BioCycle November 2017
Last Friday, I had the opportunity to give the opening presentation at the Illinois Soil, Food, Water & Composting Summit in Chicago on a topic that is near and dear to my heart — Busting Silos To Foster Integrated Solutions. About an hour before the Summit, I jotted down a few notes that I wanted to include in the beginning, knowing full well I would be rushing at the end given my propensity to embellish the points being made on the slides.
The first item on my list was the reason why Jerome (Jerry) Goldstein, BioCycle’s founder, started the magazine in 1960 as the journal, Compost Science. In a nutshell, Jerry recognized, and fostered, the marriage between healthy agricultural soils and recycled municipal, commercial and industrial organics. Composting was the primary vehicle to “consummate” the marriage, although anaerobic digestion and direct land application played key roles as well.
Jerry was an ecopioneer, championing sustainable, climate-friendly solutions long before sustainability and climate change were everyday terms. It wasn’t until last Friday morning that I thought of Jerry as a tireless silo buster, but that is indeed what he was. The pages of BioCycle and In Business (The JG Press’ sustainable communities and enterprises magazine published for almost 30 years) were filled with case studies, technologies and systems, research, economic assessments and public policies that validated, year in and year out, how integrated solutions are at the core of resilient communities.
Year in and year out however, despite the convincing data and successful examples, we recognized the resistance to busting silos to foster integrated solutions. Utilizing soils amended with compost to reduce storm water runoff, and applying compost blankets to highway slopes to stop erosion and infiltrate storm water are great examples of highly effective, sustainable practices. Yet there are still roadblocks to making those practices business as usual and often, it boils down to taking people out of their comfort zone.
But persistence — and success — are increasingly breaking down that resistance to change. This is due in large part to the reality that there are multiple winners, as is illustrated by these examples:
• Collecting grease before it goes into the sewer prevents clogging of pipes that often are also used to collect storm water. This in turn reduces flooding on roads during heavy rain events. Adding that grease directly to the wastewater treatment plant digester increases biogas production, which in turn can be used to lower electricity demand on the grid, or be upgraded into a renewable vehicle fuel. The biosolids can be composted, and in turn used to amend landscapes to infiltrate storm water, or incorporated into soils at community gardens and urban farms.
• Vacant lots in low-income neighborhoods can be converted to community gardens and urban farms, providing fresh food access to food insecure families. Compost can be incorporated to make those soils productive, or be an ingredient in a raised bed soil blend. A portion of the produce can be distributed to other neighborhoods with limited fresh food access, or processed into value added products — creating jobs at community kitchens. And the topper is that the healthy soils in community gardens not only grow awesome fruits and vegetables, they also infiltrate storm water.
In both examples, success depends on a lot of silos crumbling, not just between various local government agencies, but nonprofits and the private sector as well. The cool part is, more and more people are tumbling out of their silos and through collaboration, are achieving outcomes that if acting alone, would not be possible.