Composting: Making a Good Initiative Even Better

Have you ever thrown an apple core out of a car window or gone camping and left food scraps on the site? Many people know that these materials will eventually decompose through natural processes. So what is the difference between this and composting? And why does it matter if organic waste goes to the landfill to naturally break down instead?

In Canada, more than 40% of the residential waste sent to landfills each year is composed of food and yard waste. At such great quantities these organics produce substantial amounts of greenhouse gases during the decomposition process. In particular, the breakdown releases methane, and a study in 2014 found that landfills produce 20% of all Canadian methane emissions. Methane has serious environmental implications as an air pollutant and contributor to climate change.

In addition to the adverse impact on the environment, landfills are reaching capacity at an unsustainable rate. In a recent Ontario Waste Management Association webinar, it was projected that all Ontario landfills currently in operation will be at capacity by 2032. By diverting the residential and commercial organic materials from landfills to composting programs, the lifespan of Canadian landfills will be extended.

Across the country the amount of solid waste collected between 2002 and 2016 increased by 11%, of which 4% went to landfills or incinerators. The continual increase in the amount of waste being produced indicates an increased need for waste diversion strategies. Although many places have shown improved participation in programs such as composting, we need to do more to address the modern-day waste problem.

We can learn from places coast-to-coast that have made significant progress in implementing successful organics diversion programs. Nova Scotia has been a leader at increasing organic waste diversion. In 1998 the province, through regulation, banned food and yard waste from entering landfills, instead offering green cart collection and backyard composters. This strategy has greatly contributed to Nova Scotia sending the least waste per capita to landfill out of all provinces and territories in Canada.

Similarly, Metro Vancouver banned organics from garbage bins in 2015 as part of their initiative to divert 80% of waste from landfills by 2020. The ban has been enforced by inspecting drop-offs at the landfill and placing surcharges on waste haulers carrying excess amounts of organic material. To avoid these substantial fees, residential and commercial properties have utilized the composting bins and complied with material guidelines, all contributing to Metro Vancouver’s diversion goals.

In addition to reducing the quantity of material going to landfills and their harmful by-products, organic material can be repurposed for energy production or reused as fertilizer. An example of this process is at the biogas facility in London, Ontario, which uses anaerobic digestion to break down the organic waste. In these conditions, naturally occurring bacteria consume the organics and create biogas, primarily methane, which is used to generate electricity for the grid.

After the energy has been extracted the leftover material is combined with organics not suited to biogas production and used to form nutrient rich fertilizer.

Much like Nova Scotia, Vancouver and London, Molok has a solution to promote the beneficial and sustainable practice of composting! Stay tuned this International Composting Awareness Week to learn more.