January 25, 2011 | General

Compost Canada: Organics Seat At The EPR Table

BioCycle January 2011, Vol. 52, No. 1, p. 53
Susan Antler

THERE’S an elephant in the room and it’s time we get the conversation going.
Whatever we want to categorize it under – extended producer responsibility, user fees, landfill levy or whatever – the issue is “who pays for organics recycling?” Right now, our operations are financially fueled by tip fees (mostly), compost sales (somewhat) and, in a very few locations, monies from greenhouse gas credits (rare).
Competitively, tip fees at composting facilities have to be pegged at a discounted rate to landfilling to encourage diversion behavior by waste generators. This is, at best, bizarre in light of everyday “we care about the environment” mantras and sustainability objectives.
In certain regimes, reflective of regulatory influences such as bans and diversion targets, forces have been put in place to drive stronger organics recycling dynamics and financing. In some, a levy on landfilling, financial relief on other recycling costs through producer-pay programs or variable rates for customers, have enabled dollars to be directed toward supporting compost development. More often than not, however, municipal and private sector organics recycling and composting operations are left to manage the economics on their own.
For the most part, I believe that we have accepted these circumstances up till now, reflective of the “can do” attitude of the folks involved in composting. The adage of cultural anthropologist, Margaret Mead – “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – rings true for compost advocates. It has been their passion and fervent belief in the rightness of organics recycling and compost that has been the driving force for much of the growth to date.
But quite frankly, this no longer is adequate. If we – the composting industry – don’t start speaking up and get this discussion growing, it definitely will not be done well by others.


Last year, the sixth Canadian extended producer responsibility (EPR) conference (first held in 1997) brought together representatives from government, business and recycling organizations to discuss the concept and implementation realities of EPR programs in various jurisdictions across our country and beyond. Wise words about the importance of diversion are spoken at these events, responsibilities and programs are discussed. So far, to the best of my knowledge, organic residuals are left off the agenda with compost advocates not even receiving a “by invitation only” welcome.
When questioned about where organic residuals fit in, the usual quick answer is that “organic wastes are different; there really aren’t specific stewards for this type of waste … and after all, who really is responsible for the food that had to be thrown out because it wilted away in the refrigerator?”
While this answer perhaps helped spark the discussion in the past, it should no longer dead-end the conversation moving forward. We need better and more dedicated funding and priority attention to enable organics recycling to get onto the highway of environmental and economic sustainability.
Early last year, the province of Ontario solicited input on its proposed direction of the review of the Waste Diversion Act of 2002. Among the concepts proposed to improve diversion rates was the designation of products and materials management targets as well as landfill levies. The concept of “branded organics” was introduced, limited to kitty litter and paper products such as diapers.
To prepare our response, we did a quick tour of a nearby grocery store, buying “branded organics” products that went well beyond the ones designated. The tea and coffee aisle as well as the produce section were filled with all kinds of labeled brands whose remains become fodder for compost piles of any size. And those items, as compost advocates know, are just a portion of the many other types of products and materials that can be composted.
Some of the manufacturers and stewards of these products have been long-standing champions of organics recycling, supporting advances as well as the Compost Council of Canada through research trials, membership and other forms of sponsorship. At our Council, recognizing their proactiveness is an ongoing objective.
Unfortunately though, they have been the exception to the silent majority who has chosen to say nothing until the threat of regulation or some other dictate comes into play. At that point, you can count on them to band together through their representative associations to lobby government for more time for review and other means to slow the pace of the discussion.

It’s time for us to decide how to take on this debate and make it part of the ongoing discussion.
There are ever more stewardship programs being introduced that have dedicated funds to enable their work to be done. These funds help pay for communication, operations, market development and keeping the initiative visible in the minds of government, citizens and industry.
And while we can go toe-to-toe on talent, outpacing most on passion, it is getting harder to keep up and lay claim to mindshare and attention as well as infrastructure support.
We must speak up and get “show me the money” solutions for financing of organics recycling. We need to design solutions that will enable our compost programs to stand up on their own feet longer-term while giving upfront catalytic power to drive advances in composting today. Shoestring budgets have taken us a long way, but it’s not enough for us to build a sustainable industry where all our potential is realized.

Susan Antler is Executive Director of the Compost Council of Canada, which celebrated its 20th Anniversary in 2010.

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