Recycling Study for Metro Vancouver shows Importance and Opportunities with Organics

Metro Vancouver recently released a Recycling Market study, prepared by EBA Engineering Consultants and Cascadia Consulting Group (http://www.metrovancouver.org/services/solidwaste/planning/Documents/RecyclingMarketStudyReport.pdf) Organics was one of the six commodities considered for recycling, which also included glass, paper, plastic, electronics and carpet. Metro Vancouver produces an estimated 1.3 million tonnes of these recyclable material, of which 628,000 is organics (estimated to increase to 733,000 in 2020).

According to the report, 38% or 238,000 tonnes of the organics are currently being recycled at a cost savings of $ 9 million (tipping fee savings only – does not include other benefits of organics recycling). The report concludes that building infrastructure for the collection and processing is a priority in the region. The report cites obstacles to recycling our organic resource:

“the region has a relatively limited land base limited by geography with an increase in intensive farming and a growing population. There is a resulting overabundance of nutrients in the form of agricultural manures, biosolids, as well as food scraps and yard trimmings that adds a layer of complexity to organics management in the region.”

The report cites a comment that “commercial composting, when not done for the benefit of agriculture, is an industrial land use and should be prioritized on industrial land”.

OrlandoSchmidt Commercial composting in the ALR

Its an interesting comment in that there are currently three commercial properties in the Agricultural Land Reserve in Abbotsford alone that are currently receiving urban organic waste or are approved to do so, and the core goal of composting is to recycle nutrients and organic matter that came from agriculture in the first place, and whose main purpose is to add to back to the soil for either urban or rural agriculture.

The Miriam Webster online dictionary defines “agriculture” as: “the science, art, or practice of cultivating the soil, producing crops, and raising livestock and in varying degrees the preparation and marketing of the resulting products”.

One can argue that there is a separation between urban and rural agriculture and that in this region, rural agriculture already produces an excess of nutrients and organic matter and further addition of urban organic material is negative to agriculture.

Lets explore this further. In our “rural” agriculture in the region, we have thousands of acres of blueberries that do not receive any agricultural wastes, but receive chemical fertilizer only because of the requirement of the soil to remain at a low pH. We have a growing vegetable industry that is not able to use agricultural wastes unless they are composted because of the risk of potential pathogen transfer. We have a huge nursery and greenhouse sector that recycles very little agricultural waste and uses primarily chemical fertilizers and chemicals for disease resistance and control.

One would think that there is not only no real separation between urban and rural agriculture, but that a huge opportunity exists to find local alternative and organic solutions to the fertilizer and pesticide requirements that are curently part of the “rural” agricultural sector. Its fascinating that the “urban” agricultural industry (and the market -our public) is already going down this pathway.

Last week, participants who were included in this study, were invited to a summary discussion including breakout sesssions on where and how to go from here. Its interesting that although the organics sector presents the highest opportunity for waste diversion, there was no one present from the processing industry, and no one there from either urban or rural agriculture!

To be continued in the next blog post….

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