Composting, a natural, biological process that transforms organic waste into nutrient-rich soil, has untapped potential for strengthening the sustainability of waste management systems and the economy in Canada. However, Canada’s infrastructure to support nationwide composting is currently insufficient, leaving it trailing behind other developed nations in this regard.
“By diverting food waste from landfills and towards composting facilities, Canada can mitigate these environmental hazards and instead repurpose waste into valuable, marketable products.”
Food waste constitutes a significant proportion of waste in developed countries, North America being no exception. When discarded in landfills, organic waste emits methane, a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide. Additionally, the resulting leachate, a toxic liquid by-product, contaminates soil and groundwater. By diverting food waste from landfills and towards composting facilities, Canada can mitigate these environmental hazards and instead repurpose waste into valuable, marketable products.
Challenges in Composting
The principal obstacle to the widespread adoption of composting in Canada is the lack of comprehensive infrastructure for organic waste collection and processing. Many Canadian municipalities lack curbside composting services and centralized facilities, providing a barrier for residents eager to compost. Furthermore, compostable packaging materials, a significant and growing waste category, are often excluded from composting programs due to potential contamination. However, studies have shown that compostable packaging has proven succesful at collecting the food scraps that would otherwise be landfilled or are contaminating recyclables, instead driving the recirculation of biological materials.
Building the Foundation of Sustainable Waste Management
So, how can Canada address this shortfall and set a global precedent? The first step is significant investment in essential infrastructure, like green bin programs and composting facilities. Public-private partnerships can facilitate this investment, driving innovation in composting technology. Concurrently, Canada should initiate nationwide education campaigns to raise awareness and encourage citizen participation in composting efforts.
“Building and operating composting facilities will create jobs, contribute to local economies, and stimulate demand for green technologies and services.”
The Canadian economy stands to benefit substantially from an effective, nationwide composting strategy. Building and operating composting facilities will create jobs, contribute to local economies, and stimulate demand for green technologies and services. The compost produced can support Canada’s substantial agricultural sector, replacing chemical fertilizers with a cost-effective, eco-friendly alternative that can improve crop yields and soil health.
Including compostable packaging and serviceware such as plant-based products in the scope of accepted materials can further boost these economic benefits. Some composters have remarked that compostable bioplastics are indistinguishable from conventional plastic products and regularly screened out at composting facilities, but this would be easily solved if petroleum plastics weren’t available and compostable plastics were the only material in circulation for food service applications. In addition, natural colouring or an accepted tinting program and BPI certification labels can be easily added to compostable serviceware and packaging products to make them easily distinguishable. With the education of the meaning of a BPI Certified material, composters would not screen out these materials.
In addition, the introduction of penalties for counterfeit products, similar to how organic foods are labelled and regulated by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the US Food and Drug Administration would allow only certified compostable products to be circulated.
Transitioning to a robust composting infrastructure comes with challenges. Upfront capital costs, public perceptions, quality control, and social acceptance hurdles all need to be addressed. However, these challenges can be met through comprehensive planning, advanced technologies, and focused educational efforts. Moreover, the long-term economic benefits and potential revenues from compost sales can offset initial capital costs.
“Municipalities can introduce mandates for organic waste separation programs, while tax breaks or subsidies could motivate businesses and households to participate.”
Policy incentives can accelerate the adoption of composting. Municipalities can introduce mandates for organic waste separation programs, while tax breaks or subsidies could motivate businesses and households to participate. Implementing landfill taxes or pay-as-you-throw schemes can also discourage landfill usage.
Composting for the Future
In conclusion, composting’s under-utilization in Canada represents a missed opportunity not only for environmental conservation but also for economic growth and resilience. While the challenges are significant, they are surmountable with investment, innovation, and policy reform. By prioritizing composting and integrating compostable packaging into its scope, Canada can showcase to the world how environmental stewardship and economic prosperity can effectively coexist. In doing so, Canada can pave the way towards a more sustainable and resilient economy, crucial for the wellbeing of current and future generations.