As did many others I received a personalized letter, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE), in my email inbox yesterday indicating that at long last they had updated Ontario’s compost framework. This includes new standards and guidelines.

This has been a long time coming. The original <em>Interim Guidelines for the Production and Use of Aerobic Compost in Ontario</em> composting guidelines were released in 1991 and aside from some minor tinkering in 2004 have remained unchanged since that time. They were released when Ontario’s composting industry was nascent, still focused on back yard composting but moving quickly to industrial scale composting of leaf and yard waste and eventually source separated organics (SSO).

Of course the industry has progressed considerably since that time and had long outgrown those guidelines. MOE Approvals personnel had long since stopped solely relying on these guidelines particularly after the steep increase in the collection and composting of SSO in Ontario. That increase was met with considerable growing pains for the industry, as it up-scaled the size of composting facilities and quite frankly tried to keep up with the amount of SSO in the marketplace. The MOE also had to increase its intellectual capacity to deal with permitting larger and more complex facilities. While, as there always is, there is still room for improvement both the industry and the MOE have come a long way.

The draft of these new standards and guidelines was released in November 2009. It took almost three years to have them finalized and approved (it should be noted that an election also intervened which added at least a year to this process).

During that time the MOE offered industry what I consider to be extraordinary latitude to help shape these guidelines into something that would be meaningful and mutually beneficial. I know that the industry was grateful for this opportunity.

The Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), the Composting Council of Canada, the Municipal Waste Association (MWA), the Ontario Waste Management Association and the Regional Public Works Commissioners of Ontario (RPWCO) were invited by the MOE to provide detailed comments and meet with the MOE on a number of occasions.

I was privileged to represent the OWMA and can say that these various groups worked very diligently together to develop a consensus. I was further privileged to be part of a technical team that drafted the various groups final comments to the MOE and participated in detailed discussions with them.

Ultimately you never get everything you want and while much of our input was accepted some of it of course was not. While it will take a while for the industry to figuratively digest (I mean compost) the final version of these documents I can say with confidence that there is some relief (and even a little jubilation) that this has come to pass.

The composting framework is split into two and includes:

• New compost quality categories and standards, set out in a new document “Ontario Compost Quality Standards” (Standards) and supported by regulatory amendments; and
• New composting facility guidelines, set out in the updated document “Guideline for Production of Compost in Ontario” (Guideline).

See http://www.ebr.gov.on.ca/ERS-WEB-External/displaynoticecontent.do?noticeId=MTE3NjAy&statusId=MTc2MDM4&language=en for more details.

While standards and guidelines do not in themselves make better compost, composters or grow an industry it does provide up to date information for those in the industry or those considering joining the industry. It should give the industry some level of confidence that the government continues to see composting as an important waste diversion solution.

No one’s work is truly ever done. A possible next step is the development of Anaerobic Digestion standards and guidelines (as they have done in Quebec) so that the full suite of organic waste diversion opportunities have the benefit of fulsome guidance.

 

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