Summit held on diverting farm waste and the value of compost

 Lise LeBlanc

Lise LeBlanc

 Kim Trimmer

Kim Trimmer

by Dan Woolley
Divert NS hosted a one-day “agricultural waste to resource summit” in Truro, N.S., on March 6 for farmers, agricultural businesses, and municipal and provincial officials.
Divert NS is non-profit corporation promoting recycling in Nova Scotia. It operates two primary recycling programs, the beverage container deposit-refund program and the used tire management program. It also manages 75 enviro-depots across the province, and works with the provincial and municipal governments, industry, and academia to divert “waste resources” from landfill.
The Nova Scotia environment department has implemented disposal bans on newsprint, cardboard, metal and glass drink containers, tires, waste paint, high-density polyethylene and low-density polyethylene plastics (which include bags and film), compostable organics (leaf, yard, and food waste), and electronics. Open burning of solid waste is also prohibited.
Ashley David, a solid waste resource coordinator with the provincial environment department, told summit attendees that nearly 400,000 tonnes of solid waste is diverted annually from Nova Scotia landfills, including more than 120,000 tonnes of organic waste, 100,000 tonnes of construction and demolition material, and 100,000 tonnes of paper and cardboard.
Reviewing a 2012 audit of plastics generated on Maritime farms, he said 70 percent of the total was low-density polyethylene (bale wrap, silage film, fertilizer bags, and greenhouse film), 23 percent was polypropylene (woven and mesh packaging and twine), six percent was high-density polyethylene (jugs, pails, and netting), and one percent was styrofoam.
Of the 400,000 tonnes of solid waste that does go into landfills, organics account for 29 percent of the volume and plastics for another 20 percent.
However, David said waste diversion presents opportunities for farmers. He said organics can be turned into compost, wood and wallboard waste can be used for cow bedding, plastics can be recycled into building materials, tires can be used to cover silage bunkers or ground down and used in shingles and pavement, paper can be converted into blown-in insulation and hydro-seeding mulch, old paint can be used in new paint manufacturing, and glass can be ground down and used in drainage, filtration, and septic systems.

AG WASTE MANAGEMENT
Kim Timmer, a manager with a national non-profit environmental stewardship organization called Cleanfarms, told summit attendees, “We deliver specialized programs for farmers.” Cleanfarms promotes environmentally responsible agricultural waste management.
Timmer said Cleanfarms has different collection programs across Canada for recycling and waste diversion of pesticide and fertilizer containers, pesticide and fertilizer bags, obsolete pesticides, and veterinary medicine containers.
She said in 2016 in Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes, Cleanfarms began collecting seed and pesticide bags and disposing of them through high-temperature incineration.
Plastic bags from Manitoba are shipped overseas for recycling, bale wrap is collected from Ontario farms, and P.E.I. has a collection and disposal program for silage wrap and boat shrink wrap, said Timmer, adding that Cleanfarms is involved in a pilot project in Saskatchewan to recycle grain bags, a program Manitoba has operated since 2011.
When recycling and waste diversion programs are convenient and accessible, farmers will use them, said Timmer.
As yet, there is no plastic wrap collection program in Nova Scotia, and fertilizer bags, bale wrap, and plastic field coverings are typically disposed of in landfills, said Timmer, adding that a level playing field should be ensured for all stakeholders.
“Farmers in Nova want the same programs as their colleagues elsewhere,” she said. This fall, said Timmer, they will be introduced to a collection from Nov. 5-18 of obsolete pesticide and animal medicine containers. A pilot project can be helpful in starting a waste diversion program, she said, advising that it should deliver value, while operating with transparency, accountability, and traceability. It should also “be up front about program costs and environmental handling fees,” she said.
 Since China has stopped importing scrap plastic, “the price we get for plastic has plummeted,” said Timmer, adding, “Some people say the price will correct itself in a year.”  

MARKETS FOR COMPOST
Lise LeBlanc of the Nova Scotia company LP Consulting reviewed the potential of an agricultural market for compost, noting the adoption by Nova Scotia in 1995 of a strategy to divert 50 percent of solid waste from landfills.
LeBlanc said there is also a need to improve Nova Scotia’s soil health with increased amendments due to less manure availability and a reduced reliance on fossil fuel-based fertilizers, adding that increasing soil organic matter stimulates microbial activity, making for a healthier soil.
LeBlanc said compost is not in higher demand because of its perceived low fertility, the potential for contamination, inconsistent quality, and equipment and labour costs.
In 2017, Divert NS and the provincial environment department launched a study examining the testing criteria for compost as both a planting media and soil amendment, and sampled compost from nine municipal composting facilities. The initiative also included educating municipalities about agriculture’s fertility needs, while identifying the benefits of compost to the agricultural community and the market potential for compost in Nova Scotia agriculture.
The study also examined the market potential for compost, the logistics of moving it to the field, and the timing of its application.
Following the first phase of the study, it was recommended that compost facility operators test their compost as both a soil amendment and as a growing media to ensure they can effectively market their product to farmers. LeBlanc said compost can be worth much more as a soil amendment than as a growing media.
LeBlanc said the biggest challenge around marketing compost is reducing contamination.
According to LeBlanc, workshops held during the first phase of the study indicated “an opportunity and enthusiasm” for compost producers and farmers to work together. The second phase of the study, which is underway, will involve demonstrating the effectiveness of compost application in six trial fields across Nova Scotia.