Celebrating Earth Day 2017!

Earth day – it’s a day to be thankful for the earth we live on and think about how we can best take care of it.

For many of us, thinking about everything that happens on the earth may be overwhelming. For those of us privileged to own a small space of earth, its an opportunity to connect with the earth, to think about how we are caring for our space, and the impact that this may have on others and our world.

In our small piece of earth, we are thankful that we can use recycled organic matter to keep our soil healthy. Here are three ways that we are doing this:

We use a compost made from excess agricultural waste to provide fertilizer and nutrients for our lawn. It eliminates the need for thatching, aeration, pesticides and chemical fertilizer. We have been using this for 25 years, and are thankful that we have approvals so that we can make this excellent product again.

A 1/4" screened quality compost produced from animal manure or food waste makes an excellent lawn fertilizer.

A 1/4″ screened quality compost produced from animal manure or food waste makes an excellent lawn fertilizer.

We use worm castings made from excess agricultural waste combined with composted residential organic waste as an ingredient in our soil mixes to start healthy plants for our garden. The worm castings are blended with other recycled products to make this excellent growing media. This provides a healthy soil that grows healthy plants that are more likely to resist the risk of plant disease. We have been making these worm castings for almost 20 years, and are thankful to be able to share it with many quality growers in British Columbia who provide food for our community markets.

Worm castings make an excellent ingredient for starting plants.

Worm castings make an excellent ingredient for starting plants.

We use a compost made from food catering waste together with yard waste to enhance the organic matter in the soil and to provide nutrients. This product started out as 50% food waste last November. After two weeks, the odor was eliminated and it cured for another four months. It smells like earth and all potentially harmful organisms present in the food waste have been eliminated. We are thankful that we have been able to assist many others around the world in recycling food waste to quality soil amendments in a socially acceptable manner.

A quality compost produced from food waste and yard waste is an excellent soil amendment.

A quality compost produced from food waste and yard waste is an excellent soil amendment.

We all have different skills and opportunities. Together we can make a positive difference for our earth. Happy Earth Day.

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Composting and Soil Management in a Regenerative Economy

Recycling organic waste to improve our soils is an integral part of a circular economy, and can even be described as contributing to a regenerative and restorative economy (Webster 2015). In 2015, we celebrated the International Year of Soils. We made commitments to our environment at the Paris Climate Change conference.  Now in 2016, the economy appears dismal. Who really cares about the soil or the environment if our economy is poor?

A Circular Economy can both improve our environment as well as grow our economy. Europe has been encouraging a Circular Economy, to “boost global competitiveness, foster sustainable economic growth and generate new jobs” (EU 2015). In Europe, moving to a Circular Economy would save costs, create jobs and innovate, as well as improve our environment (Ellen MacArther Foundation 2015). They predicted that by 2030, CO2 emissions could be reduced by 48%, pesticides and agricultural water use, fuels and non-renewable electricity by 32%. They further suggest that if Europe chose to take a circular economy approach to food systems, synthetic fertilizer use could decrease by up to 80%.

“The circular economy, by moving much more biological material through the anaerobic digestion or composting process and back into the soil, will reduce the need for replenishment with additional nutrients.” (Ellen MacArthur Foundation 2015).

This is how recycling organic material through composting is important.  We have to move from our linear thinking of food being produced in agricultural areas, moving to urban areas, and the resulting waste piling up – whether it is landfilled or “recycled”. We are encouraged to begin with the end in mind – how do we restore and improve the soils that produce our food, so that we can benefit the economy of our rural communities as well as the amount and quality of our food?

In a recent Bio-Nutrient Circular Economy Conference,  Thornton (2015) discussed the resource consumption and food security benefits, the synergies with environmental sustainability, innovation and distributed employment benefits from moving to a bionutrient Circular Economy.  Siebert (2015) of the European Compost Network, discussed the importance of recycling carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus from our organic waste, and the importance of our soil organic matter. Webster (2015) stated:

“cattle grazing lush ranch land gives some clue to what a restorative biological cycle means: in this case better water retention as carbon levels are built up in vegetation and soil systems, leading to more resilience during drought periods; better output in terms of cattle per hectare; less erosion and greater biodiversity. Better flood control is a by-product for land downstream. All these benefits really need to be accounted for, but most are not.”

In the year ahead, I am excited to see how we can implement Circular Economy principles in our organic waste management to benefit our economy and our environment. The News reminds us that we need to do this in ways that protects our air and our water. Many of us are already doing some of this good work, work that contributes to healthy and sustainable communities.

One example of how composting fits into a circular economy can be found at: https://youtu.be/7G2owducZ8A Its a video called “Soil Organic Matter Offering Hope for Climate Change”

References

Ellen MacArthur Foundation 2015. Towards a Circular Economy: Business Rational for an Accelerated Transition. http://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/assets/downloads/TCE_Ellen-MacArthur-Foundation_9-Dec-2015.pdf

EU 2015. European Union – Environment. http://ec.europa.eu/environment/circular-economy/index_en.htm

Siebert, S. 2015. Policies and tools for the bio-nutrient circular economy: Carbon, Nutrients and Soils. European Sustainable Phosphorous Platform Conference Dec 2015. http://phosphorusplatform.eu/images/download/Siebert%20ECN%20ESPP%20GA%20slides%202-12-15.pdf

Thornton, C. 2015. Policies and tools for the bio-nutrient circular economy. European Sustainable Phosphorous Platform Conference Dec 2015.  http://phosphorusplatform.eu/images/download/Thornton%20circular%20economy%20slides%202-12-15.pdf

Webster, K. 2015. Exclusive preview from “The Circular Economy: A Wealth of Flows” http://circulatenews.org/2015/07/exclusive-preview-from-the-circular-economy-a-wealth-of-flows/

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Can We Compost Invasive Weeds?

Should we bring our invasive (or noxious) weeds to our local compost facility? What does the science and current regulations tell us about whether noxious weeds can be composted? Many have asked this question in the last few years as there is more concern regarding the spread of noxious weeds. Evidence suggests that most invasive weed species,  including seeds, rhizomes and other plant parts can be successfully composted at temperatures at or above 55 C. We recommend that our regulations, particularly for yard waste composting, should reflect this so that we can potentially control invasive weeds via composting.

In British Columbia, composting facilities processing yard waste only, do not require high enough temperatures to reduce potential weeds or plant pathogens. The emphasis of the Organic Matter Recycling Regulation appeared to address primarily potential human pathogens, rather than plant pathogens and weeds.

The British Compost Specifications, PAS100-2011 (BSI 2011) addresses the potential adverse effects on plant health due to plant pests, pathogens or toxins, as well as the introduction of or increase in weeds seeds or propagules  resulting from the use of compost. To reduce the risk of plant pathogens, weed seeds or propagules, the entire mass of composting material must be composted for a minimum of 7 days at a temperature of 65 C or higher. There are specific testing requirements for the finished compost where the tolerance for weed seeds or propagules is zero.

The PAS 100-2011 compost specifications was in part based on the results of bench and commercial scale testing of 60 plant pathogens or nematodes (Noble et al. 2004). It appears that the PAS 100-2011 allows composting of all noxious weeds except the Japanese Knotweed. The Organics Recycling Group (2013) reports that the UK PAS 100-2011 compost specifications does not allow Japanese Knotweed to be composted.

The Soil Association (2003) stated that destruction of most weed propagules occurs when composting temperatures reach 55-75C. They also reported that under controlled composting conditions,  Japanese Knotweed rhizome (crown and runners) did not regenerate if exposed to temperatures of 55 C or greater for one week or more (see also Xian et al., undated).  Day et al. (2009) reported that composting for more than 3 days at temperatures greater than 55 C effectively killed growth of roots and crowns of Japanese knotweed.

In order to kill weed seeds, Wiese et al. (1998) reported that all of the six common weed species that they studied were killed in a 3 day composting process at temperatures of 72 C, whereas field bindweed required 12 days. During windrow composting of beef cattle feedlot manure, Larney and Blackshaw (2003) reported that more than 70 days of composting was required to kill seeds of the five weeds tested, and that temperature variation in the windrow may have been a significant factor in longer composting times required.

Washington State suggests that some city composting facilities may be hot enough to effectively kill noxious weeds, but that home composting is ineffective (Noxious Weed Control Board 2011).

In summary, it appears that an adequate composting process (all of the material being composted at temperatures greater than 55 C for a minimum of 7 days) will be suitable to control invasive or noxious weeds. It is also a more sustainable management strategy than burning or burying.  For composting facilities in British Columbia that are meeting the OMRR requirements for yard waste only (lower temperature requirements), the temperatures may not be high enough to kill potentially invasive weeds.

We recommend that the Organic Matter Recycling Regulation be updated to require all organic material be composted at temperatures greater than 55 C to ensure destruction of noxious weeds, weed seeds and plant pathogens. Another option is that local governments can require more stringent and controlled composting requirement for yard waste to ensure that the composting process meets the higher temperatures consistently for all the material being composted. A germination test of the finished compost will also assist in ensuring adequate weed destruction such as required in the UK PAS 100 specifications.

References

BSI 2011. PAS100:2011 Specification for Composted Materials. British Standards Institute, January 2011.

Composting Association. 2003. Information Sheet 15. Composting Noxious Weeds.

Day, L., J. Rall, S. McIntyre and C. Terrance. 2009. Japanese knotweed composting feasibility study, Delaware County, NY. http://er.uwpress.org/content/27/4/377.refs

Larney, F.J. and R. E. Blackshaw. 2003. Weed seed viability in composted beef cattle feedlot manure. Journal of Environmental Quality 32: 1105-1113.

Noble, R., P.W. Jones, E. Coventry, S.R. Roberts, M. Martin and C. Alabouvette. 2004. Investigation of the Effect of the Composting Process on Particular Plant, Animal and Human Pathogens known to be of Concern for High Quality End-Uses. Warwick HRI (Wellesbourne), BBSRC Institute for Animal Health (Compton) and UMR INRA-Université de Bourgogne (France). Published by the Waste & Resources Action Programme, Banbury, December 2004, ISBN 1-84405-141-2.

Noxious Weed Control Board. 2011. Noxious weed disposal – what to do with noxious weeds. Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board pamphlet.

Organics Recycling Group. 2013. Composting Noxious Weeds Information Sheet. Issued February 20, 2013 Issue 1, Revision 1.

Wiese, A.F., J.M. Sweeten, B.W. Bean, C.D. Salisbury and E.W. Chenault. 1998. High temperature composting of cattle feedlot manure kills weed seed. Applied Engineering in Agriculture, 14: 377-380.

Xian, C., P. Bardos, S. Robinson. undated. Can composting kill Japanese Knotweed. http://www.organics-recycling.org.uk/uploads/article2149/Can%20composting%20kill%20Japanese%20Knotweed%20Version%202.pdf

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Town of Ladysmith Manages Their Biosolids Sustainably!

Its encouraging to see how our communities work to improve the soils in their community by composting and recycling biosolids using creative locally designed solutions!

The Town of Ladysmith, located on Vancouver Island has been composting their biosolids and reusing the compost in their own community for 20 years. The composting process is an integral part of their wastewater management process. Recently they designed their own covered aerated windrow system, using mostly materials locally available!

Ladysmith composting photos

The 1000 tonnes per year of Class B biosolids are blended with locally produced yard waste and woodchip material, and placed in aerated windrows covered with Compostex fabric. The composting material is turned at least 4 times in a 21 day process to ensure a consistent and quality Class A compost.

This covered aerated windrow system was designed by the Town of Ladysmith’s own staff, who using the principles of composting, created a simple and functional system that produces a Class A product in an environmentally sustainable process. Part of the ingenuity was the design and manufacture of their own hydraulically operated cover winder system to remove the Compostex covers from the windrows. They use readily available wireless temperature probes to continually record the temperatures in the composting material, and designed their own software to organize and report the data.

Odor from the process is managed by creating a recipe with the right moisture content, the Compostex covers to minimize excess moisture from rainfall, and timed aeration to ensure adequate oxygen in the composting material. This allows the composting process to be located in town, very close to other commercial activities.

Pile turning

Leachate is managed using the Compostex covers to shed the rainfall. As an additional level of protection, all of the water from the active composting area is directed to the wastewater treatment plant.

The resulting Class A compost is used for parks and gardens within the community, providing additional water holding capacity for the soil and nutrients for the plants.

We honor the Town of Ladysmith for their diligent work in creating a circular bioeconomy, by reducing potential greenhouse gas emissions, and by recycling organic matter to improve the health of their soil.

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Diverting organic waste for the benefit of our soils – 9 years of teaching

I love how our communities are integrating the importance of diverting organic waste, and recycling it into compost that improves our soil and our food sustainability! One of my privileges with the Compost Facility Operators Course, is to assist our communities to do this safely and effectively.

After nine years of teaching the Compost Facility Operator training course in British Columbia, I continually learn from all who attend the class. Last week, we had 11 persons from British Columbia, Yukon and Northwest Territories. A wonderful group of individuals who want to make composting, organic waste diversion, soil enhancement, and sustainable communities, succeed!

Compost Facility Operator course participants Nov 4-6 2015

Compost Facility Operator course participants Nov 4-6 2015

One of the most meaningful parts of the composting course was to work together in a practical compost pile building exercise, where we learn the importance of microbes and oxygen (where a 25% food waste blend in a 75 L bucket is already at 2% oxygen after one day), and how much moisture needs to leave the composting process (350 L or 92 US gallons per cubic meter of composting material at 65% moisture). We then use that knowledge to design an effective small scale composter for smaller communities.  We discussed the creative work already happening in many communities, making composters from old freezers, making composter from fish totes, including how they may have to be adapted, and what challenges we may have.

We worked together to design a small insulated box composter that uses local materials, and can be made in various sizes, one that utilizes natural convection to provide oxygen to the microbes, uses a biofilter layer on top of the composting material to control odor, and uses a cover structure to facilitate the required moisture removal.

using the principles of composting including oxygen supply, odor control and moisture removal to design an effective small scale composter

using the principles of composting including oxygen supply, odor control and moisture removal to design an effective small scale composter

We love to see creative expression of how our communities are integrate the principles of composting in their communities, using local resources as much as possible. The next course date is March 30 through April 1, 2016. More information on this course is on our website.

 

 

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City of Merritt’s Vision for Sustainability in 2008

The City of Merritt, in the Nicola Valley, had an excellent vision for sustainability.

In 2008, Merritt asked for proposals to compost their Class B biosolids. The request for proposals referenced a report that concluded: “Composting in Merritt and the availability of the final biosolids compost to the community was deemed to be very important to the Liquid Waste Management Plan Public Advisory Committee”, and “composting has the potential to produce a very high quality product which is suitable for use as a soil amendment, without restrictions.”  The Public Advisory Committee was made up of “interested concerned” residents of Merritt, and also included input from the general public through open houses and newsletters.

The City of Merritt’s preference was to be able to have a Composting Center within the City Boundary, perhaps even near the location where the biosolids had been placed for many years already. The city also mentioned the dream of composting other organic waste produced in Merritt.

Transform was able to assist the City of Merritt in realizing this vision, together with the Good Earth Company. This biosolids compost facility has been operational since 2009. This compost facility, and the quality compost that it produces, and its use in the community, is part of the reason that the City of Merritt has done so well in the Communities in Bloom competitions.

The reason that compost is so important for the Nicola Valley is that the climate is dry, there is not a lot of vegetation covering the soil, and not enough organic matter to hold the soil together. The 2013 Integrated Storm Water Management Plan for Merritt indicated that to protect the river and the aquifers, additional growing media is required and vegetation needs to be planted in the City.

These recommendations are in line with the Soils for Salmon program, developed in Washington State, that provide Best Management Practices for urban and residential soils.  The principles of this program include:

  1. “Soil degradation and water pollution are widely recognized as major environmental problems
  2. Healthy soils directly contribute to healthier water resources and thus indirectly support salmon
  3. Steps taken to improve soils lead to improved water quality and quantity that will result in healthier fish habitat
  4. Increased use for compost helps close the recycling loop through beneficial use of organic materials.”

Biosolids compost is part of the Best Management Practice.

We celebrate the International Year of Soils in 2015, and we congratulate the City of Merritt and the Nicola Valley for their Vision for Sustainability.

See video at: https://youtu.be/CAfp4LNY3ns

 

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On-farm Composting Increasingly Becoming Favored Option for Animal Mortality Management

Composting animal mortalities on farm is increasingly becoming a favored option of carcass management, particularly following disease outbreaks. Part of this reason is because mass burial, burning, or landfilling are no longer sustainable options in many areas. Although animal rendering is an excellent option, there is not enough rendering capacity following a disease outbreak. Transport of diseased animals is also no longer favored because of the risk of disease transmission.

The 5th International Symposium on Animal Mortality Management was held in Lancaster, Pennsylvania Sept 27-Oct 1, 2015. The symposium was timely, particularly following the serious outbreak of high pathogenic avian flu in many of the US states in the spring of 2015. Many of these birds were composted on the farm, simply because other options were not available.

There were excellent presentations, including one farm manager, who was responsible for composting his 6 million birds on farm. Composting is increasing considered an option for other disease outbreaks such as foot and mouth disease, or anthrax. While the composting may not eliminate the disease organisms, the organisms can be controlled and stabilized, allowing the material to be managed over time, rather than all at once. There is some excellent research in Canada on the effect of composting on prion destruction. It appears that the combination of heat and biological activity is inactivating the prion.

The symposium helped me realize that we have developed an excellent management system for Avian Flu – including humane destruction using CO2, followed by in-barn composting. I had the privilege of presenting the BC response to high pathogenic Avian Flu in 2014, where there was excellent cooperation between the poultry producers, the poultry industry, the provincial government and the CFIA.

More information on the International Animal Mortality Symposiums can be found at: http://animalmortmgmt.org/

 

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Solid Waste Association of North America Honors Canadian Composting Facility – Lafleche Environmental

We as Canadians can be proud of yet another Canadian company that has achieved high honors in North America. Lafleche Environmental in eastern Ontario recently was awarded a gold medal at the WASTECON National Conference in Florida for its composting facility (http://www.recyclingproductnews.com/article/21467/swanas-wastecon-2015-inventing-the-future-of-solid-waste-management).

What is incredibly honoring to us as Transform, is that we had the privilege of designing this facility.

Lafleche plan and pics June 2008

Notable features that Transform incorporated into the design noted in the award entry included:

  • - enclosed internal facility – “In addition to the unloading all processes from mixing, screening, loading of channels, agitation, aeration, and final screening are conducted in environmental controlled buildings.”
  • - fabric shelter -“The facility is easily maintained and greatly reduces the risk of corrosion and/or deterioration found in metal compost structures”
  •  – air injection and leachate collection system – “The air injection and leachate collection are combined into one system. This allows the air injection and collection for each zone of the channels independently. “
  • - double enclosed channels -“Compost process utilizes an aerated and agitated channel arrangement contained within a primary enclosure for environmental control of moisture, air and odour.”
  • - indoor receiving area – “In the receiving area the grinding, mixing and adding bulking agents (carbon based amendments) takes place. This process ensures that a homogenous mixture is prepared prior to being loaded into the aerated channels; keeping source separated organics and dewatered bio solids separated during the compost process.”
  • - biofilter system – “An engineered biofilter system (22,000 sq.ft.) treats all air exhausted from the buildings. A moisture control system is installed on the biofilter to ensure optimum moisture content is maintained in a cedar and tree root media. ” (https://swana.org/Awards/ExcellenceAwards/2015Winners.aspx)

The additional challenge that we were given was that the facility had to be constructed on a peat bog – so we integrated the floor system in a big floating slab together with the building foundation.

We honor and appreciate all of our engineers and contractors who worked diligently to provide this award winning design for Lafleche Environmental.

Another plus for Canada, a plus for the Professional Agrologists who design biological systems, and another plus for our small company in Abbotsford British Columbia!

 

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New Years Reflections on Composting 2015

Its amazing that no matter how long I have been involved with composting and soils, I am always learning!

This past year, I learned more about our world supply of phosphorus, and how it contains heavy metals and radionuclides. This provides all the more reason why we should be recycling our organic material, and returning it back to our farm land.

I learned about our world’s increasing concern with antibiotic resistance on human health, and the contributing role of anti-microbials in agriculture. We should be promoting manure management that reduces risks of antimicrobial resistance entering our environment.

I learned that an increasing number of fruit and vegetable buyers will be ensuring that only properly made compost is used, to ensure that the products meet International Good Agriculture Practice guidelines (GAP).

I learned that many of our communities are excited to divert organics from landfill, but we still need to work hard at recycling this organic material back to the soil for local healthy food production.

I am seeing that although we can increase our organics diversion by separating the organics from our garbage in Material Recovery Facilities, it remains very difficult to process and clean this organic material so that it can be used as a soil amendment.

I have learned that although there continues to be some excitement for anaerobic digestion, the economics are still not working very well for most facilities once the initial excitement of receiving the grants and public funding has passed.

I had the opportunity to visit communities in Canada’s north, including Yellowknife, Hay River, Fort Simpson, Whitehorse and Haines Junction. I love their passion for recycling and their initiatives to grow food locally.

We have updated our Compost Facility Operator Manual this year, and are reprinting it. We also enjoyed teaching more than 100 participants in the Compost Facility Operator Courses held this year in Abbotsford, Yellowknife, Hay River and Fort Simpson.

We also had the priviledge of assisting the CFIA and our local poultry industry in processing birds, eggs, feed and litter on a number of farms in the Fraser Valley following another Avian Flu incident.

This year marks the International Year of Soils, as well as the 30th anniversary of my decision to become a soil scientist. I am excited about what I will learn in 2015!

LOGO_IYS_en_Print

 

 

 

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Fruit and Vegetable Buyers Drive Compost Quality

The quality of our compost produced in Canada may now be dictated in part by the purchasers of fruits and vegetables. In an announcement on July 22, 2014, CanadaGAP stated that as of April 1, 2015:

“the person responsible selects/purchases harvested/market product from operations that have successfully completed one of the options below and requests a copy of a current/valid certificate for CanadaGAP or other industry recognized third part food safety audit/certification.”

Canada GAP (Good Agricultural Practice) is an independently operated program to demonstrate due diligence in food safety. It is part of an international effort to assure the public that our food is safe to eat. Global GAP is the worldwide standard that assures Good Agricultural Practice in setting voluntary standards for the certification of agricultural products.

The CanadaGAP Food Safety Manual for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables (2013) requires that:

1. No sewage sludge products are used

2. Compost producers provide a letter of assurance for any compost sold for fruit or vegetable production.

3. Compost produced on the farm growing the fruit or vegetables must undergo a demonstrated pathogen kill process.

The fruit and vegetable industry can respond in one of two ways:

1. stop using manures or composts because the potential safety risk is too great, or

2. purchase compost that come with quality assurances, particularly regarding potential pathogens.

Most fruit and vegetable producers realize the importance of healthy soil, which is maintained with addition of organic matter via manure or compost. In my opinion, a choice to stop using compost or manures is not a good one as it would lead to a decline in soil quality and in the quality of the food grown on that soil.

As compost producers, this is our opportunity to rise to the challenge.  We will be asked to accept liability for our product via letters of assurance.  We know how to produce stable and pathogen free compost. Within our own operations, there is the opportunity to ensure a management and operations system that ensures the quality of compost that is being expected.

We are an important industry that needs us for the safety of the fruits and vegetables that we consume and export. We also have to remember that we are also important for the long term health of our soils.

References

Canada Gap 2014. www.canadagap.ca

Global Gap. 2014 www.global.gap

 

 

 

 

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