Organics, the AMRC event, and some big news

Yesterday I attended a one-day workshop presented by the Association of Municipal Recycling Coordinators (AMRC) entitled “Organics and 2008 – moving towards 60% diversion” at the Richmond Hill Country Club, December 6, 2005. The event was co-hosted with The Composting Council of Canada (CCC).
I took lots of notes on my laptop computer, and cut and pasted them below for anyone who cares to browse. Please note that these are just my point-form notes and more detail will be available from the workshop proceedings when posted at the AMRC website (see below).
You can read the notes for yourself, but there are a couple of “big picture” observations and comments I’d like to share quickly.
First, a representative from the Ministry of Environment was invited but no one came. The event organizers were very polite about this, but I don’t have to be. It’s totally unacceptable that the environment ministry didn’t send someone to talk to this excellent professional audience, especially since the ministry is pushing for 60% waste diversion, and claims to believe that organics diversion is a big part of that. Several peopl commented that this is yet another sign that the ministry is completely “disengaged.” I would go so far as to say the ministry is arrogant and just not doing its job. The environment minister is concerned these days about sticking to her script and setting the agenda with drinking water, and is just not dealing with the waste file. Politicians seem to forget they were elected to serve the public, and not even being bothered to send a mid-level (or even junior) staff person to this event is reprehensible, and part of a very clear pattern. One highly regarded consultant muttered that if this is their attitude, we should all just stay home. I share his disgust, and I intend to keep bringing this topic up again and again until the minstry does something about it.
The other big “take away” for me from the event involved the issue of plastic bags. The discussion about biodegradable bags was very interesting, and one or two people pointed out that they serve no purpose if some people use them and others use regular bags within a given program. Yet Jim Graham of London-based Try Recycling said that plastic bags were no big deal for his company and by using screens and some elbow grease, they were able to remove the bags and generate clean compost. Hamilton’s Pat Parker had a very different perspective, and stated that the new Hamilton organics plant is not being built to handle bags, and that in pilots they’ve discovered people won’t use bags at all if you communicate clearly and educate the public carefully.
So it was interesting to see totally different attitudes toward plastic bags for organics. Apparently they’re not a problem when allowed in a program, and they’re not a problem when forbidden. I’d want to talk to these people in depth before going one way or the other if I was designing a program, but it was overall good news for anyone wondering if plastics prevent the generation of clean compost. (This whole discussion reminded me about glass apparently not being a big problem in single stream systems — for some people — in the last AMRC workshop.)
The other big “take away” for me was the importance of Ontario adopting some version of the new CCME standard for compost. This was another reason someone from the ministry should have been there. (Are you listening, Minister Broten? I won’t natter on about the new standard, since our Composting Matters columnist Paul van der Werf and consultant Michael Cant have written an excellent article about the new CCME compost standard for the December/January edition of our magazine, due out near the end of this month.
A very big news item came out from this workshop, and that is that Recyc-Quebec is going to develop a certification for biodegradable bags. Apparently a news release is due within days, and I’ll be sure to post it on Headline News on this website as soon as I get it. susan Antler (see below) said Recyc-Quebec is going to is investing $39,000 on a certification program for biodegradable bags. BNQ will undertake a review through the Standards Council of Canada. It’s a six-month review process and will make use of the ASTM and two other standards so as to not reinvent what has been established elsewhere. There will be committee meetings, public meetings, public input, and SCC will give a number and its endorsement. The process will be complete in 2006 and companies will pay to be certified and will receive a BPI-style stamp.
Hats off to the AMRC and the CCC, by the way, for yet another excellent workshop. Last month the AMRC put on a workshop on single stream recycling that was equally informative and interesting. (You can download the proceedings at the AMRC website.) I’d like to add that the venue of the Richmond Hill Country Club was superb. The CCC and the Recycling Council of Alberta (RCA) put on a wonderful conference in Lake Louise in October, too, so we’d like to see more joint ventures between the CCC and various recycling organizations in future.
This reminds me that everyone should mark their calendars re. the AMRC Spring Workshop and Annual General Meeting (February 15 – 17, 2006) in Hockley Valley. Call (519) 823-1990 for details. I plan to attend, and I’ll be bringing my snowboard this time — now that I live in Collingwood this is de rigeur.

Guy Crittenden’s conference notes from the AMRC Organics workshop, Dec. 6, 2005
(The proceedings from the workshop will be posted at the AMRC site at These notes are a sketch only of presentations made during the day, and any errors are those of this author.)
Welcome from Mayor Bell
1. Susan Antler (CCC)
• Spoke about how she has attempted to get environment ministry funding to develop infrastructure
• Clear and consistent standards needed
• Ensure level playing field between agricultural and residential sector
• Fully adopt CCME
• Utility model similar to wastewater, long-term planning
• Training and certification for program operators
• Unclear whether Ontario will adopt CCME criteria
• Need to “pull product” through the system. Province and municipalities could lead by example
• Education and promotion key
• Inportance of Compost Quality Alliance
• Current status: “Time for being polite is over”; CCME guidelines; training (quality needs to cascade throughout the whole industry); real life CQA specifications for different categories beyond generic term “compost” (opportunity for green roof market, erosion control, need quality specifications); Need to coordinate letter writing campaign to minister. ON meetings effective w/o January 2nd; Association partnerships.
• April there will be 1,000 days left before 2008 – special event planned at parliament buildings.
2. Mike Birett (York Region)
• GTA contract management
• York Region efforts to divert organics, RFP format, what’s worked and what hasn’t
• Seven years looking at SSO. Initially only attracted one (high) bid.
• 2002 contracted out to Newmarket plant when managed by Canada Composting, closed before contract started.
• Ontario needs 320,000 SSO tonnage processing capacity
• 15 sites exist that handle >20,000 tonnes. Shortfall across Ontario is about 200,000 tonnes of processing capacity.
• Shipped to Halton Recycling, now goes to Quebec. Not enough infrastructure in Ontario.
• Starting to get more players bidding on contracts.
• Two-part proposal: technical proposal; sealed price proposal. This helps screen out low-ball approach.
• Bid requires that within past 12 months processing 25% of contract tonnage.
• Processing must be for unrestricted use.
• Factors: product marketing; emissions and treatment; management experience and capability; overall technical feasibility; track record; references and site visits
• Have bidders “price out their exceptions” rather than price out technical points yourself.
• $50K bid bond as a screening tool.
• Performance bond as stability test (50% of total annual value of services).
• Clear and concise: accurate and thorough definitions.
• Know the market in advance: can they handle SSO in plastic; is there value in a joint partnership (capitalize construction).
• Certainty: put or pay for limited tonnage; allowable level of contamination; daily/weekly delivery guarantees (esp. for AD).
• Fuel surcharge.
• Performance based guarantees. Availability guarantee, etc.
• Financial guarantees, contingency plans
• Short term contracts work best in uncertain markets (opinion)
• Contract stems from RFP
• Thanks to Brian Van Opstal at Toronto for development of RFP template.
3. Jim Graham, Try Recycling
• Private sector perspective on tenders and contracts.
• Try Recycling started in 1991 in London, with C&D waste
• Determined end-use products before took first materials. Three products are made from drywall.
• Now does compost and C&D. Moved beyond static pile to generate a better end product; now 20-30K tonnes of yard and leaf waste. Has learned to deal with plastic bags. They pre-sell material before the supply comes in the door – emphasis on market development.
• Ratepayers now interested in value and fate of material that they’re sorting.
• Perceptions are maturing. Tenders can capture the original intent of the legislation.
• Contract specifications can create level playing facilities.
• Multi-year contracts with weight put on qualitative components.
• Bonding not the entire solution, esp. when the company doesn’t have a construction component to their business. Bonds designed for engineering type projects with final date.
• Environmental staff must educate municipal planning groups about successes.
• Contract and tender should consider CCME guidelines. Look at ability of contractor to process the feedstock. Track record and experience of the team.
• No black box solutions.
• CQA certification (was developed by the contractors with the CCC), marketing program, community involvement/participation programs.
• Try Recycling donates a large amount of material to charities to sell back to the community. With the public involved, feedstock becomes cleaner as awareness grows.
4. Susan Antler (CCC)
• Lessons learned
• Leave some room in your budget for contingencies
• Research markets in advance (start with the end in mind)
• Learn about your product: many people come from the waste management business, but we need to understand the growing process which organics ultimately supports (e.g., pumpkin growing competition).
• SSO: When food residuals arrive, process them immediately.
• Buy technology that is proven; respect the science; invest in knowledge and experience
• Composting smells: you have to anticipate this in your plans.
• Upfront training and ongoing training.
• Design facility to produce high quality compost, which means knowing what the incoming feedstock is and what it will do to your process.
• Diligent product testing is the norm now. Incorporate regulatory requirements as well as end-user needs.
• Celebrate successes
• Discuss needs, esp. customers
• Work on consequences (e.g., what happens when loads come in that are not to spec)
• Worker health and safety: dust suppression, ventilation; emergency procedures.
• Odor control strategy should include keeping neighbors
• Selling a bagged compost requires special skills; bulk is much easier to do economically
• Q & A: Plastics removed by Try Recycling with screens and manual pulling.
5. Denis Potvin (Conporec)
• Spoke on criteria for choosing a compost system.
• Many variables – no single solution that will work everywhere
• People often talk about the technology at the heart of the system whereas the total system includes many factors beyond that.
• Look at variables, feedstock, contamination: observation that you need FLEXIBILITY.
• No one size fits all solution
• The heart of the Conporec system us a windrow aerated system with turners. But also has drum that first sorts/composts in advance (after just three days of composting).
• They know the composition of organics, fibre, contamination up front.
• SSO and MSW hard to distinguish at times. Leaf and yard under 5% contamination.
• Technology can handle he contamination, but there’s the issue of costs. You can plot a grid with contamination and level of technology and cost.
• The better the quality going in, the better the end product and the easier processing (obviously).
6. Josef Barth (European Composting Network)
• The need for a lot of experience and exchange of information required the establishment of the ECN.
• AD accepted as parallel technology for organics.
• Landfill ban driving the issue. EU directive will reduce emissions from landfill.
• “Biocomposting” is their term for SSO but may also include garden and yard waste in some countries.
• Green composting = yard waste
• Quality assurance well developed in Europe
• Reviewed status of composting in different countries.
• Legal drivers include landfill directive, EU soil protection strategy, nutrients in soil strategies, climate change concerns.
• Reduce landfill material by 65% by 2016.
• EU soil strategy includes use of compost because many soils lack sufficient biological activity. Concern about metals, but with proper standards supplies fertility to soil.
• 1,800 plants in Europe, 40% green waste only
• 18 million tonnes processing capacity.
• Quality labels apply to 620 plants and 9 million tonnes of capacity.
• Ag is 30% of final market; Household gardens are 20%.
• Very little marketing for high volume Ag markets; lots of marketing for specialized products.
7. Michael Cant (Totten Sims Hubicki TSH Associates)
• Biosolids and septage
• Sue Saint Marie: wanted to combine biosolids and leaf and yard waste, studied this but couldn’t meet the restrictive Class A standard – there is no Class Standard in Ontario.
• Copper, lead and zinc levels were too high from the biosolids, and the restrictive standards in Ontario prevents doing this.
• Recent standards have higher levels for copper ad zinc.
• Septage study. Visited sites in New Brunswick and Maine where most of them are.
• Clean Earth company dewater septage so it can be composted.
• Envirem in Fredricton they compost 400,000 tonnes, combined biosolids and organics, in open windrows. Gave other examples.
• With septage you get grease, which is difficult to compost, so in Maine they collect grease separately to make biodiesel.
• Starting in Maine to move into food waste based on what they’ve learned from biosolids and co-composting.
• Described Muskoka situation approval to compost biosolids, paper sludge, food waste, and septage. Will use initially
• Cant’s wish list – wanted the ministry to see: Removal of outdated feedstock restrictions, adoption by Ontario of CCME A and B guidelines, new compost guidelines and regulations.
• In North America there are 300 biosolids composting facilities, 20 MSW and 4,000 leaf and yard waste composting facilities.
8. Paul van der Werf (2cg)
• Presentation on biodegradable plastics
• Principle: composting is product manufacturing first and waste diversion second.
• Product must be good quality, as well as meeting regulatory requirements.
• We must take care with materials in feed stocks. We can take non-degradable plastics out of the material, but it’s a challenge and a cost.
• Degradable plastics have potential, but haven’t established their place in the market yet.
• Plastic types: water soluble followed by degradation; photodegradable; oxy-degradation; biodegradable; compostable.
• Really needs to be compostable to be of benefit to the composting system, of which it should be a part.
• Third-party accreditation. American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), 1999, 2004 updated. D-6400. Scope is plastic that composts in an aerobic process.
• Challenge that it has to work as a product on the shelf, in the home, during transport, but then degrades quickly in the compost process. No adverse effects on the soil you’re composting in.
• Biodegradable Plastics Institute (BPI); US Composting Council (USCC) Scientific Review Committee. Compostable Logo.
• Described the certification process.
• Certification brings some kind of certainty to purchasers and municipalities. We need a body of information from the field, scientifically tested. But even if we had the perfect compostable bag, there are issues: (a) enforceability – what will prevent people from using other bags (b) cost.
• Purple bags idea
9. Susan Antler (CCC)
• Recyc-Quebec is gong to embark on a certification program for biodegradable bags. $39,000 process. BNQ will undertake a review through the Standards Council of Canada.
• Six-month review process. Will make use of the ASTM, two other standards so as to not reinvent what has been established elsewhere.
• Committee meetings, public meetings, public input, SCC gives number/endorsement. Process will be complete in 2006.
• Companies will pay to be certified and will receive a BPI-style stamp.
• Oxo-biodegradable bags not to be considered at this time but could be included in an amendment. The goal is to move ahead and it was thought the Oxo’s would slow down the process.
9. Pat Parker (City of Hamilton)
• Collection 50/50public/private. 10 side loaders, 18 rear loaders.
• Larger carts from IPL for most areas, smaller Rehrig carts for areas where accessibility is more difficult.
• Jacques Whitford helping stay on top of Green Team plans.
• F&M Distribution will distribute the carts.
• Communications strategy. Booklet, magnet, mini bin sticker and liner.
• TV, PR, newspaper, addressing problem issues (e.g., pests)
• $30 million organics plant opening in spring 2006.
• Hamilton has a “no plastics program” and found no plastics in the pilots after proper education.
• Multi-residential sector requires special strategy.
10. Dave Milliner (Township of Southgate)
• Described the township’s rural cart-based organics program
11. Jen Turnbull (City of Guelph)
• Examined the use of clear bags for the residual stream and its impact on organics diversion.
12. Susan Antler (CCC)
• Spoke about success stories from the field.
13. Michael Payne (Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs)
• Spoke about soil in his presentation “Soil 101 – a prime
3:45 Wrap-up