April 14, 2005 | General

Editorial: Time Flies … When The Organics Flow

BioCycle April 2005, Vol. 46, No. 4, p. 4
Nora Goldstein

Last week, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection held its fifth Organics Recycling Summit at a hotel on the outskirts of Boston. This year’s summit, with the theme “Getting To Yes,” highlighted both successes and challenges on the road to commercial organics diversion. On the success side are the growing number of generators source separating organics for composting and haulers who are ready and willing to transport the materials.
On the challenge side is the seemingly perpetual lack of processing capacity, particularly composting facilities, within a reasonable hauling distance with the infrastructure necessary to handle diverse materials on a year-round basis.
For us veteran composting trend watchers, we can recall the myriad details of Massachusetts’ commercial organics diversion journey, starting with a grocery store collection pilot about 15 years ago, through the establishment of on-farm composting operations permitted to take preconsumer vegetative materials and waxed corrugated, to the more recent density mapping of generators and processors in the state and the very effective supermarket organics recycling initiative. BioCycle has chronicled this journey through many articles and conference presentations. There has been amazing progress along the learning curve, and it is safe to say at this point that if new processing facilities are built and capacity at existing plants is expanded, the organics flow will come.
Sweetening the pot in Massachusetts is an eventual landfill ban on the commercial organics stream. The state’s waste management officials have a unique – and effective – strategy for encouraging diversion of recyclable materials. Bans with a long window for implementation are incorporated into state solid waste master plans as an incentive to develop processing capacity and markets for the to-be-banned feedstocks. Once adequate capacity is in place, the material is officially banned from disposal. This approach has been taken with yard trimmings and recyclables such as containers and paper; it is expected that a C&D disposal ban will be adopted this year.
The Massachusetts DEP has held out the carrot – a potential ban on landfilling commercial organics that in theory creates the flow. So where and what is the stick? What has to happen in Massachusetts to create, and sustain, commercial organics processing capacity? First and foremost is facility siting, which, based on several presentations at the Summit, is extremely difficult in Massachusetts, as it is just about everywhere in developed countries. But just because siting is difficult does not mean that it is impossible. An article in this issue, “Public Perceptions Of Biosolids Recycling” (page 34), provides strategies for how to work with potentially impacted stakeholders – not just at a biosolids land application site but at any type of waste management facility. Engaging, listening to and learning from all stakeholders – while a project is in its formative stages (i.e., very early on) – goes a long way to ultimately developing a facility that fits into and contributes positively to a neighborhood.
Second, and equally important to long-term sustainability of the composting capacity created, is the development of high-value end products from the organics processed. Revenues from compost markets (and energy markets if anaerobic digesters are built to handle commercial organics) need to be strong in order to offset fluctuations in tipping fees. (See “Soil Restoration With Organics Enters Mainstream Of Storm Water Practices” on page 20 for great examples of high value compost markets.)
At the Organics Recycling Summit last week, I noted how many, many people have been working for many, many years to bring organics recycling to this point. How time flies to make the organics flow.

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