Nora Goldstein, Editor, BioCycle

January 12, 2017 | General

Editorial: The Business Case

Nora Goldstein, Editor, BioCycle

Nora Goldstein
BioCycle January 2017

How do organics recyclers measure success? That is one question we are exploring in preparation for the Opening Plenary — The Business Case For Organics Recycling — at BioCycle EAST COAST17, April 4-7, 2017 in Ellicott City, Maryland, just outside Baltimore. We know many successful organics recyclers, that is if success is defined by factors such as longevity, market leadership, steady employment and growth.
But how do the owners of these enterprises define their success? Is it based on growth in net profits of 10 percent a year? Or healthy enough cash flow to make a significant capital investment? In the organics recycling industry, most companies are privately-held, so our ability to assess success is limited to only what we can observe from the outside.
Public officials tend to measure success by the tons of organics diverted from disposal. Quantifying that diversion in greenhouse gas reductions is also popular, which is great, except the carbon market isn’t robust enough to turn those reductions into profits.
A variable to consider in the organics recycling industry is that many players got their start as a sideline business to a primary enterprise, e.g., landscaping, land clearing, soils blending, farming, etc. The same could be said for anaerobic digesters at livestock operations. A clear advantage for some of these companies was that the equipment and land base already existed, reducing start-up costs. Measuring success in this scenario may be different than a stand-alone commercial composting or anaerobic digestion enterprise.
Many more variables exist, but what ultimately factors into organics recyclers’ success are markets for end products. In 2017, because of the investment and hard work of many, you can find paying markets — in many cases high paying — for compost, mulch, blends, biogas and digestate anywhere — urban, suburban or rural. And demand for these products will continue to grow because they solve problems and/or help save money for industry, government, agriculture (urban and rural), homeowners, health care facilities, schools and universities, municipal infrastructure, electric utilities, resorts and golf courses — the list goes on.
Organics recyclers can have some fun with these markets. In states where marijuana has been legalized for medical and/or recreational use, composters (and likely digestate producers, too) are selling blends with names like Dirt Hugger’s Sky Puncher and Full Circle Organics’ SOAR Potting Mix to marijuana growers (both are marketed for other plants, too). In general, products like compost have become integral in some sectors, such as golf course maintenance and sediment and erosion control.
So back to our main question: How do organics recyclers measure success? This question will be asked and answered in numerous sessions on April 5 and 6 at BioCycle EAST COAST 2017, in line with this year’s theme of “Growing the Organics Recycling Industry.” Topics addressed will include commercial organics collection, feedstock sourcing, best management practices, the business of biogas, distributed composting, food recovery and public-private partnerships.
As we go forward in 2017 and beyond, many of the problems that organics recyclers and their end products can solve will become more acute and widespread. Making the business case will ultimately boil down to selling solutions, not landfill diversion. Growth in sales of these solutions and expansion of markets will yield successful results for you, the organics recyclers, and the industry. And that is definitely something you can take to the bank.

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