalent persistent herbicides are clopyralid (Dow AgroSciences, first registered in 1978), aminopyralid (Dow AgroSciences, 2005), aminocyclopyrachlor (DuPont, 2010), and picloram (Dow AgroSciences, 1963). Last summer, a USCC member and STA program participant (Green Mountain Compost), had to recall compost that had been sold due to the presence of a persistent herbicide that was damaging some garden plants. After months of laboratory testing and research, aminopyralid in the horse manure and bedding composted at the facility has been cited as the probable cause of the damage.

Despite the known severity of this issue for more than a decade, chemical companies continue to produce herbicides that persist in compost and soils, and the US EPA continues to approve the registration and reregistration of these products while taking no meaningful action to resolve the problem. Recent incidents of persistent herbicides in compost and soils have underscored the urgent need for action. Nurseries, landscapers, crop farmers, and gardeners are among the industries threatened when soil is contaminated.

The USCC has developed a Position Statement on Persistent Herbicides that is clear, unambiguous and hard hitting. Our position is that fundamental changes have to be made to the EPA registration process incorporating the composting industry’s concerns and existing products on the market that are proven persistent herbicides need to be removed from the market. We need to remember we are dealing with companies that are making products that can bring significant harm to our industry.

The Wikipedia description of Product Stewardship states: “Product Stewardship is a concept whereby environmental, health, and safety protection centers around the product itself, and everyone involved in the lifespan of the product is called upon to take up responsibility to reduce its environmental, health, and safety impacts.”

It is incumbent on the chemical companies to demonstrate Product Stewardship, which they clearly have not been doing. The compost industry is involved “in the lifespan of the product.” We are the ones whom need to take responsibility and insure the chemical companies do the right thing.

The Million Tomato Compost Campaign is the most significant marketing and communication effort the USCC has ever taken on. Our Position Statement on Persistent Herbicides is addressing the most significant threat our industry has ever faced. To achieve the best possible results on both fronts we will need the continued support of the compost manufacturing industry and compost enthusiasts.

Michael Virga is Executive Director of the US Composting Council, based in Bethesda, Maryland www.compostingcouncil.org

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