Mid Size Compost Strategy by Wally Seccombe presented to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee March 19, 2013

Comment at the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee on March 19, 2013-03-19

Toronto’s green bin program arose out the City’s landfill impasse. The paramount goal, pursued with considerable urgency, was to increase diversion from landfill. Other goals — GHG mitigation and nutrient recycling — can be made compatible with diversion in managing a city’s organic waste-stream. They have been in other cities. But here in Toronto, they were an afterthought. Divert! Divert! Divert! was the marching orders City Council gave to the Solid Waste department, with targets, such as 70% by 2010. So we got an extraordinarily permissive green bin program — diapers etc, plastic bag disposal – pre-processed through a ‘hydro-pulper’ a separator in front of the Anaerobic Digester at the Dufferin Street plant, while venting methane, a potent GHG.

As a diversion program for single family dwellings, the City’s green bin program has been remarkably successful; our rates of household participation are among the highest in North America.  But the program’s design fails on nutrient recycling. Gardeners don’t trust the end product; the City cannot give it way, much less sell it. The City pays contractors to haul the digestate away, and it is trucked out of town to be mixed with other sources and further composted as a ‘grade B’ product deemed unsuitable for use on food-growing soils. So it ends up on golf courses and excavation sites, not on Toronto’s gardens. Instead, we have composted garden waste for local recycling, but it is not nutritious enough to replenish the fertility of a densely planted vegetable garden.

The green bin program’s biggest collection challenge — high rise apartment buildings – provides us with an opportunity to restore the goal of nutrient recycling while continuing to make progress on diversion by supporting mid-scale community composting in the city: making high-quality compost in abundance, safe and trusted.

Done well, mid-scale composting delivers real benefits to the community. It’s a valuable end product for urban gardeners, an educational opportunity for our kids in understanding the life cycle of plants and the importance of nutrient recycling; it’s an asset for a neighbourhood’s community gardens in parks and schoolyards. These benefits could spark a real interest among the residents of high rise apartments – becoming a community builder – as they pool their food scraps and turn putrid piles into an odorless community asset. Residential food scraps can be combined with organic waste from commercial sources — local coffee shops, grocery stores, breweries and bakeries — to create an excellent feedstock for aerobic composting. This is an opportune moment to move on mid-scale community composting. City Council has just approved the GrowTO Urban Agriculture Action Plan for Toronto.  Food-growing projects in Toronto are gaining momentum. Lots of safe grade A compost will be needed and we have a huge organic waste-stream to make it from. The Compost Council of Canada is currently holding training courses for the operators of community composting facilities. The explicit aim of the Province’s new composting regulations is to “help Ontario increase diversion of waste from disposal by increasing the composting of organic waste [and] assist in the development of composting as a significant waste management option in Ontario.” 


At Jane and Steeles, on seven acres owned by Toronto Regional Conservation Authority, Everdale, in partnership with FoodShare, Afri-Can FoodBasket and Fresh City Farms, has established Black Creek Community Farm. In this our first year, we will do windrow composting on site, with modest volumes at first until we refine our systems. In future years, as we scale up, we will welcome food scraps from the high rise apartments in the neighbourhood. We want to show what can be done. We are keen to work with Solid Waste in this pilot venture, testing it out, and providing a training site for those who wish to undertake similar projects elsewhere in the city.


Wally Seccombe,

Everdale Organic Farm and Environmental Learning Centre


Quotes from the report we are speaking to:


[a major focus is] on the source separated organics rollout in the multi-residential sector and schools… Over 80% of city-serviced multi-residential buildings have been invited to participate in the Green Bin Organics Program. There are currently 1,005 buildings (144,000 units) on the Green Bin Program. Staff are currently working with the remaining 3,575 buildings (294,000 units) to implement the program.


[Note: It does not appear that community composting is even an option here, since, as Solid Waste understands its mandate, “the Green Bin Program” is a city-wide truck-collection program for centralized processing.]