The Final Frontier: Challenges For Organics Recycling in Multistory Residential Buildings



In urban areas all around the world, we are stretching towards the sky – to save space on the ground, and make room for our growing populations. In this Multistory Special, we explore the major challenges and factors we need to pay attention to when planning an organics program in a multistory residential building, and we invite guests from cities around the world who are leading the way with their programs to share their experiences. This week, we’re taking a look at the main challenges we face today and the major factors we need to address when we start recycling organics in any type of multi-story building. This will lay the foundation for the episodes to come.

Links to other episodes in the Series:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4 




ecovio® is a high-quality and versatile bioplastic of BASF. It is certified compostable and contains biobased contentThe main areas of use are plastic films such as organic waste bags, dual-use bags or agricultural films. Furthermore, compostable packaging solutions such as paper-coating and injection molding products can be produced with ecovio®. To find more information, visit their website.


EcoSafe® Zero Waste designs and implements cradle to cradle solutions for source separation of organics and recyclables with a focus on diverting organic waste from landfill to commercial compost facilities. We provide our customers with the products and services they need in order to build SUSTAINABLE, SOURCE SEPARATION and DIVERSION programs designed to achieve ZERO WASTE in communities, institutions, businesses, events and at home and in public. For more, visit their website.





Sorting It Out: The State of Multifamily Recycling in Washington State. Washington State Recycling Association. July 3, 2014.

Multifamily Recycling: Case Studies on Innovative Practices from around the World. Washington State Recycling Association. June 20, 2013.

Best Practices for Multi-Family Food Scraps Collection. Recycling Council of British Columbia. February 2011.

New York City Organics Collection Pilot Program Program Report, through March 2014. New York City Department of Sanitation. 2014. (Page 20).






THE ORGANIC STREAM: There is no unified classification of multi-story buildings. Usually they are categorised in terms of height. A typical description would be low-rise, mid-rise and high-rise buildings.

Low rise buildings have very few floors. Again, there are no unified rules here, but they usually are no more than 3 stories high. These are quite easy to work with and usually have a centralised collection point.

Mid-rise would generally be anything above 3 floors but below 8 floors. And high rises, then, are anything above 8 floors. These are typically the buildings we’re talking about in this episode – as they are the most challenging of the three categories.

It might also be useful to categorise the buildings by the type of waste and recycling facilities they have – since this will have a big bearing on how you approach the building. Buildings usually have either a chute system (single or multi chute), waste rooms on every floor, or a single collection area on the ground floor, garage, or in the courtyard.

No matter how you categorise them – it’s important to remember that each individual building will have its own challenges and advantages. For this reason, it could be useful to categorise them in terms of level of difficulty. This can take into account a range of issues that will effect your program like for example – whether there’s high turnover of tenants…. a lack of space or perhaps ventilation issues in the building…or if the building manager uninterested.




TOS: So…where exactly are you going to put your bins, and how will the hauler access them? Are you working in a building with limited space and maybe ventilation issues? Is there a chute system in the building? Do you want to use it for organics?

These are some of the key logistical question you’ll ask yourself in the beginning. And your decisions and how you implement them will have a great impact on success.


(Introduction to Linda Corso)


TOS: This is Linda Corso, manager of Cathedral Hill Plaza on 1333 Gough Street, San Francisco.

We took a trip to California last month to get a first-person view of the organics recycling program in the state and some of the buildings involved that have been successful. And we met with Linda, who was kind enough to show us around and tell us how the system works in her building. Cathedral Hill Plaza was built in the 1960s, so it’s an older building – it has 169 units, with 14 stories altogether. And Linda began a composting program at the building before it was even mandatory.


LINDA CORSO: When I first read about it in the paper that Recology was starting composting, I started looking into it and talked to them about getting composting bins, which we initially put in the garage, and then just sent a memo to our tenants that composting was available. It didn’t work so well!


TOS: Linda told us that nobody wanted to carry their icky compost bags all the way down to the garage when it was easier just to keep dumping it in the trash bin on their floor.


LINDA CORSO: Then I contacted SF Environment and they came out, walked through with me, got the slim-jim bins for both recycling and composting for our trash rooms – we have trash rooms on every floor, which makes it easier for the tenants. And they also came with Recology and set up in our lobby and brought bins and bags for tenants, and had an education thing one evening. They gave people a comfort level that there weren’t going to be bugs crawling all over – we empty the bins in the hallways every day. And it really took off.


TOS: So in terms of logistics….to make the program work, bins were placed where tenants were already going to leave their waste. Instead of having them in the basement where they were less convenient.

Linda showed us the waste rooms and they were spacious, thanks to the slim bins – and clean – thanks to the waste being collected every day. All in all, this is an excellent set-up. And after talking to Linda, here was me thinking that this system was probably the most ideal for buildings with waste rooms.

But actually the truth is that using waste rooms in this way is not all that common or straight forward.


(Trying to reach Alexa Keilty and getting voicemail).


TOS: This is me trying to reach Alexa Keilty zero waste specialist at the department of Environment in San Francisco, who designed and implemented the multistory building food scrap collection & composting program. San Francisco has 8500 multistory buildings they work with, and their composting and recycling mandate has been in place since 2009. Just how has San Francisco navigated the waste room situation – and what do they do when a system like Linda’s doesn’t work?


ALEXA KEILTY: So when we’re setting up a building, we look at if there’s an opportunity to collect on each floor; and if they have a trash room we look at that and we do provide bins at no cost for apartment buildings to collect on each floor – as long as they have maintenance staff in the building willing to collect it. And I have set up composting on each floor in buildings and it doesn’t always work if you don’t have proper ventilation and if you don’t have maintenance staff on Saturday and Sunday – because those typically are the days that people take their trash out, on the weekends. And you don’t want to have fish that someone cooked the night before in a non-vented trash room for fourty-eight hours, because that’s going to create a real problem. And typically for the residents who live in close vicinity to the trash room – they’re the ones who complain first – so it doesn’t always work.

So when we’re setting up programs, I think that’s the main thing we look at: how do we equal the playing field? Most of the time, because of space constraints and we’re dealing with an older building stock, we’re talking about requesting the tenants to walk it down into basement areas to dispose of their recycling and composting, and then the trash chute is still there.


TOS: Trash chutes. Here we come to one of the biggest challenges for programs in multistory buildings.

I have here a 2011 report by the Recycling Council of British Colombia, that says that in Toronto city, high-rise buildings with garbage chutes had significantly lower levels of participation and higher levels of contamination than buildings without chutes. And this seems to confirm what I’ve been hearing from our guests. Chutes are convenient, and easy to use. So for a mandatory program like San Francisco, where there is pressure to increase participation – what can we do about waste chutes?

So it’s all about levelling the playing field – and here Alexa told me about a pretty interesting strategy they’re trying out to do just that…


ALEXA KEILTY: On every floor within a high rise building there’ll be a chute where people can just throw their trash, and it’s prioritising trash over all the other streams. So something to keep in mind is how can we stop prioritising trash, and how do we design and set up buildings from the get-go – and we have new ordinances requiring new construction to keep this in mind, but – when we’re talking about older buildings, how do we level the playing field?

And we also encourage property managers to close their chutes and force the tenants to walk everything down into the basement area. They usually love that idea, because chutes typically can attract pests and all it takes is somebody to put one pizza box down there and then you have a jammed chute. So, they love to close chutes, but the problem is that the tenants board in San Francisco is very strong, and some tenants may consider this a reduction in services – and if they see it as a reduction in services, then they can apply to the rent board for a rent reduction. So because of that, property managers are very fearful, they don’t want to deal with lawsuits…it’s just a very tenuous situation for them.


TOS: So that’s San Francisco’s waste chute strategy. But what about New York?


JESSICA SCHREIBER: I’m Jessica Schreiber, I work at the Department of Sanitation and the Bureau of Recycling and Sustainability. I oversee all apartment programs, so any recycling programs that have to do with high rise buildings fall under my group.


TOS: So New York’s organics recycling program is a voluntary program that has been up and running since 2013 and has been spreading through the City every since – with 148 high rise buildings involved in the program.


JESSICA SCHREIBER: Chutes are definitely our biggest issue when working with buildings – particularly some of the newer buildings in the city that have a chute room on every floor and residents are very used to just bringing everything to the chute room and separating it there. By far what we think is the best option for organics is a single collection point, usually it’s in the basement. We want everything brought one spot. For residents who aren’t used to having to go to the basement for anything, bringing a separate food stream to the basement is daunting. So we have a lot of conversations about chutes with the building management.

There are pros – if we were to make the chutes just for organics, and trash for the (hopefully) non-smelly items that can be separated on the side with the recyclables, that’s one option. There are not a lot of buildings in the city that have chosen to do that. Other cities, though, have reported that that option tends to create more of a smell and more of a maintenance issue, because this is loose food now going down the chute and getting stuck, and not always being bagged correctly. So we try to avoid chutes when we can and do a single collection area where possible. Usually that’s in the basement. There are buildings where they’ve tasked the super with collecting food scraps from a bin on each floor in the chute room – so where they have that sort of building help, that’s also possible.


TOS: So here we see more problems… It seems that avoiding chutes and focusing on a central collection point is a common strategy.

And this brought me on to talk about one of the first participants of their program – the Morningside Heights Housing Corporation. Morningside Heights is an impressive residential cooperative apartment complex comprised of 6 high-rise buildings in the borough of Manhattan – close to Columbia University. The buildings are each 21 stories high, with a total of 980 apartments. How they decided to introduce organics collection here I think is worth bringing up. They decided on a simple approach at the beginning – using a centralised system not for each building – but for the complex itself.

This had some unique benefits – not just in terms of reducing maintenance costs and equipment costs – which led to the program’s success in the building.


JESSICA SCHREIBER: Morningside Heights started as a drop-off point for the whole complex. So they have multiple buildings, and instead of every building having its own collection spot in the basement, there was a drop-off point for the whole complex. The benefit of that is that it’s convenient for the building staff, it’s convenient for us to collect becayse we’re just taking it right from that point to the curb and it’s all centralised. The other benefit of that is that when it’s a drop-off point, it makes it very easy to educate tenants about how to participate. It’s a very clear message, and it’s also a point of education, so people walking buy who aren’t aware that this is an option will see it and become more engage.

So I think it’s supportive of buildings who want to get their feet wet before they jump all the way in, and it’s also a good way to test it out. And you can see that when the bins are closed, they don’t smell because you’re getting service three times a week, so it doesn’t sit long enough to become a problem, and these solid plastic bins are not going to attract rodents. So it’s the best way to ease a building in and as residents become more used to bringing this stuff to this drop-off point, they’re going to actually want it to be in their basement because that’s even more convenient – like an added level of convenience to have it inside their own building, versus somewhere else in the complex.


TOS: So centralised systems have a lot of benefits, especially if you can overcome the tricky chute issue. And just like the waste rooms, you’ll have to make sure the area is convenient, has adequate space, is well lit and clean. And remember – no matter what system you chose, you need to factor in convenient access for the hauler as well.




Now, we’ve covered quite a bit of ground in terms of logistics. Keeping in mind space constraints, how waste will be collected in the building and by the hauler, costs – so weather you can afford maintenance staff or the extra bins, convenience for tenants, odours and pests, and the problems with chutes.

In every aspect there’s a balance to be struck between convenience for the tenants, and practicality. And it can be tricky to do.

What really struck me, and what my guests have all pointed out, is that no two buildings are alike. – Like snowflakes, or like people, they have their own characteristics, challenges and personalities. And the strategy you employ will have to be completely tailored to each building’s needs.




TOS: In any given urban area, the age of the multistory buildings will factor into your organics recycling program.

What are the issues with older buildings? Well mainly that most of them have single-chute systems with tiny waste rooms – or no waste rooms at all. Putting composting on a level playing field in this situation is very hard.

Retrofitting is one solution – but an expensive one. San Francisco is encouraging people to close their chutes altogether – but there are some issues here too.

So let’s look at the bigger steps we can take. The City of Milan in Italy, for example, where the majority of people live in apartment buildings, decided to close all chutes in the city in order to level the playing field. And it’s working – chutes are closed and all organics are collected in waste rooms or central locations. We’ll get deeper into this during our Milan case study in a later episode.

Not all cities can take this approach. But they can make an impact in new buildings by requiring them to have adequate recycling facilities. Often, buildings are allowed to choose between a number of systems.

For example – Alexa mentioned the new building code in San Francisco that says all new construction has to have recycling, composting and trash on an equal playing field. So new buildings, she told me, often have decent sized waste rooms on every floor, which as a fan of waste room systems I think is great. New chute systems are an option as well – either with multiple chutes for each stream, or just one for organics. We already heard from Jessica about the possible issues with these.

Another interesting option that Alexa told me about are diverter systems for chutes – how do they hold up?


ALEXA KEILTY: So they’re now putting in diverter systems. Basically, it’s one chute with a button that you push and then there’s a baffle at the bottom of the chute which pushes the recycling, composting or trash into the right bin. The problem with those is that they never seem to work properly, or the tenants in the building haven’t been trained properly to use it, so I haven’t actually found one that’s been working well unfortunately.


TOS: “Okay so that’s a bit tricky then. I guess then the waste rooms are probably the best option at the moment”.


ALEXA KEILTY: Yeah, I think so. I mean, the problem is just labour – you have to have labour seven days a week and not all buildings have that.




TOS: Buildings are made up of people, and recycling systems are made up of people too. So successful organics recycling, then, is all about building relationships. With the tenants yes, but first of all with the building owner or manager.

In a 2014 report by the Washington State Recycling Association called Sorting It Out – The state of Multifamily Recycling in Washington State, it asked recycling professionals about the top challenges they face in program implementation. And it’s quite telling that lack of support from building managers is number three on the list of challenges, just behind space and contamination.

During our trip through California – we met with building managers…like Linda Corso…and saw just how valuable it is that they are fully on-board with the program and make it their own. But this isn’t always the case. There are factors that can influence their level of enthusiasm or commitment to the program. A building owner or manager may not know much about organics recycling – why it’s important, and whether it will cause odours and pests.

This is where education and outreach is essential.


JESSICA SCHREIBER: We do a lot of outreach, we go to a lot of building events and speak to a lot of management companies, and I always introduce organics and give a brief explination of how it works and why it’s important. When people hear that food waste is a third of our waste stream, that’s a pretty staggering statistic. So we always introduce it as part of the apartment program package. For buildings who express an interest, we will follow up enthusiastically – we’ll do a site visit and work with tenants to educate them along and bring them on board.

We do definitely encounter buildings that say “no thank you” and are not interested. They basically say “not until I have to am I even going to consider this”. I think there’s still some stigma around it – smell and rodents and stuff.


TOS: Now New York’s program is voluntary – which means they are dependent on building managers who are interested. Jessica told me that fortunately, they have their hands full with building owners who are – so they have no need to engage uninterested managers. But for a mandatory program – it’s a different story.


LILY KELLY: I’m Lily Kelly. I’m senior Program Associate for Global Green USA’s coalition for resource recovery. We’re based in Santa Monica, California and we have offices around the country in New York, New Orleans, Washington DC, and here in beautiful San Francisco.


TOS: We met with Lily Kelly of Global Green in her office during our trip last month. As part of Global Green’s goal to promote smart solutions for climate change, Lily has been exploring different solutions for organics recovery and working with cities [here you say ’systems’ instead of ‘cities, but it’s no big deal] on pilot projects in multistory residential buildings.

Lily told us how a mandatory program can affect the way building managers interact with the program…


LILY KELLY: When there’s an ordinance, or when there’s a law that requires composting, it really makes a difference and of course it does. It seems like a very obvious point to make, but just listening to the property managers changing their narrative about it from, “Oh, I don’t know if I want to compost, it seems gross and smelly” to, “How do we make this work? How do I make it not gross and smelly – by using bags or training my tenants better. How do I avoid any kind of fines for contamination – by teaching people how to do it and making signage really clear.” It really helps bring their minds to work on solving the problem, as opposed to just giving up on it and deciding it’s too hard. But then there are many other places where it’s still voluntary and that’s going to place a limit on it, if it’s more expensive.


TOS: Even though the mandatory aspect can bring more people along – there will still be hesitant building managers. And one of the biggest barriers to their commitment is a worry over cost. This is an area you will need to address for mandatory programs, but even more so for voluntary programs.


LILY KELLY: I think it is really important. In particular it shouldn’t be an extra cost for them to add a composting service. And there’s typically a transition period where they’re not going to reduce their trash service right away just because they’ve added a composting service. Down the line it may be possible, and ideally that what will happen is that there will be less trash volume so that service will go down and it’ll become less costly to the property manager. But as a safety precaution for preventing any overflow of trash, they should always try adding compost first, and then – as needed – reducing trash systems. So unless it’s mandated, getting that buy-in from them means there has to be at least a cost neutral option for them.

TOS: Now with a mandatory program, you have one more tool at your disposal: enforcement and the threat of fines. Let’s take a listen to Alexa and San Francisco’s strategy on this front…


ALEXA KEILTY: San Francisco has taken a very mild approach when it comes to enforcement. We have implemented some processing fees on buildings, so if we find over fifty percent compostables or recycling in the trash we can put a fifty percent processing charge on those accounts, and we have been doing that. That usually does get the attention of the property managers and they do eventually call and ask for assistance on how they can improve their setup and motivate their tenants.
When we approach these property managers, we don’t start talking about the law and requirements right out of the gate because people don’t well respond to that, so what we try to say is that we’re offering this service, it can greatly help your building. It will also help maintain your building so it’s cleaner, if you get people thinking about how they sort their trash properly – they typically will manage it better so we talk about that. And if they’re still resistant and don’t want to work with us, then we start talking about the law.




I’m afraid we will have to leave it here for this first episode of our special on organics recycling in multi-story buildings. I hope you enjoyed our journey so far, and the new format.  We’ve covered some critical challenges and key factors that come into play today – and for episode two we continue in this vein to discuss tenant participation, bin lining strategies, dealing with demographics and more.

If you have any questions or comments – you can contact us on organicstream.org website, or on twitter – our twitter handle is theorgstream.




TRAILER – Water & Carbon: 3 New Answers to the Water Crisis in California and Beyond


Our editorial team is currently producing a 6-episode series of The Organic Stream talk show, dedicated to spreading strategic insights to influencing bodies and support drought relief efforts in California and other regions of the world facing a water crisis.

Until today, the focus of the water crisis in California has been on conventional strategies and short term actions, instead of outlining solutions and creating a debate that ties to the broader picture of water, waste, carbon and energy management.

The Organic Stream team traveled the length of California to collect insights from the field and work with key players from the agricultural sector, compost industry, scientific community and public sector in crafting a new narrative. A narrative that ties together several of the challenges the state is facing with food production, water management, waste management and climate change to provide clues on how an integrated approach to resource management can dramatically change the game for the better and for the benefit of all.

The show will blend expert interviews, storytelling, narrated content,  soundscapes and music. Each episode is approximately 30 minutes.




Going Zero Waste: Implementing Organics Diversion at Stadiums, Venues & Events



In this episode we explore the work involved in organising, planning and putting in place an organics diversion program for events with our guest, Leslie Lukacs. As founder and principal of L2 Environmental (California, USA), Leslie has spent many years organising zero waste policies at various types of events and venues. She tells us about her experiences, how to work with local composters and source the right serviceware, how to approach educating staff and the public, how to deal with common challenges, and much more.



ecovio® is a high-quality and versatile bioplastic of BASF. It is certified compostable and contains biobased contentThe main areas of use are plastic films such as organic waste bags, dual-use bags or agricultural films. Furthermore, compostable packaging solutions such as paper-coating and injection molding products can be produced with ecovio®. To find more information, visit their website.







Making an Event Zero Waste


Q: Can you tell me what goes into making an event zero waste – what it’s about and what you do to make this happen?

Leslie Lukacs: Yeah, we usually get involved with the event right at the beginning so that we’re part of the planning team. We create a plan to get to zero waste and we work with all the different groups that are organising the event – from the event promoter, to sponsorship, to volunteers…And then we also order equipment, like the type of recycling and composting bins the event will need. We do any training for exhibitors or food vendors. Then we set up systems to collect the materials for either recycling, composting or reuse. And one of the big items that is reused is the food at the end of the event, so we make sure that we partner with local non-profits or some time of food bank for homeless shelters to make sure that any leftover food goes back out to the community instead of the landfill.

Q: What are you usually aiming for, in terms of diversion rates?

LL: So for us when we plan a zero waste event, our goal is to get a ninety percent or better, and so the main thing that goes into that is designing the event to go for zero waste, you can’t just go to an event and just recycling and collect materials on the backend, you really have to plan for your event to be zero waste.

Q: What happens generally with the rest of the food waste?

LL: Yeah, so in designing a zero waste event, you have to design for zero waste. So you have to make sure that the materials that you use, or the items that are being used and sold at the event are compostable and recyclable. So when we go to zero waste, we typically have a two-bin system – one bin for the recyclables and one bin for the organics – because we make sure all the vendors are using maybe compostable products and we’re really minimizing the waste that’s in the event in the first place. So for the organics, vendors might have used compostable plates and cups and utensils – and all that gets mixed in with the organic material, like the food. And yes, that material goes to a composting site.


Compostable Plastics and Reusable Servceware: Challenges & Solutions


Q: And you mention compostable plastics here. We did an episode on the show not too long about the standards in compostable plastics, and the challenges we face at the moment, as standards do not always represent what composters are dealing with on the ground.

You make sure to use BPI certified plastics when you’re using compostable plastics – but not all composting sites will accept the plastics as the rate they decompose can be at odds with their composting rate, so you have to check with your composting facility and be careful what plastics you go for.  So you face challenges here for using compostable plastics…

LL: Yeah, and it’s confusing for the public because it’s a new product out on the market in terms of what they’re used to seeing. And it looks and feels like plastic to them as well, and it’s easy for event attendees to put that material into a recycling bin thinking it’s just regular plastic. And then there’s also a challenge on the back-end if those recyclables are going to a material recovery facility; sorters at a material recovery facility also get confused if it’s plastic or compostable. So if we have to use that material then marketing and messaging is very important. One thing we do is have a green bar around the compostable product that says “composting” so that it’s more clear to the public and to the waste sorters that this material should be composted instead of recycled.

Q: If you were setting up an event, and the local facilities won’t accept the compostable plastics you’re looking to use – what do you do then?

LL: You know, we would actually love to see reuse. The compostable are just another single-use, disposable product at the end of the day, and there are some possible benefits to that, but the reality is that it’s just another disposable product. And we have demonstrated at large-scale events – maybe ten or twenty thousand people – where actually we have a reuse system with plates and cups and utensils. It’s a deposit-based system, where when they go to a food vendor, they’re actually given a reusable plate and cup and fork for deposit. And we’ve done deposits anywhere from one US dollar to five US dollars.

And when they’re done eating, we have these buckets and stations all around the food service area, and they can just put their plates and cups in the buckets there, and we have an attendant who will give them the refund back. And if, for some reason, they don’t put the item back or they take the item, at least we’re left with some funding to go replenish the supply of plates and cups and forks. And for some events, like some on-site, multiple-day music festivals, we’ll do washing stations as well where there’s a crew, and that’s part of the service or what the event is paying for – that we’ll be washing the dishes right on-site.


Preparing A Zero Waste Strategy for Different Types of Events


Q: When we talk about events, we’re talking about festivals, music festivals, arenas, fairs and so on, and as someone who has worked with all these different types of events – would the approach be different for each type of event, or is there a basic blueprint that you follow for all of them?

LL: Your approach changes event-to-event, and it can even change from the same type of an event, because each facility is unique and each area is unique, and so I’ve set-up zero waste programs for major stadiums for sixty, seventy or eighty thousand people, down to small community festivals, like music festivals or cultural festivals, and multiple-day festivals – so they’re all vary unique. If you can control what’s being purchased for the event, then it’s a lot easier.

So let’s take a stadium for example, where people have to buy a ticket to get in and they can only buy the products that are sold in that stadium. And then it’s much easier to control how to recycle and compost if you can control the products they’re buying. But if it’s like a street festival where it’s open to the public, then that’s a lot more difficult because they can bring in their coffee cup, or something that you haven’t really planned for that is just destined for the landfill because of the type of product it is – like baby diapers. So sometimes there are various challenges within each type of event, so we really have to understand the event to design the correct type of program.

Q: And would you say street festivals would be the most challenging out of all the ones you’ve worked on?

LL: Yeah, I think parades are…actually, I’ve never done a zero waste parade, and I’ve worked with one community who has a famous parade called the Rose Parade in Pasadena on New Years every year. And I just don’t know the way to work with the parade, because in a parade like that, people spend the night on the streets the night before and it’s a big deal for the community. So yeah, those are harder ones – you know, street festivals where it’s open to the public provide a little bit more challenges.

And there’s just different behaviour at different types of events: like I’ve also worked with performing art centres, and the behaviour is that you might have your drink, or you might bring something into the theatre, but you carry it back out with you. Whereas a stadium at a football game, the behaviour is that you just leave whatever you used or consumed right there on the ground. So you have to be aware of different behaviour so you can, again, design the right type of program.

Q: I’d like you to share how exactly you go about making an event zero waste. Can you talk me through the first steps?

LL: Sure. First we work with the event organiser, and we ask for a list of the types of food vendors that he’s going to have, so we can understand the number of booths and the type of food being served, and if exhibitors are going to be generating single use products – like, for example, a bag of chips, in which the material the chips come in isn’t recyclable or compostable. So we try and identify problematic products first, and if the event does want to go to zero waste, they have to take it very seriously, because we need everybody’s help. And so sometimes what we do is we have the vendors sign an agreement that they are going to use products that are compostable and recyclable, and that they’re going to help us with this zero waste program.

With some events they’ve even gone so far as putting in the contract language that if you don’t support the zero waste program then you can get fined or warned, and if they are a repeat offender then they won’t be invited to come back to the event the following year. So, sometimes when we start talking about zero waste, costs are a concern to the event organiser, and one thing that we’ve done to address costs is to look for sponsorship funding. And we’ve created a whole new type of sponsorship package, and we call it a green sponsorship package, or a sustainability sponsorship package. So on recycling bins or on the marketing material, we’re able to say, “This company is bringing you the sustainability program”, or “we thank this particular company for their financial support in making zero waste a reality”. So we’re able to identify new funds that can help offset these costs for an event to invest in either recycling bins or compost bins, or anything else that may be an additional cost.


Education is the Key


Q: And education I’m sure features a great deal in your work. Can you tell me more about that, and whom exactly you work with?

LL: There is education on all levels for all the different people involved in an event, from working in the event to attending the event. So with education prior to the event, I mentioned contracts that we do and vendor agreements, we also attend pre-event meetings and we do presentations. We’re part of the team, so we’re educating all the different groups that organise events at the same time. And then, if we’re going to solicit for volunteers, we do a training the day before with those volunteers and those volunteers may help collect the material. We recruit volunteers to save costs for the event, and we try and identify something of value to them to keep the volunteers – for example if it’s a music festival they would get a day for free, or if it’s a community festival we would provide them meals or a ticket to get in. And we do make sure all the volunteers have a t-shirt or something that identifies them as working at the event and being part of the green team.

So we do the training a day before, and then we also make sure they’re trained the day of, because even though it might seem easy just to clean out recycling bins or sort material, we need it to happen in a systematic way so that the event flows properly and we’re not in anybody’s way. So we make sure they’re trained.

And then on the public side, we look for any way to educate the public. We’ve done anything from stage announcements, at stadiums we might do an announcement on the jumbotron, to trying to get inside the program – so if it’s a musical or concert venue we’re in the program itself that talks about the recycling program. We’ve done banners, signage; even the bins themselves serve as a form of marketing. So yeah, we just do anything we can possible to make sure the public is aware of the recycling procedures.

Another thing that we do in terms of marketing or education is we partner with a well-known person – if it’s a music festival or a sporting event we try and get maybe one of the acts to do some type of sound bite or some type of messaging for the recycling program, as well as within a stadium, using the local heroes to do some type of marketing for us.


Involving Local Composting and Anaerobic Digestion Sites


Q: Another important thing is establishing a connection with the local composting or AD site as well. Can you tell me a bit about how you involve the local composting sites?

LL: Yes, usually a part of designing a program is to identify which composting site can take the materials, and who is going to haul those materials. So, a lot of communities that contract a hauler for the city, they also do the hauling for organics collection, so we just have to make sure that whoever is hauling the material, takes it to the correct facility.

Sometimes there are locations where there is no commercial composting, and when that happens it’s actually a lot more difficult to get to zero waste. So some of the things that we have done is that we were in a more rural area for a music festival on private land and the owner allowed us to create a compost pile right there on his property. So we brought in a chipper and we were able to chip the compostable products, and we were able to create the right mixture with the biodegradable products and food, and create the compost pile right on site. Some other ideas would be contacting local pig farmers or other types of farmers to see if they would be interested in just the pure food waste.

So we’ve been able to manage it like that, but those are exceptions: the majority of projects that I work with, it goes to a commercial composting site.


Changes Needed For Successful Organics Diversion


Q: And typically how big are the changes needed to make an event zero waste? I’m thinking about the event organisers here, because as you said before, they might be worried about costs, but would they also be worried about structural changes for example?

LL: That’s really where I come in, you know, they have so many other things to worry about and I try to make it as easy for them and the event as possible. And in terms of budget – many events already have a cleaning budget and they’re used to hiring some type of group to do the cleaning, so that’s typically the budget that we draw from. This would be for more for a temporary event like a music event or something, but instead of putting the money towards a cleaning company, they would put their money into a zero waste company. And that company would make sure the event was as clean as possible, but also sort out the materials on the back-end and make sure that they go to recycling and composting.

But when I work with a venue, for example like a stand-alone facility that puts on events, I do the training internally. So I’m actually training how the employees collect and manage the material – I don’t bring in crew, I use their crew. It’s all training and getting that that company or that venue up to speed on how to go zero waste.

Sometimes it takes years. Sometimes if a sports venue, or a zoo or theme park wants to go zero waste, it doesn’t happen overnight, it can take months or years to get to zero waste because you are making changes and sometimes those changes take longer. Also, like, changing the products that you’re using. Or getting rid of other products and finding new products to take care of older products that were just destined for the landfill.

Q: I would imagine that depending on the size of the event, and the type of event, you would need a certain amount of people to work with, or a team, to implement the changes. Can you talk me through the difference in terms of the team needed, for a small, medium and large event?

LL: It always varies and depends on the event. It’s hard to just give a general number. But when I work with a stadium or a theme park, or some type of tourist attraction, that’s just me. It doesn’t really require much more. And so in that situation we might write a plan for their facility; I’ll look at their sponsorship and see what type of funding they can get through sponsorship, and then I’ll work with their event manager. Once the facility manager or facility director approves the program, I tend to work with more with the events manager, as well as the facilities manager – the person who’s in charge of making sure that facility is clean. So that’s how the changes happen.

But if it’s a festival and a one-time event in public space and they do want staff – the more staff the better. More staff is an increase in how much it’s going to cost, so we’d have to look at volunteers and if there’s a good market for volunteers. So it really just varies. One thing that I do want to say about volunteers is that if you have anybody who’s interested in volunteers: we’ve seen that about twenty-five to fifty percent of the volunteers that sign up do not show up. So if you are planning volunteers, make sure you plan for more volunteers than what you need, because some people have very good intentions but may not be able to actually take off the time.


Common Challenges For Organics Diversion


Q: What are the challenges you face for setting up the system?

LL: I think the biggest challenge is change. If it’s with a stand-alone facility or some type of venue, many people aren’t as open to change and so sometimes I find that when I’m talking about all these changes that they might not believe it would happen, or that they don’t think it can happen. Or if an employee somewhere along the way had already suggested this and they didn’t do it… So it’s just really about trying to work with the people within the venue and working through that change and making that transition as easy as possible for them.

What I find, when I go into these venues, is that about ten percent love the idea: they support zero waste, they want to be composting and recycling because they already do it at home, so they are fully supportive of this program. And probably about another eighty percent don’t mind, as long as it doesn’t infringe on their day, or take too much time out of their day – you know, they’ll support it and they’ll go along. And really, only about ten percent are the naysayers and talk about how this can’t happen – they’re the ones who have an issue with change. So what I try and do is identify the top ten percent that really support the initiative, and I make them leaders internally, and I provide them with whatever tools they need to make this succesfull. So it’s great when you see that ten percent, and then the eighty percent who will do it if it’s easy for them…And so that’s how we address change, by working with those who want it first, and then…

Q: …Bring the rest along with you….

LL: Correct, yes.

Q: And are there any other challenges, maybe logistically speaking?

LL: There’re always little logistic things that come up, and it’s just the nature of events when you’re dealing with so many people coming to an area at one time. So I would say just expect for things to happen, and to know that it probably won’t run smoothly, there probably will be things that come up. You just need to be able to think quick on your feet and find solutions that work. And maybe something you did didn’t work, but now you have a better start for next year.

One thing that I do is that I create a report after the event, and part of my report is pros and cons, challenges and solutions. So we identify things that we can do better – because there’s always something that you can do better – and then we identify solutions so that the next time this event happens it just gets better and better with time.

Q: For my final question: is there anything you’d like to see happen in the near future in relation to zero waste events or how they are organised?

LL: I would love to see more and more events be zero waste, and go zero waste, because it’s actually a lot easier than what they think. There are challenges and items that need to be identified when planning this, but it’s actually a lot easier than you think, and I think it’s just such a better sustainable way to manage your event. And you have lots of people coming to an event and you have this audience, so why not take that opportunity to also educate them on sustainability and provide them the tools so that they can be responsible event goers. I think it’s really important to educate the public that they can do this. Because, let’s face it, most people go to some type of community event every year, so if we’re educating these people, then we have a better change that they’ll do this at home as well.


Horticulture Special #1: Compost’s Transformative Effect On Olive Orchard



We’re kicking off the year with a focus on the use of compost in horticulture – how compost use affects soil composition and soil health, and the plants or crops grown in it.

This week, we’re talking to Graham Brookman of The Food Forest organic farm in Gawler, South Australia about how compost has helped transform his poor quality soil and sensitive olive crops and greatly impacted his business for the better. We’ll be discussing how exactly compost works to improve the soil, and the olive crops especially, and we’ll also be exploring the cost factors involved, sourcing compost, the challenges he faced at the beginning, and how long it took to see changes in the soil and crops.



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COMPOST2015: Organics On The Rise – The USCC’s 23rd Annual Conference and Tradeshow. January 20-23, 2015.

The world’s largest organics recycling conference and tradeshow. COMPOST2015 is organised by the US Composting Council, and takes place in Austin city, TX. The event is dedicated to sharing knowledge about everything: from how to run a compost facility to the challenges of collecting green waste and food scraps. Those who attend the sessions and pre-conference classes can earn continuing education credits as well as cutting edge techniques in the industry.

Visit www.compostingcouncil.org/compost2015 for details.




Photo by AracuanoSome right reserved.




The Food Forest – Soil and Olives


Q: Can you tell me a bit about the Food Forest and your olive orchard especially?

Graham Brookman: The Food Forest is a small farm, of about twenty hectares, and of that about seven hectares are irrigated, which is important because we have an annual rainfall of only about forty-four hundred mills (millilitres). We have about one hundred and sixty different varieties of food that we produce, and in addition to the raw foods, we do a lot of value adding; so we would not only produce grapes, but the wine from the grapes, and the vinegar from the wine, and so on. So we tend to have a value-adding stream, which then creates its own by-products, and those by-products go back into the input of the system to keep it going. So we need the least possible non-renewable inputs from the outside.

So, olives are a particularly interesting crop in our environment. They’re very sensitive to the amount of rain that you get, and if they don’t get enough water they will sulk and they won’t give you a crop. And if they get adequate water, then they’ll feel really good and generous and give you good crop. So, we’re sitting on the knife-edge with a crop like olives, and the management of water in the soil is completely critical. So it’s a very interesting crop to watch when you’re thinking about how good your soil is, and how you can maximise your yield, given a particular rainfall.

Q: Can you share with us the situation you had with your soil before you started applying compost – I know it was quite poor quality and a bit of a challenge for you.

GB: The soil is naturally quite low in carbon. It’s an alluvial soil, so it’s largely fine clay silt brought down from the hills and down from the Barossa Valley, and that’s dumped into this old riverbed. So the whole of our farm is actually in a riverbed, and if the river gets angry we actually go under. So we’re acutely aware of where our soils have come from, and the upshot of that is that we have naturally around about 0.7 of a percent carbon in our soil, which is very low: a decent agricultural soil in Australia is somewhere between 2.5 and 3.5. So we started right down at the bottom end.

It was a very unforgiving soil that had the capacity to chemically concrete, virtually, in the summertime – so it was like farming on clay bricks. And so our first and major challenge was to unlock the soil from this concreting – and that was mainly done using calcium, so a calcium rich fertiliser. We used gypsum to chase the sodium ions off the colloids so that the soil would become a little bit more crumbly. And from there it’s just been a steady building of carbon that has led to the vast improvement of our soil.


How Compost Became A Solution: Location, Contamination & Organic Certification


Q: When did you decide to use compost, and why?

GB: Well we had been thinking about it for a long time, but we were bullied into going into a competition – the South Australian Premier’s Food Award – and the sponsor of the award was a guy called Peter Wadewitz from Peat Soils. And, you know, that was sort of by-the-by as far as we were concerned; we were just focused on trying to win the award at that stage.

But along the way, and particularly after we’d won the award, we’d got to know Peter very well, and it was only through talking to him that I realised how cheap compost is. It’s much cheaper than chemical fertiliser, and it gives you all of the added micronutrients, and it gives you carbon. So you’d have to be absolutely crazy not to use it in our situation. We are very close to the source – that is the city of Adelaide, which has got a million people producing organic waste, so the hauling distance is short, therefore the price is good. We also had a good contractor who does spreading locally at very competitive rates, and he worked with us to devise a way of throwing the compost into the actual olive rows – right next to the roots of the olive tree, rather than in the inter-row.

So firstly we could get the compost cheaply, and secondly, we could put the compost where it was needed. So altogether it was pretty easy to decide that that was the way to go!

Q: One of the biggest factors in the affordability of compost for farmers is the proximity to a source of compost. I’m sure you agree?

GB: It is. The cost of transport can be an absolute killer. So if you’re within fifty kilometres of one of the actual manufacturing points for compost, then you’re within a competitive range. But once you start going one hundred, two hundred or three hundred kilometres away, it starts to get pretty much undoable. So we’re just very lucky, and it’s my belief that we need to create cyclical systems where the city – which consumes the bulk of the food (and many other non-renewable items) and produces this magnificent waste stream that mostly goes out to sea – that could all be going straight into the farming system, which is just out on the periphery of the city, taking advantage of the waste water and the waste nutrient stream.

Q: A big concern for those using compost is the contamination rate of the compost. Did you do any research into the compost quality, or did you have any concerns about the contamination rate yourself?

GB: Well, we’re organic growers, so it has to be certified organic, and that was taken care of by the organic certification. So we didn’t have to worry much about it.

Q: As organic farmers, you’re able to use the compost made from non-organic materials from the city because of the change in certification, correct?

GB: Yes. There was a particular day at which one of the certifiers said, “Okay, we’re going to take the view that non-certified organic inputs, i.e. once composted and well done, can be regarded as organic”. That was a major breakthrough as far as I was concerned because up until that time we couldn’t use it because it wasn’t certified organic, and that was a mind-shift by the certifiers. So, that was a very important point.

Q: There are different types of compost to chose from and it can be tailored to suit your specific needs as well – so for your soils and for your orchards, what kind of compost were you looking for?

GB: As a farmer what I was looking for in compost was a high nitrogen level, because nitrogen is the element that drives plant growth most, and in most organic fertilisers there’s a dearth of nitrogen. So looking at the different producers, one stood out as having relatively higher nitrogen levels – still not huge, only about between 1.5 and 3 percent in terms of difference – but it makes a hell of a difference to the plants. It’s like you’ve got a rocket under the plant. So I was looking for high nitrogen, and I think that we can mainly thank the resource of animal manure for that. They had access to quite large amounts of animal manure, which went into that particular compost, and that was very important.


Compost Benefits: Water Retention, Increased Yields, Carbon Build-Up


Q: How often do you apply the compost?

GB: Back when we were poor we could only put it on once every two years, and we sort of hit on a rate of about twenty-two cubic metres per hectare – and that’s applied in bands under the trees. And then we got a bit richer and we do it every year now. And that’s much better because we could see in the second year of that cycle that our yields were less, so we need to keep topping it up. The soil is working hard and it needs to be fed, that’s for sure.

Q: What is important to keep in mind when growing olives, and how does the compost affect the olive tree growth, and crops?

GB: As I mentioned, olives are really capable of sulking. So it’s very hard to kill an olive; they will just stay alive under really bad circumstances, but in terms of giving you a decent yield, you really need to look after them if they’re going to look after you. So they do need reasonable amounts of fertiliser, and reasonable amounts of water. And what we didn’t have was any way of storing extra moisture in our soil when it was low carbon. Now we have three times the amount of carbon in our soil, having used compost for twenty-five years. So we have a much higher reservoir of water, which is actually carried within the organic carbon in our soil, and that makes all the difference.

Not only does compost give you ultimately more carbon, it gives you the capacity to hold more nutrients and hold more water in the soil, and for olives that just is enough to make the difference in our environment. We crossed a bridge about fifteen years ago where the olives suddenly decided that they quite liked being here, and instead of miserable little olives and very poor crops, we started to see some really good crops and it just gets better and better.

We haven’t had to use any other fertilisers, really, since we moved to compost. We had to fix up some stuff in the beginning, when we were low in magnesium, calcium and boron. But once we had those essential things fixed up, we have simply used compost every year, and it’s given us all of the nutrients and the carbon. So it has been quite miraculous. I feel a bit slack really, as a farmer, not having the do all of the recipes and looking at different fertilisers every year!

Q: I can imagine! You touch on some of the benefits here that you’ve experienced with compost, and I want to focus on that aspect now to give people a clearer idea of just how big an impact it’s had for you, particularly at the beginning. According to the case study done by Compost For Soils on their website, Even when you were only applying the compost every second year, production started growing steadily and yields had risen by fifty percent within a four year period – which of course has led to an increase in staff.

Soil organic carbon was as low as .7% and you have now got triple the amount of carbon, which then in turn has a huge impact on the water-holding capacity of your soils – with an increase of moisture infiltration and water holding capacity of up to one hundred percent.  So now you’ve got healthy and happy olive trees, thanks in the most part to compost…

GB: Yeah, it’s amazing really…

Q: How exactly has the compost benefitted the olive plants and the yields they produce the way that it has?

GB: One of the main things with compost is that you reduce the stress levels in your plants. So here, if we hit a real heat wave; temperatures can go up to forty-six, forty-seven degrees Celsius (116 degrees Fahrenheit) and that puts the plants into stress to the point that they start producing some quite nasty chemicals – you know, some off-tastes: a lot of tannic kind of tastes – and the compost works in a number of ways to combat that.

One is actually how it keeps the soil temperature lower. So, putting the compost on fairly thick as we do, it’s not only acting as compost, it’s also acting as mulch. So if you had open, unshaded soil, the temperature might be seventy degrees centigrade or higher; well you wouldn’t want to experience that. Or, you can go under a layer of mulch in the same place, and if it’s a decent layer then you’re down around twenty-five or twenty-eight degrees absolute maximum. So it is absolutely staggering what a difference a bit of mulch makes.

So that’s one effect. And then you’ve got the continued capacity of compost to deliver water to the plants on those hot days. You just get that continual availability of moisture. So I think they’re the two key things that compost will do that conventional fertilisers won’t.

Q: So it’s crucial to supply the plant with a continual supply or water, and the mulch layer is quite critical then for success when it comes to olive growing in hot climates…

GB: Well yes, and as I was saying with the olives; if you don’t keep the water up, then they just won’t give you a yield. It’s as simple as that. We practice what’s called deficit irrigation where you don’t give the crop all of the water it could possible use, you give it a percentage of that. It’s like feeding children too much: if you feed them too much they get too fat and develop various diseases, but if you just keep them a bit leaner and a bit meaner and…but if you starve them they die!

So you’ve got to find that sweet point where you provide them with enough nutrients and water so they give you that yield, and that’s a very particular point. And we all aim for that here because we don’t have unlimited water: every little bit of water is very critical and compost helps us to find that sweet point.

Q: And of course with such limited water, it’s important that your irrigation applications are effective too…

GB: Overall. Of course, if you are irrigating on soil with low carbon, the water will go, ultimately, straight through it. It’s lost to drainage. Whereas if you’ve got a good carbon level in the top meter of soil, you can store bucket loads of extra water, which means that every kilolitre of water that you’re applying is actually being used by the plant instead of losing half of it to drainage, and that’s tremendously important. And then, in terms of utilisation of the water you’ve got in your soil – If you can reduce transpiration and keep your plants together where they haven’t kind of collapsed, then again you’re getting a much more efficient use of the water. So you’re winning in a couple of ways.

Q: That’s right, and I didn’t mention it before, but over that four year period once again, your irrigation applications grew to be twenty-five percent more effective – not only because of the carbon’s capacity to hold water, but because it lowers the temperature of the soil and reduces evaporation as well. But aside from these obvious benefits, what other benefits have you experienced with compost use?

GB: Oh, the soil microflora. If you’ve got a lot of carbonaceous material and just general vegetable material and so forth, you’ll find that you’re developing much healthier microbes. We have a laboratory in South Australia that actually tests the different types of microbes you have in your soil; and so you’ll have bacterial ones and fungal ones, you’ll have pathogenic ones and beneficials…and there isn’t any doubt about compost – it just really fixes a soil up that otherwise has no defence.

For the tree – if there’s a potential bacterial infection or something like that, with the compost you’ll suddenly find that you’ve got all the fungi and so forth that will get stuck into these pathogens and protect your tree. So there’s no question about that. We actually got our soil tested by a doctor Ashley Martin at this laboratory Microbe Labs. And when we first got the results back – you’ve got all of these issues in your soil, like gauges that you would have on the dashboard of your car, and if the speedometer reading, if you like, is right across to the right, it means you’re really good for drought tolerance, and you have another dial which is really good for bacterial-fungal balance, and so on.

And with our soils that have had compost on them for so long, every test that was done by this lab was right across to the right-hand side – fully on. And so it was good to actually see that this trial that was done using the DNA testing of all the microbes in the soil proved exactly what we’d been suspecting all along.


Challenges Faced at the Beginning


Q: Did you face any challenges at the beginning with sourcing or applying the compost?

GB: Well working out how we could band the compost along the actual tree rows. There was a lot of mucking around. We tried shoots sticking out of the side of the machine, and that was quite clumsy because you had shoot that used to crash into trees every now and then, and so forth. And then this guy from Africa – he was a welder – he designed these baffles that went on the back of the spreader. So the spinner would spin the compost out and it would hit these baffles and then bounce into the right place in the row. That was really good. So once we worked that out, it’s been pretty straightforward.

Q: Were there any challenges you faced specifically with the olive crops?

GB: We did have quite erratic yields with quite a lot of the crops, and we found that the individual climate of a year was critical to success, and I think compost has evened it out quite a bit. So the crop just charges along anyway, even if when you started this whole process a year like that would have just written you off and would have destroyed you. It doesn’t do that anymore because everything’s more resilient, and I think that’s really important. It gives you much more confidence as a farmer, that’s for sure.

Q: How long did it take for the compost to start making an impact on your soils and crops?

GB: The soil improvement came with both calcium sulphate, combined with the compost. And the gypsum, if you get rain, it takes about two or three days and you will notice that a paddock that was like rock now is quite soft. The compost was much slower, and so in terms of noticing a perceptible rise in soil carbon viability and workability with machinery, and that sort of stuff, it took two or three years to get anywhere.

But I think once you get to a certain point, you’re going to actually see the benefit in the year of application. So I would say that nowadays, we get all the money back in the first year, and then more money back in the second, third and fourth years from a given application. So your compost is extremely valuable, because you’re paying off the investment in the year that you actually apply it – and then you’re getting more and more benefit from then on as well.


Investing in Compost: Should You Take The Plunge?


Q: Why do you think some farmers are slow to use or invest in compost?

GB: Most of them are too far away, that’s the problem for a lot of them. Farmers are very practical people: if they do the sums and they can see that they will make money in their operation by buying compost rather than something else, mostly they’ll take the plunge. They’re very hyper-aware of economics. They’ll change crops from season to season, and be watching world markets…so there’s usually and economic reason; they’re economic rationalists, that’s for sure.

But the other thing is that you can put on a powerful fertiliser through your drippers in twenty minutes. You can’t do that with compost. So fertigation, particularly, is a very fast way of getting nutrients to plants. So I think not being a purist is half of the problem. So I would see a practice emerging that says “We’re going to base the soil health of our operation on compost, and we are going to continue to use sophisticated manufactured chemicals to maintain the exact control that we want in out greenhouses”, or whatever it might be.

But we could probably still use twice as much compost as we are at the moment.

Q: Do you have any words of advice for other farmers, or olive growers out there that are looking into using compost?

GB: The sooner you start applying compost, the sooner your soil structure will change – that’s the main message. You just jump in and start doing it, and I think you’ll find that you never stop. You know, I know a lot of people who have sort of weaned themselves onto compost; so they’ve applied a bit of compost for a couple of years, but they’ve kept a little bit of chemical fertilising going on at the same time, and then they’ve switched right across to compost. And so if you’re scared you can do that. It’s sort of like organics – you can do half your property and then you can do the rest when you’re convinced that you’re making more money.

So, particularly for farmers that have got a bit of land close to the city, they’ll find that they can increase their crops and maybe increase yield two or three times, become more profitable, and be doing the right thing for the planet. It doesn’t get better than that!



New Strategies For Recycling Commercial Waste: The Industrial Ecology Program of NSW, Australia


This episode corresponds to Lesson 3 and Lesson 5  of our online course.

This week we’re taking a trip down under, to highlight new and exciting recycling program created by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) of New South Wales, Australia. The program, called the Industrial Ecology Business Support Network, aims to facilitate and encourage the reuse of industrial waste materials between medium to large businesses in order to recover recyclable materials from the commercial sector. We speak to Phil Molyneaux of the EPA in New South Wales, who tells us more about the program and how it operates, what it will do for businesses, and how it may be replicated in other countries.

Thank you to Resource Recovery Australia for making this episode possible.

Resource Recovery Australia is a national profit-for-purpose business, providing coaching, consultancy and operational waste services, based on their award winning social enterprise model. They work with Councils, communities and businesses to maximise the economic, social and environmental outcomes from resource recovery. For more information, visit their website.

Three upcoming events that are on our radar this week:

The Joinville Zero Waste Week in Brazil,

The National Zero Waste Youth Congress, Brazil,


The International Zero Waste Youth Congress in Puerto Rico.




A Solution For Diverting Business Waste From Landfill


Q: How and why did the Industrial Ecology program come to be?

Phil Molyneaux: It started about six months ago. We were looking at this for a long time, trying to think of creative ways to work with businesses. And we set up a program to work with small to medium sized businesses – so, those who were employing up to two-hundred people, but mainly concentrating on those who were employing twenty people in their business, so the small businesses. And they’re notoriously contact; there’s an enormous number of them in New South Wales – there’s something like six hundred and fifty thousand of those in New South Wales alone. There’s a lot of small businesses. And we thought we would like a program looking at opportunities to work with larger businesses as well. And that was where the Industrial Ecology, or the Industrial Symbiosis program came about.

Q: Can you give our audience more on an idea of what exactly is the program, and how it runs?

PM: The program is about…we’re paying for facilitators who have a background and an understanding of local areas to work with local businesses and help local businesses to fin creative solutions for their waste. So what we’re doing is we’re paying for a person, called a facilitator, to work in a local area, and we split the state up into six regions – relatively arbitrary regions – and we’re working with the facilitators, providing funding and providing assistance to them to work with local businesses.

So what they would do is they would hold meetings in their regions and identify businesses that want to work to reduce their cost of waste disposal. In New South Wales there’s a levy on materials going to landfill; the government tries to encourage recycling, and one way of doing that is to put a levy on the tonnes of material going into landfill, and that is about one hundred and twenty dollars per tonne – and then the waste industry themselves have a gate fee. So, someone estimated that in Sidney, and the capital cities, the cost of putting material into landfill is something in the order of about three hundred and fifty dollars a tonne, with transport costs included.

That means it’s quite expensive to put material into landfill, but some businesses feel that that’s just the cost of doing business, and they’ll keep doing it. But what we’re trying to say is that the New South Wales government is working with businesses to try to encourage them to recycle that material, and therefore avoid much of that cost of disposal.

Q: What’s the timeline of the project – how long are you planning for it to go on for?

PM: We would like to keep it going for four years. We’re sort of half way, or a third of the way through the first year of the program. Our hope is to be able to suggest to the facilitators we’re working with – that we’ve trained and encouraged and supported – and encourage them to continue to do this work themselves, because they will have had the skills and experience, and see that there’s an opportunity for them to make money.

One of the people who is advising us in this program has said that he’s been doing industrial ecology, or industrial symbiosis, for a number of years himself and he says to businesses: “I can find a way to save you a hundred thousand dollars a year on your waste bill, are you prepared to pay me half of that?” And a number of companies have said to him, “Yes, sure we can do that”. So, at the end of the financial year he gets his check for fifty thousand dollars and is quite happy.

And that’s where we think a number of these people who have been trained in these regions – with skills and connections in those regions…because it’s local regions. We’re such a big state that there isn’t the money to move this waste from one section of New South Wales to another. It’s best if the local region deals with that waste in the best way – and it’s relatively expensive to transport these materials: food waste is heavy, timber waste is really quite heavy.


The Businesses And Organisations Participating.


Q: What kind of organisations or businesses are you looking to work with, and what qualities to the facilitators need to have?

PM: There are criteria, and we were very careful when we gave the original grants out. We were looking at companies that had a track record of working with local businesses; innovative in looking at recycling options; skills in leadership – we’re looking for a particular type of person who’s going to be the facilitator, and that person has to have a certain amount of charm, a bit of an ability to hold meetings and to network with people, and to be persistent.

So a lot of the time, how they’ll go about it is they’ll have a meeting in one of the small cities around the state. They’ll talk a bit about the idea of recycling and mention a couple of success stories of local businesses that are recovering, say, timber pallets or food waste in a region, and they’ll perhaps get one of the people doing this to talk. And they’ll say, “can we sit down and chat with you about that idea”. And they’ll give them a cup of coffee, get them to come back after a few minutes of networking, and they basically sit down with all the people interested in timber waste sitting down at one table, and the people interested in food waste or recycling plastic or metals and the like, sit down at separate tables and network together.

Then, the facilitator will try and gather that information and try to encourage those people that have been networking – someone who has food waste and wants to find someone who can use that food waste (maybe someone who is a local composter, or someone who has a farm and can take that food waste and it’s lawful for them to take that food waste), and then we assist those two to get together. And sometimes it’s just a case that they’re just down the street from each other, and they didn’t realise that both existed, or both had that need. Or, we need to organise some sort of transport between them. So it’s a case of negotiating, and it really takes someone with some skills and persistence: people are busy, people have always wanted to do this, but they’ve just never had someone to facilitate that connection.

Q: So the want is there, we just need to make it happen…

PM: That’s exactly right.


Goals and Outcomes: What Impact Will Industrial Ecology Have?


Q: Can you tell me then what are the core outcomes expected of the program?

PM: Good comment. Well, we’re going to invest four million dollars over the four years of the program, and we would like to see (and we’ve got some numbers to indicate this is quite possible) a return of something like twenty one million dollars in initial income or savings for the community. We’d like to target one hundred and sixty thousand tonnes of landfill diversion. We’re well on the way – of the first four months of the program, we’ve certainly seen a significant targeting of several thousand tonnes of material.

Q: What is the business case for the program?

PM: Well, the business case is that idea that there is a saving for business; there is a responsibility in government to reduce the amount of material that is being sent to landfill; there is a responsibility in government to reduce litter and waste, and to encourage business to be more efficient and competitive in an international market. And obviously, the New South Wales Environment Protection Authority has a desire and a responsibility to stop productive material from being wasted, and see that material return to the proactive economy – that’s our chief objective. But we also see that it’s going to be of benefit to business efficiency in the economy. And we’re already seeing benefits in our society of a cleaner environment, and environment where there’s less litter, less material going to landfill. Even though we have a large area, landfill space is very valuable, particularly in the cities that land can be sold and used very well if it’s not being used for a landfill.

Q: Have you any notion on how businesses are taking to the program so far? Is it popular, or are there any challenges to getting them interested?

PM: I think it’s like a lot of things with the environment and with businesses, you know – it’s always tough for businesses to keep their heads about water and keep going. Everyone’s trying to be more competitive and everyone’s trying to save some money. They often don’t consider their waste as a way of saving money; they often think that waste is just something they need to get out of the way so that they can get on with the business of doing business. So, they accept that waste is a cost of doing business, and what we like to say to them is: well, maybe we can pull this area apart a little bit, have a look at this idea, and maybe there’s significant saving in reducing the amount of material going to landfill.

And then the other benefit we’ve found with a number of companies is…you know, we started on this track a couple of years ago, thinking that were just going to save money. But the bosses have come back to us and said they’re really excited because staff are more engaged  and interested. We’re doing something in our business that we haven’t done before: we’re recycling at work and doing the things we’ve been regularly doing at home with our bins. We separate our dry recyclables at home, some have got compost bins, some have worm farms…  and they’re saying, “It’s really exciting, we’re doing something different at work!” And they’re motivated.

One company came to us and said to us that they were just so excited that it significantly reduced staff turnover, and to him that saving is just amazing because his staff were continually leaving. Not because there wasn’t anything bad about the company, but it just wasn’t really interesting. He’s saying, “Now we’ve got a much more interesting environment, my staff are engaged. We’re almost got to zero waste…they’re very excited, they’re very keen to come to work and try something different”.


Changing Hearts & Minds: Challenges Along The Way


Q: What kind of issues or challenges have you had so far, and how are you overcoming them?

PM: The thing that’s tricky is just the perception that businesses have: “You’re asking me to do something about my waste, but I’m asking my staff to change their habits. This could be a little bit more expensive that just sending the material to landfill…” And we’re trying to say to them, “Look, why don’t you just try that?” So, we’ve been tackling that by encouraging managers and facilitators to talk with the staff, and to look at the fact that they are recycling at home; they’ve been asked for a number of years by the New South Wales government to recycle material in their municipal bins, and they’ve been doing that very successfully. And we point to the real cost savings, and just encourage people to look at this as a social responsibility.

A number of companies respond to that. Not all – but there’s a certain politics of envy, when someone’s done it well other companies come along and say, “well, I think we could have a go at that”. And it’s always good to see someone who’s been successful in this area and likes to get up and say, “Well, we did this. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t all that hard, and we had a lot of fun on the way.” And a number of companies get up and say that.

Q: And I suppose the landfill levy that you have has really helped in getting businesses on board?

PM: It has. It’s certainly a driver in New South Wales. The levy operates in the major cities – in the country areas the levy doesn’t operate all that much. But in the cities, another big driver is the cost of transport, whereas in country areas you don’t have that cost of travelling around the city and spending time in clogged arteries.

In country areas the cost of doing things are significantly reduced, but there may not be as many opportunities. So, that’s what we’re finding the challenge is in country areas. They don’t have the population, they don’t have the number of reuse opportunities, but then again they don’t have the costs that are associated with a city operation.

Q: I see, so that is a bit trickier then to work with?

PM: It is a bit tricky, but what we’re arguing is that there are opportunities in both situations. There are a number of companies that are prepared to work, because they’ve got lower overheads in country areas, land is not as expensive. They want to keep staff, they’re looking at opportunities to reduce their costs, and recycling is a reasonable option.

Q: And looking at the future now briefly, what’s the long-term vision for the EPA in New South Wales after the completion of the program?

PM: We’re doing work on a succession plan for this. Basically, instead of supplying the fishing line, we’ve decided to go with the model of teaching people how to fish. And we’ve really worked at encouraging, with our facilitators, to take up this challenge, and to work with local people in their community; develop strong connections in their community, and look for local solutions.


Industrial Ecology – Can We Take It Globally?


Q: How do you think this program could be replicated in other countries around the world – would it be vastly different in another context?

PM: Yeah, I think it would. We’ve shamelessly borrowed a program from the UK that’s been highly successful: the National Symbiosis Program, or NISP. And we feel that it’s a simple, transferable model. A number of people we’ve spoken to in the UK have given us an indication of how they’ve done it; we’ve spoken to a number of people who have visited the UK. And what they basically do is what we’ve tried to apply, that is: you talk with a number of businesses in a local community, you try and identify opportunities, and you make sure you work with the willing – don’t try and drive people to work with you if they don’t want to do that – and, you look at creative opportunities with those willing people.

You just persist with those people and look for ways to do it. Sometimes it’s fairly tenuous or timorous and takes a little bit of time for that to work out. But once people start to see that this is possible to do, and there’s an opportunity to do it, they start to realise that this is quite good.

We had a meeting with our team facilitators the other day, and several of them said, “Do you know, I didn’t know how we were going to do this. I was a bit scared at the start. But you know, there’s some great opportunities out there – and I’m having a lot of fun!”

Q: Well that I’m sure is a big plus!

PM: It is! It is.


Creating Jobs & Building Sustainable Societies.


Q: Often times recycling initiatives have a great opportunity to create jobs. With this program, can you see jobs being created for local communities or?

PM: Look, certainly. I think there are opportunities to create jobs, but there’s probably more opportunities to save jobs from leaving an area. Obviously as technology changes, businesses tend to move people out of dangerous jobs and to reduce the workload, and obviously increased mechanisation has reduced the number of jobs. A way to meet that challenge is to provide better jobs, safer jobs. And there are some great jobs in recycling and opportunities in recovery. There are some estimates of quite significant savings in local areas through people who will recycle the material rather than see it go to landfill, and see that material return to the productive economy, rather than see it just sitting in a landfill.

Q: In relation to the Industrial Ecology program, do you see any opportunities that it could bring to empower disadvantaged groups in society?

PM: It’s a good question, and it’s interesting to see that there are opportunities to work in community groups. One of the regions is working with refugees and supplying them with organic material so that they’re growing their own food in a community situation, and that’s very exciting. So, there are some opportunities – a number of organisations are working with them at the moment and looking at opportunities to work in that space.

We find that, as with in all communities, a lot of disadvantaged groups move towards the lower cost areas and that often tends to be outside the cities, and that’s where a lot of recycling opportunities might be. And it’s an opportunity work; it’s certainly an opportunity where some of the disabled groups have thought, “well, let’s use staff to do that”, and a number of disabled groups are using leftover timber from manufacturing to make items.

It’s got to be thought-through very carefully, and there are some opportunities there if it’s done well.

Q: Do you have any final words about the program or to businesses out there who might be interested in becoming part of something like this?

PM: I think the idea is looking. Just go out the back of your building or their manufacturing site, or their business, and look over the fence and see if there’s somebody that could use something that you’re throwing away. So have a look what’s in your bin, and have a look at what other people are using. There are a number of companies that have said, “I didn’t realise that people were buying these boxes that I’m throwing away”, or, “Someone could use these plastic bags that I’ve just been putting in the bin”. And there’s some great opportunities to share, and to see waste as a resource rather than something that needs to be thrown away.


An Approach To Expanding Commercial Composting Operations


This episode corresponds to Lesson 5 and Lesson 6 of our online course.

In this episode we’re in Los Angeles talking to the project manager of the Inland Empire Regional Composting Authority Jeff Ziegenbein about how best to expand your composting facility without compromising quality or risking your business.  We discuss with him the reasons why composters may need to expand, the technological advances that can help with processing and odour control, how to use a phased approach to growth in order to secure financing and to maintain production quality, tips on dealing with regulations, and much more.

Thanks to If You Care for making this episode possible.

If You Care Certified Compostable Bags are made from potato starch from starch potatoes, blended with a fully compostable polymer, and are polyethylene and plasticizer free. Their potatoes are grown for starch only unlike corn which is grown for food. Their potatoes require forty percent less land than corn and no irrigation. For more, visit their website.

Composting_Testing_Technology Compost Facility Compost_Turner_Technology What a composting operation! Machines

Photo by wasteman2009.



New Mandate And What It Means For Composters


Q: In terms of closing the loop, it is often preferable to have a larger number of small-scale composting facilities to ensure that organic materials do not have to travel far from their source in order to be treated. However, today there is still a great need for larger facilities, and composting facilities often face scenarios that require them to scale up their operations. Jeff, you mentioned before we started that there are changes taking place in California that will see more composting facilities needing to expand. Can you elaborate on this and tell us more?

JZ: California is going through a huge change. We’re mandating the organics away from landfills, and it’s a very ambitious goal. CalRecycle, which is our Integrated Waste Management board here in the state, has announced that they have this new paradigm, saying they want to move out of the landfill. They want to disincentivize and do whatever they have to do to pull those organics out of the landfill for higher and better use.

But the way this new assembly bill reads, some of the activities that are currently considered recycling will no longer be considered recycling – specifically Alternative Daily Cover for landfills. We’ve got a whole bunch of green waste and other organics going into landfills that are not being counted as disposal, but rather as recycling because it’s being used as Alternative Daily Cover. Under this new assembly bill, this no longer will count. We’re essentially doubling the amount of recycling in a very, very short period of time. So the impact to the organics world in California is going to be very profound. Most of us in California, and others I talk to in the US, view that what happens in California tends to trickle outward across the country and sometimes far beyond, so everybody’s watching how rolls out very closely.

I say that because when composters are facing different scenarios that may encourage them to change or expand their facilities, this is a big driver. Right now, California composts almost six million tons of organics, so we in the organics industry are expecting that to double to about twelve million tons in about five years. So that’s going to require more facilities, more markets, and infrastructure. I think one of the big things that we all need to be aware of is that it’s going to require diversity, so we’re going to have to be creative. We’re going to have to open our minds up a little and understand that it’s not just one technology, one scenario or one application that’s going to require a lot of different varieties. So, small backyard operations, community operations as well as very large regional facilities are all going to have to be constructed and expanded to satisfy this new mandate.

Q: So one of the major reasons a composting site might need to expand is an increase in feedstocks. But how about regulations? There are very stringent regulations in California that make it difficult for smaller composting sites to get off the ground…

JZ: That’s true. California is a big state, but I one of the things that’s common across the state is the challenge of siting facilities. We have a population and a state that doesn’t usually like facilities to be very close to where their residents are, but the further you move away from where your populations are, the more transportation costs you have. So we always try to build as close as we can to where the materials are generated, but in our state we have a lot of stringent regulations around water, air and nuisance that do require higher technology than I see in other places in the country.

For example, the facility that I’m operating here in Southern California – the Inland Empire Regional Composting Facility – this facility actually cost ninety million dollars to construct. And that is a very large price tag for any composting facility; it may be one of the most expensive ones in the world. But the reason why it’s so much money is because it’s right in Los Angeles. It’s in an urban area, and it’s in an area that is very heavily regulated by an air district, because LA is not in compliance with the clean air act and is also heavily regulated with water and with lots of things.

So in order for us to be compatible to build a facility like this in this type of an area, it required a lot of engineering and a lot of infrastructure. The good news is that we did get it built, we did get it permitted and we’re able to operated it at a very competitive cost, but the only way we’re able to make all that work is by a heck of a lot of volume. In the case of this facility, we’re operating over two hundred thousand tons every single year, and that’s the reason why we can make this work. It’s not always that easy: if you build a small or a medium sized facility with this type of VOC and odour control (VOC’s are volatile organic compounds, which are regulated in this district), and you don’t have a lot of volume to spread those costs over, you can price yourself right out of being a possibility. So we see that challenge over and over again in the state of California, and I’m sure that’s a common problem across the world.

Q: So if regulations are very strict, it may force composters to invest in building covers or in more expensive technologies, which in turn would require them to scale their operations.

JZ: Yes, and the good news that in two major areas in California have air rules that require the removal of VOCs, and when you remove VOCs you also have to remove most of the odours in the air streams that are remitted for composting facilities. So just by surviving in these air districts, we’ve learned a lot as an industry; what does work, and what works on a big scale, so we try to share that information and teach others that these technologies do exist – they’re fairly predictable in how they operate; I’m really talking about biofilters. We do have a pretty good understanding about how these work and we can use them in lots of ways; in ways that are very expensive, but also in some ways that aren’t quite so expensive. So we view that there’s some hope that we can site more facilities in California and be compatible with the air rules and the neighbours.

TECHNOLOGICAL Advances In The Composting Industry


Q: Let’s talk about technologies. A big factor here is that within the last 20 years we have seen an increase in the amount and type of feedstocks being accepted into composting facilities (biosolids, paper sludge, food scraps…). Due to the increased complexity in processing the material and controlling odours, it’s spurred on the need for more sophisticated technology to handle all this. Jeff, what rare the technologies that are worth investing in today to handle odour, and so on?

JZ: For odour control is often a biofilter, and a biofilter is essentially in most cases a wet pile of wood, and the beauty of that is it’s a wet pile of wood and most of us can figure out how to operate those. It’s not that complicated, you don’t have to have a full-time engineer with a bunch of fancy instruments, it really is just a pile of wood, and we have to maintain it for moisture and make sure the air is moving through it appropriately, and size the pieces of wood appropriately and things like that. But biofilters work, and the good news is that we can copy this and teach people how to do this, allowing them to build these things fairly inexpensively.

So for odour control, and for compliance with these air districts, a biofilter is a very good tool, and we’re getting more and more confidence with using them. More recently, there’s been a couple of variations to biofilteration, including some covers where they have permeable tarps that you can put over piles that have a bunch of surface area in the tarp so the water molecules will collect in the surface area and the air passes through and transformed similarly to how it would be in a biofilter. Those seem to work pretty good as well.

The Association of Compost Producers, a non-profit trade organisation that represents most of the composting companies in the state, developed an alternative to all those I’ve just talked about, where a finished compost layer is placed over a compost pile, and then air is blown up through the compost pile. And as the air passes through the finished compost layer, that actually works as a biofilter. So that’s even cheaper yet than securing new wood and having to size it and moisten it and so on. And so that was done in the San Joaquin air district that has very stringent air regulations.

So the Association of Compost Producers representatives and some others put together a pilot project with a grant, and demonstrated and measured the air omissions from these piles using the lowest cost technology, and it actually worked very well and got about ninety eight percent removal. So that may be something that really helps facilities deal with odour removal and VOC control with even a lower cost method. That same technology is being tested in the South Coast air quality district and other districts in California to verify it and see if it can be repeated in another air district. And if it can be, it may be adopted as a best management practice for these districts.

Q: Is there anything else on the market right now that you see as promising or worth investing in?

JZ: The most exciting things that I have seen is some of the technologies in the tarps that can actually process the odours and VOC control. I’ve seen quite a few of these work and I like the simplicity of just throwing a tarp over a compost pile and having these automated systems control the air flow and temperature and so on. So some of these kits for making a compost system are pretty interesting, and as we get more and more experienced, I can see them becoming an easy way for someone to start up a small or medium sized facility. It’s just a tarp and a probe that has an oxygen sensor and a thermocouple, and it goes to a small motherboard that controls the fan. I like the thought of that, I think things like that have a lot of promise.

Q: Your facility is a completely covered facility, is that right?

JZ: Yes, the Inland Empire Regional Composting Facility that I manage is a converted warehouse. It’s actually an old Ikea warehouse that’s almost five hundred thousand square feet, so it’s a very large warehouse that has conveyors and wheel loaders and things like that operating inside of it. So all of the emissions from the compost piles are trapped within that building and then exhausted out through the biofilters. The amount of control of emissions is pretty extraordinary, actually.

Q: Because of this, would you say that covering your facility or using in-vessel composting would be the best way to go when dealing with such stringent regulations or being close to residential buildings?

JZ: I think it depends on where. We’ve looked at possibly working with other people on building additional facilities, and almost every time we halfway serious about it, we end up envisioning a covered, fully enclosed facility, due to the reasons I mentioned before. The only way we really feel comfortable in an urban area on a very large scale was to do the complete enclosure. I think if you’re in a different area and not so close to Los Angeles for example, then that’s when you can get into some of the hybrid technologies that I mentioned before.


 Challenges When Expanding Operations


Q: I’d like to focus on the process of expanding a facility. What are the key issues or challenges to take into account when planning your expansion?

JZ: I think the big challenges, and not in any particular order, would be environmental regulations – and that has some cost impacts – markets, and definitely technology to make sure it’s clean enough to be marketed and processed, and probably transportation.

Those seem to keep coming up over and over again when I talk to folks about expanding or building new facilities. But markets are always a major concern. In some areas less than other areas, of course, but in Southern California which has a tremendously robust composting infrastructure – we’re currently composting over three million tons down here – we need to expand markets.

Q: Market creation seems to come up again and again, and it’s something we talk about quite often. It is complex and it’s difficult for the composter to handle it by themselves of course, but what would you recommend to composters, then, as a strategy for expanding the markets?

JZ: Building markets is a long term process, and it needs to have the mainstream of people realise that it is important not to have naked soil and to just throw water at naked soil. We do that all the time in this state, and I’m sure across the world. So, getting that message across is very, very important. And in California at least, with the Association of Compost Producers, we’re working on service announcements, we’re working with our water distributers, creating model ordinances requiring soil preparation before irrigation permits go down…just educating people that it’s wrong not to treat your soil. You shouldn’t just throw a bunch of water on sand and waste this drinking water.

In order to market, it takes this broad approach. And then on top of that it takes a local approach. You need to work with your customers and tell them why they need more, how to expand their market, what their messages need to be. We work with schools in trying to get the message to the children that you need to put compost down. So it’s all of those things.


Using A Phased Approach


Q: Another big issue for expanding a facility is in securing funding and putting in place a workable strategy that will give confidence to lenders and also yourself when expanding. How would you advise composters to start planning their expansion with these issues in mind?

JZ: Yes, for example, to fund a new composting facility in California and get a bank to come up with a bunch of money so you can build your facility, they need some assurance that it’s actually going to work. So if you just have this vision of this huge facility, a lot of times folks will try to go get put or pay contracts, and build these models and things, but banks sometimes aren’t satisfied with that, and that can make the cost of money pretty prohibitive.

One of the better models is if you can design a facility so you have this expandability to it and you can do a phased approach, then you have a lot better shot of success. You can have, say, a receiving structure that’ll take it in a little or a lot of material, but that’s usually a fairly inexpensive part of your process, and then you can feed these different operational trains for one through four phases. And the facilities I’ve seen use that kind of process – that’s the smartest way to go if you can do it. In other words, if you can get funding for phase one at twenty-five thousand tons and you can make the business case work, then you can prove that out. And by the time you get to phase two your economies of scale are so much better, and it really gives you an opportunity to expand a facility.

But then you’re not starting right at this maximum best case – there’s just a lot more risk for failure when you do it that way. If we’re talking about borrowing, you need to demonstrate in a very professional way what’s working and why your expansion is going to assure that you are going to pay money back. So when you’re doing performa on your business models and having enough comfort level in there and enough conservatism in there that the numbers are real and you can verify them, that’s the key. It’s very tough to design a facility and have it actually work exactly how you estimated it would, so I would be as conservative as you can stand, and then if you have a bit of a track record and your numbers are real, I think you can get the funding that you need. It can be done, I see examples of it all the time, but you do have to put together a real performa, and it has to have some sort of backing to it.

Q: Yes, and in the US at the moment, financing is a very tricky thing to get these days what with state grants and loans having been decreased over the last ten to fifteen years. Is it easier for a composting site that has been running for a while to secure capital in order to expand?

JZ: Well I think it might be easier. I think if you go to a lender and you have this track record, and then this proposed expansion, I think you have a little bit more confidence from the lenders. And there is also some grants currently, with this new paradigm as CalRecycle likes to call it, there is some funding for facility expansion. So there is some money available that folks are competing for to expand their facilities, and that may give lenders a little bit more confidence too. I think there’s a little bit more money than there was, say, five years ago. I don’t think it’s as healthy as it was ten years ago, but it’s certainly better than it was recently.




Q: Let’s move onto regulations. It’s always going to be a long process to go through when figuring out what regulations apply and how to comply with them, and we can see even from our discussion today that they have shaped the composting industry and where we go with it. What advice would you give to composters on this front, and how can we best get on the right side of the regulators?

JZ: : I know this is a regional answer, but again we’re sort of a case study: in California I think it’s very important to be involved with a lot of these changing issues. Specifically the Association of Compost Producers which is this trade organisation, it has a seat at the table. We have a lobbyist sitting in Sacramento, and we are the state chapter for the United States Composting Council, so we are working with Caltrans and CalRecycle and assembly people, and the water board and the air board – all these different variables that are impeding the growth and expansion of the compost marketplace. It’s very important to get involved, and it doesn’t cost a lot of money, but you have to maintain involvement and get to know what’s going on.

For a long time the compost industry has been a fragmented group of companies who saw each of their own projects as an individual island, but because these regulations have become so dynamic and impacting, all these groups have joined together for this common cause to make sure everybody understands that compost is the highest and best use for this material, that we are a real industry with a real group of professionals, that we are involved and are funding staff to make sure we have a seat at the table. I think that’s probably the most important thing folks can do. Just get involved!

I think that raises the bar, raises the standard, it makes common standards, it keeps everything as professional as possible, and that’s really one of the biggest keys to moving forward successfully

Q: So your key advice is for people to just get involved, and then maybe we can influence how regulations are being created to support composting better.

JZ: Absolutely.




Q: In terms of managing the facility during expansion, it can be quite a lot of work to maintain your quality control and odour control as it gets bigger and bigger. What steps can we take to expand without losing quality or risking odour problems?

JZ: Yeah, that’s tricky. It is definitely tricky, and it’s not usually a linear change. If you have some sort of control system and you do a forty percent increase, you can’t just increase your control system forty percent and call it good. It’s more complicated than that. You have to be conservative when you’re expanding a facility for the reasons you just mentioned. The cost is so high; if you have a successful operation and you go to do a forty or fifty percent increase and you kill your whole project – that isn’t anything that you want to have happen. So I think you nailed it; I think it does require a lot of planning and research and control measures to make sure that when you do make these changes you’re not jeopardizing your entire project.

And we’ve seen that happen, it’s very unfortunate. You know, you think “this works, so if I do more it’ll work better”, and sometimes that just is not the case. So you have to build in a lot of safeguards when you start to expand operations.

Q: And what would these safeguards look like?

JZ: Well, there are a lot of professionals – not that you necessarily have to go and hire a full engineering firm – but there are some very competent professionals that can help measure and quantify some of those changes. For example, what’s going into a biofilter? What is the cubic feet per minute and concentration and the effectiveness of your biofilter? And if you want to expand to some X percentage greater, what would your empty bed retention time and biofilter need to be, and therefore your square feet? There are a lot of folks who can really help build in some of these control measures and then give you a safety factor.

That’s really the take on what I’m trying to say. I think you really need to be conservative when you start designing expansions. For example, if you wanted to expand by fifty percent you might phase that in. Start with your odour control device, and then do incremental increases in your throughput – that way you’re not destroying your whole project. So if you doubled your odour control device, but then only increased your throughput by half, then potentially you have this bit of a cushion before you jeopardize your project.

Q: So you need to go slow and steady.

JZ: I think it’s pretty important. Projects do get killed in California; it happens. If the neighbours are against the project, the regulators start to fall out of favour with it, and the local enforcement agencies – it’ll kill a project. There’s a lot at stake; it’s expensive to build these things in California, you do not want to get it shut down.

Q: And this applies to the rest of the world too.

JZ: Of course.

TECHNOLOGY – Simple Is Best


Q: In terms of picking out the right technology for your expansion, there is often a tendency to source the highest functioning technology available, because it’s cutting edge and might be easier to sell when looking for grants, but that’s not necessarily the best option…

JZ: Well I think you’re right, and we’ve seen examples of trying to fully automate composting processes, and  we end up modifying that somehow and doing as much labour or more trying to live with whatever savings we thought we were going to get from this automation.

Personally, I take whatever is the cheapest and the dumbest first and work up from there, and ask why you can’t do this or can’t do that. Really low technology or inexpensive technology with the finished compost biofilters thing that ACP did is very good. It’s not going to work everywhere, but that’s one of the ones you’d look at early on. You know, “can I do this with a windrow? Oh I can’t because f the air rules. Okay, well can I do this compost blanket technology? Oh, I can’t because there’s a retirement community three miles away. Well okay, can I use a cover? Oh, I can’t because of – whatever”.

So you have to start ruling some of these out for whatever reason, and then ultimately maybe you get to where you have a fully enclosed composting facility, because that’s really the only thing that’ll be compatible in the region that you’re looking to build one. So again you need to start simple and cheap, and then work backwards.

Final Words Of Advice


Q: Is there one piece of advice you could give all composters out there who are looking to expand no matter where they’re situated?

JZ: I would certainly recommend looking at other facilities. We have a lot of good examples around the world of facilities that work, and go look at them. It does not cost that much; most facility operators are happy to show off what they’ve got that works. So take a look at it. Find out why it works and but lunch or something, and spend enough time that you can get the real challenges out of them. You know, ask the questions: what are your biggest challenges? Why would you do that again? And those type of things.

Learning from other’s experiences is probably one of the most valuable tools that we as an industry can use. And through associations like the United States Composting Council etc – we have these meetings where all these guys get together and talk about their projects. I think that this is a very important step.

Q: Do you have any final words before we go?

JZ: I’ll just say that as our industry matures, that organisations like the United States Composting Council and others like them around the world, and Association of Compost Producers in California – and Compostory.org – things like this are really important, and I think that the industry needs to stay informed and stay involved, and share what they know, and listen to what others know. And that’s how we mature as an industry and grow.


Choosing Compostable Plastics for Your Program: Standards, Labelling & Testing Protocols


This episode corresponds to Lesson 5 and Lesson 6 of our online course.

In this episode we navigate the complex and sometimes confusing world of compostable plastics, addressing the current issues and main questions on this topic. What is compostable as opposed to biodegradable, and why does it matter? What standards and testing protocols exist for compostable plastics and are they in line with what composters are experiencing on the ground? What are the pressing issues that composters have in dealing with these plastics, and how can we improve compostable plastic labelling in order to safeguard against contamination of other plastics? We pose these questions to our two guests: Chair of the Working Group on Biological Treatment of Waste at the International Solid Waste Association and member of the Italian Compost Association (CIC), Marco Ricci (Italy), and waste diversion expert Hilary Near (California, USA).

Thanks to Biolice for making this episode possible.

The compostable resin from maize grain, made by Limagrain, a farmer cooperative. For more, visit their website.


Photo by Zane Selvans. Some rights reserved.


Link to the CIC website.

Link to USCC Plastics Task Force.





Q: There are a lot of different types of plastics out there all with slightly different names and properties and it can get quite confusing. Let’s help our audience understand the focus on compostable plastics here, as opposed to biodegradable. Marco, can you give us a definition and clarification on what compostable plastic is, compared to the other types?

Marco Ricci: A compostable plastic is a plastic that is in some way compatible with the composting process, while a biodegradable plastic may degrade under microorganism effect but is not compostable. Normally compostability has a set of requirements which is larger than the one of biodegradability. This is the basic definition. That’s why many experts in this field and also a lot of NGOs started to talk about compostable plastics since about ten, twelve years ago so to avoid any misunderstanding.

Q: So there’s a larger set of requirements needed to be passed for a plastic to be deemed compostable. Hillary Near, do you agree with this definition?

Hilary Near: Yes and I do a lot of communication around behaviour change and with businesses who are making these choices, and I try and simplify it and explain that compostable has a time frame and environment attached to the word, whereas biodegradable doesn’t have any criteria really, and so anything can be biodegradable, including your leather shoe.




Q: Let’s talk about the requirements and standards that are in place at the moment for compostable plastics. Marco, can you tell us what principle standards exist in Europe right now?

MR: The main standard is the EN 13432 standard of the year 2000, and it’s a standard for certifying compostable plastic. The standard has four requirements, which are: biodegradation of plastic in a definite amount of time and to a specific amount of matter; disintegration, which means we must non-distinguishable fragments in a definite period of time; toxicity – the absence of eco- toxicity in finished compost; and safety requirements. So, the material or compost that is obtained by using these plastics that are in-line with the standard must sustain plant growth. So they are the four requirements.

Q: This European standard is currently known as the most demanding and we strongly recommend complying with this in Lesson 4 of our video course. In the US we have the ASTM standard – which lays out similar criteria for compostability, but there are differences between the two. The ASTM standards are now being revised to be more in line with the European Standard, and also to sync better with the reality on the ground for compost site operators. Hilary, can you give us more information on what is happening with the changes?

HN: Currently the guideline is the lab testing, so there are no field testing protocols, but to your point earlier, the ASTM is working to revise the disintegration test method with two time and temperature profiles that are hopefully going to better replicate the actual field composting conditions of the products that they’re exposed to.

The reality is that the composting process is a very unique and varied process, and it’s very diverse across the United States in all the composting facilities that are accepting this material. So in order to hopefully reflect that and also address any operational impacts of these products on commercial compost facilities, the ASTM is working to revise that and to reflect better the commercial composting facilities situation.

I’m not on that working group, but many of the members who are also on the US Composting Council Task Force on compostable plastics are represented in that ASTM working group. We’ve worked with at least four compost facilities who represent more of an open windrow and a longer with lower temperatures, and then the second time and temperature profile is a shorter process with higher temperatures. So those are hoping to replicate better an aerated static pile and an open windrow composting process. And then apply those eventually to the ASTM standard to give guidelines for which products to work in which facilities.

Q: So at the moment the standards and testing protocols aren’t really in line with what composters are experiencing on the ground?

HN: Well there are a lot of questions about that currently, and that’s what the US Composting Council Task Force is hoping to reconcile and harmonise the lab with the field experience, as it sounds like the Italians are doing as well, given their extensive distribution of some compostable plastic products. So, we are also addressing that concern by reworking the ASTM method, but other composters have had different experiences. Some composters see different products possible remaining after their process, and some don’t. So it’s really anecdotal right now and there are only several composters who are testing products individually in their processes.

Q: And apart from the field testing aspect, are there any other differences between the standards worth mentioning, and are they being revised as well? 

MR: Well, this is a good confrontation because as far as I remember, one main difference between the European standard and the ASTM standard is the requirement for biodegradability. If I remember correctly, the European standard requests a biodegradation – the conversion of the organic matter to CO2 – of ninety percent in about ninety days. While, if I’m not wrong, the ASTM standards has a lower requirement of about sixty percent. Maybe Hilary can confirm or correct me on that?

HN: I’m more familiar with the field testing situation, but that portion is not being revised. But I know that the time frame is one hundred and eighty days, and it does have less stringent sieve protocols for the resulting material that can be remaining after the lab testing.


Discussing Testing Protocols


Q: Marco, can you tell us what testing protocols are out there at the moment in Europe, and how effective they are?

MR: There are three main protocols for testing and assessing compostability in Europe. All of them refer to the European standard, obviously. The first one is the Vincotte standard – it’s probably the most well-known one. Then we have the German DIN standard. And the third standard is the one which was created in Italy, and it’s the compostable CIC standard. CIC is the Italian Composting and Biogas Association.

Obviously they have to satisfy the same criteria at the EU level, but there are some differences in the testing. For example, biodegradability and disintegration is tested by the Italian standard on a full-scale plant. So we’re running our tests in existing composting plants, while other standards normally rely on lab testing – so, on pilot scale plants. This was one of our decisions to be sure that the material  effectively biodegrades and  disintegrates when we are confronted with industrial plants.

Q: There is no call to make any revisions to them?

MR: Actually, our tests are strict enough, so we’re not demanding for stricter tests. Normally we verify that ninety percent biodegradation happens in about ninety days, which is a timeframe that complies with the standards we have in Italy for getting a mature compost – in an industrial plant, obviously. We’re talking about industrial plants, not about home or community composting.

Q: Can you tell me then what you hear from compost site operators in relation to the standards or any issues they might have in this area – what’s been their experience? 

MR: We have to first make a distinction: the most common

compostable plastic to be found in Europe are bio-bags – bags used on purpose for separate collection of biowaste, and especially for food waste. This is a long-standing tradition of about twenty years. The first bio-bags made of compostable plastics were put on the market in the mid-nineties I would say. So this is one kind of item, and then we have other kinds of items. In any case, in countries such as Italy, Spain or the UK where this kind of bioplastic is very well known, compostable plastics do not pose any problem to the industrial plants.

The complaints are that, first of all, consumers sometimes misuse traditional plastics, or so-called biodegradable plastics, and use then incorrectly for separating and delivering biowaste. The other complaint is that there are some fake bioplastics on the markets, and these are creating some problems. Even though normally where separate collection is done on the curbside – or door-to-door – theses kinds of effects are of minor problems because the total amount of non-compostables that reach a composting plant are well below five percent in weight.

It might be different if we have rigid compostable plastics – so, rigid packaging. In that case, some composting facilities need to somehow restructure their process chain, since they’ve been planned for treating biowaste, and suddenly other kinds of waste items arrive. So, maybe they need some kind of shredding or sorting, and so on.


GREENWASHING and CONTAMINATION – the Composter’s Experience


Q: If one of the biggest issues is that non-compostable plastics are entering the stream, I’m sure this makes it very difficult to identify and sort compostable plastics from other types of plastics at a site?

MR: Yes, it is challenging, especially because it’s challenging anyway to sort out a bag at a composting plant. There is actually in my opinion (and I would like to know what Hilary thinks about this – another player here that is important. The first player is the waste producer, or the consumer – the one who is doing separate collection. But the second player in this chain is the collection service.

Once the collection crews and companies are somehow advised or bound to the fact that they have to guarantee the highest quality of the biowaste they collect, these people can then help enormously in sorting out critical spots in cities and neighbourhoods. And door-to-door, or curbside, collection helps with this because the collection crew has the ability to not empty a bin where incorrect bags have been used for source-separating organics.

HN: Yeah, I agree and that is definitely an opportunity in the United States. Some of the concerns are around the fact that we often have automated curbside collection, so the drivers aren’t even flipping the lids or able to monitor the material in the containers. But there is a best practice among all the material stream – the recycling, and composting – to leave messages or communicate to the customer that it is a priority to source-separate appropriately. So many haulers will give that feedback to their customers.

I’ve heard from composters that we’ve interviewed that [it’s good] when they have integration: as in, when the composters or sometimes the hauler have relationships with their consumers and can give them guidance on even which products to buy. But then there’s other communities where they’re accepting waste from many different haulers and they just don’t have the capacity to give that kind of feedback. So they’re dealing with higher contamination a lot of times. But that is definitely an opportunity to address all sorts of contamination that composters are dealing with.


CONFUSION In The Marketplace – EDUCATING Consumers


Q: Marco, you mention the consumer’s role in sorting the plastics, but this can be tricky when there is so much confusion over what’s compostable and what’s not. How can we ensure that the different types of plastics are easily identifiable for consumers as well?

MR: We have a lot of experience with that in Italy and in other European countries. A lot of advertising and information activities have to be done to be sure that consumers can distinguish correctly compostable plastics from non-compostable ones, and the existence of certification labels helps enormously with in that way.

The Italian Composting Association (and also the Italian law) strongly advise consumers to look for the certification label – one of the three main ones existing in Europe – and make sure they are to be found on bioplastics and especially on shopping bags made of bioplastics. According to our experience and common understanding (also exchanging views with other European composting associations), these labels can help consumers enormously to identify the correct bags.

Q: Hilary, I presume there has also been problems in the US with people knowing what’s compostable and what’s not?

HN: Yes, there are definitely concerns. Although, the BPI logo is gaining recognition and was recently revised to include more specifics about what it means to be compostable, including some more caveats about checking with your local agency or waste management provider to determine whether they accept that material. It really is a regional issue right now and the best information is given to consumers by the local municipality or their local composter.

There’s still concerns and there’s still confusion, and one of the opportunities is that BPI has changed their logo and it’s been incorporated into the new printing of some of the products. And on one of the working groups on the US Composting Council recently helped to revise a labelling standard that many of the stakeholders who are manufacturers have all agreed to try and incorporate into their product distribution and labelling; so that includes things like labelling both the packaging and the product as clearly as possible with green or blue labelling and the word “compostable” – again reiterating that you should check with your local composting facility for further information about whether they accept them or not.

Q: To clarify for our audience, the BPI is the Biodegradable Products Institute, which is one of the entities in the US that regulates the use of the word compostable and maintains the best labelling program for compostable plastics in North America…




…And Hilary, you’ve been working on a project in San Jose, developing a field testing protocol with the composters there, and you interviewed 15 different facilities who were testing these plastics. Can you share with us the other kinds of issues they had?

HN: The most common issue is just contamination in general. When we talk about compostable plastics, I think it’s important to address the fact that composters are being asked to accept a larger variety and more organic material; which is great because we’re diverting more of it from landfill, but in that case there’s still a need to continue education and address contamination issues with conventional plastic film and especially glass that effects the end product.

Q: So again it seems that contamination from other plastics (and glass too) are the main issues in the US. Marco, is this the same for composters in Europe, and how are we dealing with it?

MR: Yes, it is. Again it depends very much on where they receive the waste from. Obviously the most risky thing is to receive non-compostable plastics and to get them into a composting plant – especially because we have areas where composting plants do not have any sorting devices before mixing the biowaste together, because they expect the receive a very clean biowaste. So in that case they might be in trouble.

That’s why most composting associations in Europe regularly do sorting analysis on the biowaste and quality checks on the compost, so that they have an overview of what’s going on. CIC, the Italian Composting Association, runs about five to six hundred sorting analysis every year, and about two hundred and fifty to about three hundred compost analysis every year on the different composting plants located in Italy. So we know exactly what’s going around, and actually we can trace the type of different bags which are delivered into a single composting plant. We know if they are compostable, if they are shopping bags, and if they’ve been delivered by the municipality or not. So it’s a very robust monitoring and serving scheme that’s been running since 2004 or 2006.

Q: And for composters who want to understand the possible operational costs of accepting compostable plastics: in general, do composting sites need to alter their process or management practices in order to accommodate these plastics in any drastic way?

MR: If we’re talking about bags – no. If we’re talking about more sophisticated compostable plastic items like rigid packaging, it might be necessary to shred beforehand. Again, here it depends very much on what kind of composting plant we’re dealing with. Many composting sites in Italy which accept food waste on one line and garden waste on the other one, do not shred the food waste; they just mix it up with the garden waste.

If we move to the UK or other experiences where there is a mixed collection of food and garden waste, this material i normally shredded as a standard procedure. So the bags are opened and also rigid packaging is likely to be shredded already. So this answer is very plant-specific. Obviously keep in mind that, at least in our experience, composting plants have been designed to treat biowaste, so everything that is different – like packaging – the plant must adapt to this condition.

Q: Hilary, perhaps you have something to add here, because I’m sure in the US you’ve had more experience with rigid plastics like service wear and so on?

HN: We do have some experience with that, because I think we mentioned earlier that there’s fewer compostable plastic shopping bags, but also, to Marco’s point, it’s a very regional or composter based decision. There are a couple situations I can point out: for example, one of the composters I work with is accepting mixed solid waste. They sort a preliminary on the front-end for some recyclable and hazardous material, and then compost the process for twelve to fourteen weeks, and sort on the back-end. They remove any residuals and landfill it, and then sort to produce a compost product. That means they’re not concerned about separating rigid compostable plastics from non-rigid compostable plastics, because they’re composting everything –

MR: Sorry Hilary, but in that case, if I understood correctly, we’re talking about accepting mixed municipal solid waste, and at least in Europe this wouldn’t be allowed to be called compost when it comes out, since we need to produce compost starting from source-separated organics – separated at source at the household or restaurant, at the canteen…

HN: Right. So then another example of compost facilities that are accepting source-separated organics – and some other compostable plastics that meet BPI standards and are labelled for compostability – they are most able to identify compostable plastic bags that are green and labelled with BPI, and also some of the PLA cups with the green stripe, per the USCC labelling guidelines. The rigid plastics are sometimes harder to label or code, so they will often do their best to sort those out in the field when they accept them, and then at the end they screen them, and some of the overs are often reintroduced – as Marco mentioned there’s a similar process in Italy and the rest of Europe.

Some facilities have too much on an issue with contamination, so that the conventional plastics will remain in the overs, in which case they’ll have to landfill that material and the compostable plastics that might remaining – especially the rigids and cutlery and things like that. Those won’t be given the chance to further decompose. So that’s one of the opportunities further with the labelling and getting control over the marketplace for these products so that they can be more consistently composted and identified at the composting facility.




Q: Finally: is there anything you would like to see change or to see happen with compostable plastics or how they’re regulated? Any pressing issues that have your attention?

MR: I personally would like to ban the use of the word biodegradable for the kinds of items that are not compostable. We probably need a clear definition, at least continent-wide (world-wide would be too much). But it’s the question where we started from: what does biodegradable mean? So it sometimes creates so much green-washing that the composting sector – which is the backbone of the recycling scheme in many countries, since it represents the largest amount of municipal solid waste. So somehow there must be more stringent requests on what items can all themselves biodegradable. Otherwise confusion will still be quite strong for consumers.

HN: I would say “Amen” and that even in California where we have those labelling standards, it’s very difficult to enforce. So we need more capacity on a national level, which I think is more appropriate, rather than state-wide, to educate consumers around the difference between biodegradable and compostable, and enforce legislation to basically level the marketplace and make it possible for compostable plastics to be given the same opportunity and so that some of the green-washing can’t further contaminate our composting process and confuse people.


Megacities Special #1: Rolling Out A Residential Organics Collection Program In NYC


This episode corresponds to Lesson 4 and Lesson 5 of our online course.

In this episode we take an in depth look into the expanding organics collection and composting program in New York City. We speak with Bridget Anderson, director of the Recycling Unit of the DSNY’s Bureau of Waste Prevention, in order to understand the unique situation that a megacity faces when rolling out such a program, the logistics and strategies for setting up the scheme, challenges in dealing with different building types, managing the collected organic material, and the vision they have for the future.

Thank you to IPL for making this episode possible

IPL is a leading North American manufacturer of injection-molded plastic products. The commercial success of products and technologies often depends on innovation, and IPL specialise in providing added value and expertise for all your projects. Their unique and innovative processes are tailored to design, develop, and deliver the best solutions for their valued customers. For more, visit their website.

Picture curtesy of DSNY.



The Story So Far


Q: Can you tell me how the program got started?

BA: Organics collection was a pilot that actually started in the schools, in the 2012-2013 school year. We started on a select number of schools and focused on school cafeterias and school kitchens; and it was really an effort that was spearheaded by a number of parent-teacher organisations. They did a great job and Sanitation saw what they did and decided that we would try in on a slightly larger scale.

Then there was momentum to try this in residences also – in homes. And we’re in all five boroughs: we have pilot areas in the Bronx, in Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island – and then in Manhattan, which is a very dense area with lots of high-rise apartment buildings, we actually have selected apartment buildings that have volunteered to participate in the program. One of the challenges is to figure out how to do this in high rise buildings.

Q: How does the pilot program operate today? It is a voluntary program at the moment, correct?

BA: Yes, the pilot is voluntary. We chose the pilot areas in a combination of where, collection-wise, we thought it would work well operationally, and where there was interest among residents and among elected officials. We also looked for those low-density areas. So, it was voluntary and not everybody in the pilot areas chooses to participate, but everyone is given the opportunity.

We deliver a brown bin, which is what you set out curbside, and then in addition we deliver a kitchen container for each household, so that you have something you can use in the kitchen to collect the material. And then we provide a lot of education and outreach, and brochures…

What we do is we send a mailer to everyone in the pilot area, saying “this program is coming, this is what it is and you can expect to receive your brown bin”. Then about a week before the brown bin arrives, we do a door hanger. We go door-to-door and hang a door hanger and say “Your brown bag is arriving this week. As a reminder this is the program, it’s voluntary, we hope you participate, and this is how it works”. And then when the brown bin arrives, in that brown bin is the kitchen container and the brochure that gives details about what can and can’t be put in the bin – best practices for how to manage the material.

Q: I also saw just the other day that the Mayor of New York and his family made an ad using the brown bin…

BA: Yeah, it’s interesting, they approached us. One of the pilot areas is where the mayor’s home is – this is the mayor’s home before he moved to Gracie Mansion, which is the official Mayor home. He actually approached Sanitation and said “I would love to do a video. My daughter Chiara is very interested in this program”. And so, we developed a script for them, which they took and then tweaked, and they created the video. And the video turned out beautifully – I thought it was a great video. And now they’ve moved to Gracie Mansion, and we had the organics collection program in Gracie Mansion with Mayor Bloomberg, and now we’re continuing it with Mayor de Blasio, so we’re very excited about that.



LOGISTICS of COLLECTING organic waste in New York City


Q: I want to ask you about the expansion on the program to high-rise buildings, because as you said earlier they can be quite a challenge. How did the DSNY decide to deal with all the different types of buildings?

BA: There are other cities in the United States that already do this organics collection program – cities like Seattle, San Francisco, and Toronto in Canada – and we looked at what they were doing, where they found success. Most of those cities are lower density and don’t have as many high-rise buildings. Toronto is maybe the closest to New York City in comparison to a place that already does organics collection. And we thought, let’s try this program in the lower density areas of the city – because that’s where there’s been a precedence set to have a successful program in other cities. So, we looked for parts of the city where we would focus on single family homes and small apartment buildings that are up to nine units – little town houses, brownstones, and then small apartment buildings. The pilot areas are primarily that size of building.

Then we said, if we’re going to make this a viable program, we have to tackle high-rise apartment buildings, because a significant portion of New York City’s recycling, you have to come up with an internal recycling program that then allows the building to manage the waste and get it out on the curb for Sanitation to collect. We have to do the same thing for organic material. So, we actually work with the building management and the co-op board, if it’s a co-op building, and come up with a system for how they’ll manage the organic waste inside the building to then get it out on the curb for us to collect

Q: And how many high-rises are you working with at the moment?

BA: We have over a hundred high-rises at this point.

Q: That’s quite a few. And what has been the DSNY’s strategy in dealing with the various building types? Do you have separate systems, depending on the high rise, or is there a single system that works across the board?

BA: I would say we service a different range of types of buildings – we have old, old buildings, we have brand new Leed certified buildings…a lot of it depends on the infrastructure of the building, where there’s space to put the bins. It’s very similar to recycling – where is there space to place the bins, either on each floor or in some sort of centralised area, where people can then bring their material to drop it off. And then the building staff brings it out to the curb.

So we have a few different strategies that are the most common. One is, if our large buildings tend to have chute where people will take their trash, and it foes down to the basement. In a lot of buildings there’s a little chute room where the chute exists. And if there’s space on each floor, and the building management are willing to provide the service, we recommend that both the recycling and the organics containers are put in those shoot rooms on every floor. It’s the most convenient for the residents.

That doesn’t exist in all buildings, so what’s also quite common is a centrallsed location on the first floor, possibly the basement or in the area nearby where there’s parking, where the recycling and organics bins are placed. And that’s more of a centralised area. It’s less work for the Super to service, because it’s only location – but it’s potentially a little bit less convenient for the residents because they have to go downstairs. We find with both recycling and organics collection, convenience begets participation. So if it’s easy and convenient, people will participate. The people who want to do it are going to do it no matter where you place your collection location; the people who are saying “well I’ll do it if it’s convenient.” If it’s easy for me to just throw it down the chute on my floor that to bring the organic material or recycling downstairs, then you may lose a few people in participation.

So, we have a lot of signage – signage is absolutely key to let people know on every floor where the collection location is in the building. And keeping the collection well lit, safe, secure is also key to having people comfortable with using those locations in the building.

Q: Another crucial part in organics collection programs is the collection times. How did you decide on collection times and are they different from place to place?

BA: We have a few different strategies. About fifty-thousand of the households are being offered twice a week collection, and that’s the same frequency as refuse collection. The idea is you just set out your material on collection day, but you separate the organic material from the waste and recycling. In the other half of the homes, we’re testing once a week collection. Basically, the way things work is that here you have twice a week collection of trash, once a week collection of recycling in most parts of the city, and so we’re either offering twice a week collection on the same frequency as trash collection, and the other half od the pilot, we’re offering once a week collection on recycling day. So, it’s essentially just another recycling stream to set out on your recycling day.

Q: Do you know which one is more successful, or which you’re going to pick in the long-run?

BA: We have one area of Brooklyn, where we started them in the Fall with once a week collection and switched them to twice a week collection in May, so we’re going to be studying that one. We don’t have any results yet, but we’re hopeful that that little neighbourhood – it’s called Windsor Terrace – will actually help inform us what the effect is of twice a week versus once a week.

Q: Was it difficult, in a city the size of New York, to plan collection routes and to cooperate with the haulers?

BA: So in New York City, the city actually has a municipal hauling workforce and we collect material from residences, agencies and institutions. And so, it was simply a matter of making the case to add some to add trucks in the budget to service the same routes. And we chose the pilot areas so they were co-terminus: they were the same areas as the regular routes, so there was no issue there. People were very positive about piloting the program.

Q: The ultimate goal is to make this a mandatory, city-wise curbside composting program. How are you planning to get there?

BA: The city council passed a law for us to conduct this pilot program, and the our mandate is a two-year program. And in the October of 2015, we will have to present a report to city council and say, this is how the pilot went, these are our recommendations moving forward. And so far we feel pretty positive about the participation, about people’s understanding of the program. We’re working right now to evaluate the pilot to understand what the best practices, what are the best collection frequency, what are the other aspects of the program that we’d want to take and scale up.

Scaling up city-wide is going to take quite a while. It’s not going to happen overnight; it will have to be a phase-in process. And part of it too is that what happens is if you separate the organic material and recycling fully, you don’t have as much refuse left. So, one of the big pieces is understanding how we reconfigure our routine and our truck routes so that we manage the material differently. So, maybe we don’t need as many refuse routes because there’s not as much refuse being set out as we add the organics routes.

So there’s a lot of operation pieces that we have to put into play. There’s also the aspect of geography – do we roll out district by district, which is maybe what happens. So, we’re basically in the planning process right now as we roll out the pilot, to figure out how we would do this city-wise, and I would say that it’s going to take ten years to probably get to the entire city.

Q: We tackle this whole aspect of organics collection programs in Lesson 4 of our online course on Compostory.org, so those of you listening, can go straight to the course on our site and take a deeper look at.



COMMUNITY COMPOSTING – A Critical Piece to the Puzzle


And now, I’d like to touch on the topic of community composting, because in our last episode, we were taking a look at the community composting movement in New York and we know that the DSNY has been quite involved in supporting this as well. Can you tell me a little about how you work with community composters in the city?

BA: Yes, we have a longstanding relationship – over twenty years – working with community composters. The New York City Compost Project is a group that we run and fund, and we have non-profit partners throughout the city where we provide education services – helping people to understand how to compost in your backyard, if you want to take your yard waste or your food scraps and do it yourself. We work with community gardens, and we provide finished compost from the material that they city collects and manages, and we provide tools and equipment, and technical advice for how to set up composting in community gardens.

We also work to provide drop-off programs. We have food scrap drop off programs throughout the city – we’ve about seventy in operation right now. And those drop-off programs are critical, because they get people in the mindset of “oh! this is what this is…I take my food scraps and I can bring them somewhere else and recycle it – have it be composted.” So, we see the community composters as absolutely critical to helping people understand the concepts of organic separation, what happens to it, what are the benefits to it – it’s an absolutely critical piece to the puzzle.

Q: So you agree with David Buckle, who we interviewed last week, that community composting is an essential part of creating a successful organics recycling system?

BA: Both programs are very important, yes.

Q: When speaking to David, it was clear that he had concerns about a lack of vision from policy makers in the city, that might not understand the importance of local collection and composting and wouldn’t necessarily prioritize community composting over other collection systems. What’s your take on this statement – have you seen this yourself?

BA: I actually have not seen that. We’re trying to position the city, in terms of organics waste collection, to fulfill a number of goals, and community composting plays an extremely important role in terms of introducing the community to organics and composting and the concept that you can recycle this other part of the waste stream, and to showing what actually happens to your organic waste, how it turns into compost; and creating a valuable product for the local communities.

The capacity for local, small-scale community composting is too small to handle the vast hundred and thousands of tons of material that we’re looking to divert through organics recycling. So, we as a city also have a parallel mission to find how we bring composting to scale and actually move major tonnage of material to recycling, to composting and to renewable energy. So, for us we see both as extremely important, because the local community composting creates beneficial use for the city. They have been critical to introduce the concept that this is a useful strategy but it’s not going to help us divert all of the waste. There’s so much waste in New York City, that we don’t think we’d be able to handle it through community composting. You have to have large, permitted facilities to really handle that quantity of material.

But there’s plenty of material to go around, and absolutely – this is why we fund local community composting operations – we see it as a critical piece to the pie, a piece to the puzzle.

We’re really focusing on [understanding] how we create this as a cooperative program. But it’s really tough, I mean, you have people who’ve been in the trenches for two decades working on local community composting, and I understand that maybe there’s a fear that if the city takes over this program that there won’t be a place for local community composting, and we do not at all see that as the case. They are both critical to achieving the city’s overall goal, which is diverting major tonnage of material, and creating beneficial use for local communities.



Compost Use & Compost Markets


Q: If the program is rolled out city-wide, you will have a lot of compost on your hands. What are you planning to do with the compost and what are you currently doing with it?

BA: We take the material from the pilot to local and regional compost facilities. With the material that’s taken to the regional facilities, we don’t actually take back the compost at this point. There may be a situation moving forward where we develop a relationship where we would have a certain percentage of the compost come back. With the material that’s processed locally, we turn it into compost and use it in street trees, we use it in parks, we use it in gardens. We have give-back programs for non-profits, schools and community groups, to use the compost for their greening projects. We also create a mulch product in addition to compost. And most of the material that we’re currently compost locally is yard waste, and that creates a beautiful mulch product as well as the compost. We also sell the compost to landscapers, so we do have a small revenue stream there.

Q: Are you involved in creating markets for compost, or encouraging market growth for compost?

BA: For the material we compost locally, we’ve worked on this landscaper market, and it’s really a bulk purchase type of situation. We have not gotten into the business of creating a retail market for the material – it just hasn’t been necessary to date, because we’re handling and selling all the material with the landscapers and with our give-back programs. With the regional composting facilities that are taking the material during the pilot period, we have not been involved in how they’re marketing the material, although we are evaluating with them the quality of the material we’re giving them, and the quality of the material that comes out, so we understand better what it is we can create from the material that would come out of a New York City stream.

Q: What is the quality like, and what contamination rate are you experiencing?

BA: The quality is quite good. In the residential program, our contamination rate is very, very low. It’s well below five percent. So we feel very good about that. It is a voluntary program, so the people who participate want to participate and try to do it right. That may change obviously when you make it mandatory.

Q: Is creating a market for compost something you’re looking at doing in the future?

BA: It would definitely be part of our larger plan. We want to ensure that the material is going to beneficial use – and is not just composting; we’re also looking into anaerobic digestion so we can create energy from the material. But creating a viable program, if there’s a way to generate revenue from it, that’s obviously a huge benefit, so it’s definitely something we’ll be looking into.

Q: Yes indeed, and we just released a new lesson – Lesson 5 – of our course were we take a detailed look at market creation for compost as well. And in terms of your aims or objectives with the organic material – as you said, diverting materials from landfill and supporting communities are on your list. But what about the organic material itself and what it’s used for? Are you focused solely on creating revenue streams, with waste-to-energy for example, or are you more concerned with creating quality compost to help replenish the soil?

BA: One of our biggest objectives is to find ways to reduce the material going to landfill, and the parallel objective is to create beneficial use. And obviously as a city we are concerned about being cost-effective in what we do, so any opportunities we have to market material and gain revenue streams is important. We are focused primarily at this point on the composting, because that’s a proven technology; we know there are existing facilities, we know that a useful product can be created and marketed.

Anaerobic digestion is a little bit newer of a technology for us in the North-East. There are wastewater treatment plants that have been using anaerobic digestion for a long time, and the question is: how viable is it to utilise AD for a municipal organics program? What we’ve learned is that the challenges are when you co-mingle food waste and yard waste, and food soiled paper, that can cause problems with anaerobic digestion, and so we’re trying to figure out if those energy conversion technologies (such as anaerobic digestion), could be viable with our waste stream. We won’t be able to collect yard waste separately from food waste, we really need the efficiency of collection to collect it all together , and so the question is: is there an option to utilise anaerobic digestion with that type of material streams.

On the commercial side, with businesses, we expect it’ll be food waste. So we think that there’s quite a good opportunity there for turning food into renewable energy through anaerobic digestion. But on the residential side, we think it may be more difficult.

Q: So you’re going to stick with composting, which is probably the most ideal option on many fronts.

BA: Yes. The challenges there of course is that you need a lot of space for composting – there are siting issues. For New York City, siting any new facility is expensive and difficult. There’s permitting processes, and because we’re right the confluence of three different states, each state has their own permitting requirements and procedures.



Closing the Loop


Q: And for our listeners who are rolling out similar programs, we strongly recommend fully integrating the multiple benefits of compost use in the program vision. Keeping organics out of a landfill and managing the waste streams is important – and it’s usually the main argument to be had in large cities – but then programs need to take into account all the benefits of compost use as well when developing operations. We’re finding out that many programs need to put more focus on end-product quality. So there’s a whole ecosystem involved here and it goes beyond just the ‘waste management’ side of things, so it’s very important to include that in the program vision.

And so Bridget, in terms of closing the loop as much as possible do you travel far to the composting sites you use, or?

BA: We have one composting facility on Staten Island, and that’s a great system. So, all the material that we collect on Staten Island, stays on Staten Island, so that’s a very closed-loop and successful system. For the other material that we have, everything is within a hundred miles of the city, but we do have to truck it outside the city. And so, we basically say it’s regional capacity. And we’re hopeful that once we position ourselves to go to scale, that we will be able to work with companies who will local themselves closer to New York City.



Organic Waste COLLECTION in A MEGACITY: Successes and Advice


Q: The project has been a great success so far and it’ll be exciting to see how it progresses, but already you’ve gained a lot of experience and tackled a host of issues. I’d love to know more about the pitfalls and successes you’ve experienced on your journey so far. How has it been?

BA: Yeah, so one of the best things that has happened is that we found these local resident champions of the program, and they are the best sales people. Having peer-to-peer interactions where people are explaining to their neighbours how great the program is, how little trash they have left, and how easy it is, has been incredibly helpful. And we found that it takes a lot of work, but the in-person interactions that we have as a program with the residents is really the most effective way to get people who may be a little bit shy, nervous or intimidated on board.

We get a lot of questions and concerns about rodents and pests, and they say it’ll be more work. Well, we say it’s the same amount of waste that you’re throwing out now, you’re just putting it in a separate bin. And the bin that we have has a lid and a latch, and so we’re able to explain to people that it actually reduces the potential for pest issues because you’re containing that waste. Right now New York City has primarily a bag program, so material is placed out at the curb in bags, and when you have a plastic bag, it’s much easier for a rat to chomp into the back and access the food. If the food is in a container, it’s much more difficult for them to access that meal. So we’re working with the Department of Health to study how the rodent populations are affected by the program.

We’ve also had some people say there’s been fruit flies and maggots, and those sorts of things. And it’s amazing because we use social media a lot in the program, and we often have residents providing best practices and tips to the people who have concerns about fruit flies and maggots before we even get to them. So, we have a list of best practices and tips, but we really do rely also on that peer-to-peer education.

Q: And finally, for our audience who might be wondering how to start a similar program in other large cities around the world, what advice would you give for rolling out a system like this in a large city?

BA: I would say that you need to have a plan for where you’re going to take the material. Don’t set up the front-end without the back-end in place – that’s critical. I would say the best way to roll-out the program is to do it so it follows the existing collection schedules and the existing behaviour patterns of people – so we said “add this to the recycling bay, they’re already setting out recycling” or “have them set it out on the same days as trash”. That way the behaviour is sort of the same, it’s just that you’re separating out the material.

The stakeholder engagement has been critical, so speaking with the elected officials and getting them on board – they can be your best advocates in their districts. We found that not only the elected officials, but the local civic organisations have been critical. You have these informal mayors of neighbourhoods that really understand the neighbourhood and understand what messaging will work in that neighbourhood; is this a neighbourhood that will respond better to the fact that we’re trying to save taxpayer money? Is this a neighbourhood that will respond better to the environmental message? That’s been critical for us to target our education and our messaging.


Soil Crisis #2: Soil & The Circular Economy: Building A Movement


This episode corresponds to Lesson 1 and Lesson 5 of our online course.

Episode twenty: part two of the two part special with zero waste pioneer and industrial economist Robin Murray, in which we talk about the importance of soil as a basis for human economy, and the great chasm between what science tells us about soil’s role and the existing inadequate policies for soil management that has led to a soil crisis. In this episode, we will discuss the opportunities we have for building a movement to change our current economic model to a more sustainable one, including existing models that we can learn from, the importance of education and centers of learning for the movement, and the roadblocks we might face along the way.

Thank you to BioCycle for making this episode possible.

BioCycle, the Organics Recycling Authority, is the leading magazine and website on composting, food waste management, anaerobic digestion and renewable energy from organics recycling. Subscribe to BioCycle and get access to every article published over the last 10 years, and sign up for @BioCycle, our free biweekly e-bulletin. For more, visit www.biocycle.net.

Photo by Joe Mabel / CC BY.


We talked in part one about the importance of soil health in human economies, and also about the potential for a shift to a more circular, distributed economy, and you were listing a few ways people have started to reconnect themselves with the soil with the slow food movement, community gardens and farms being opened up to the urban population and so on. But in relation to forming a different system, a different model of production and distribution, how important is education and knowledge sharing for fostering or encouraging these kinds of changes?

Robin Murray: What I would say is that the movements – both of people pressing on policy, but also the people who are actually doing it – tend to be global. So we established a Zero Waste movement here more than a decade ago, but it was part of an international Zero Waste International movement, and it was established in a number of different countries. And the internet has allowed a wide sharing of practices. And in the arguments in this country, the experiences of Canada and Australia – let alone elsewhere – have been very influential in saying “Look, this actually happens. This isn’t just a utopia, this is a different model”. And particularly as it develops, you then have new technologies coming in; light technologies, small distributed technologies, not great big centralised ones. These can be imported and then developed on your own here.

So, I think there’s a continuous process of self education, but one which is within a collective. If you look at organic farming, it is social knowledge, and people are not privatising this knowledge. They are sharing, and of course, this is what happened when we grew up; people would discuss particular problems. We had, believe it or not, an actual farmer’s discussion group, which my father used to go to, where people would come once a month from these hill farms to discuss common problems. Well now with the modern internet, you go much further and you can share. Having said that, I think there is a great need, and a role, for some formal structure of specialist education. Many countries have inherited this on the agricultural side, and in America that’s very important: those colleges have been absolutely central, and changing the approaches in those colleges, or opening up these colleges to these new systems is an important part.

There’s been nothing similar on waste. Waste is being treated as part of a technical college, but it’s done in a very old fashioned way and it needs a quite different approach. And I think now we must look to make it global, because many of the ways of looking at the thing are global, [even though] every place has it’s own specificity. But, I think this is where this new extraordinary development of Massive Online Open Courses, which are free, but you can also link into local discussion groups all taking these courses – and there are five million students on them. If one replicated that in terms of soils and in terms of nutrient management (in relation to biowaste)…knowledge is absolutely central – distributed knowledge is absolutely central, and I think probably this is going to be the key to a major change in the way in which we both think about our agriculture, and think about reconnecting it up.

I’m very glad you say that because that’s the whole idea being Compostory.org, and I agree that in the areas of waste or nutrient management,  we really need to start working together and finding connections between groups of people all around the world. And from the work that we’re doing, we’ve come across so many different stories of people and groups doing unique and very interesting work…

RM: One of the examples which I found particularly inspiring in our work has been in Japan which, starting in the nineteen-sixties but really gathered in the nineteen-seventies, was a movement led almost entirely by women. And they had become concerned after a range of food scares, particularly around milk and the quality of milk, and its impact on their children – it was children who led the concern. And so what they did is they said, “Look, we’re not going to buy our milk from the supermarkets; we will go out and we will find farmers who we can talk to about how they produce their milk, and we can ask them to produce organic milk and we will then find a way of bringing it directly to us.

Well, they started with milk and then they expanded to other food items to begin with. And they were one of the very early developers of box schemes; and because quite a few of them, I suspect, before they were married worked in these Japanese factories, which were all electronic – not perhaps in the late sixties, but certainly in the late seventies and eighties – and were very well managed; they established this box scheme whereby the producers who they picked out and who they partnered with would bring what had been ordered to the central collection point. They’d all work – as mums – they’d go in there and they would sort the boxes out, and then they would distribute them to their own houses. They organised themselves in groups of six to ten households, which were called Han. Now, I’ve been involved in some box schemes, but my word, this is brilliantly done.

And they now – in the Seikatsu co-ops – have three hundred and thirty thousand households in their schemes. Three hundred and thirty thousand. And they’ve reached right back to the farmers, so that they completely side-step the supermarkets. And they’re doing it much more cheaply, so some of the supermarkets are going out of business. And what they do is, they take one product after another, they study it and do the testing, and they then work with the farmers on standards, and they jointly discuss why some standards are more difficult than others. And then they open it out and say “does anyone have any ideas about this farmer’s problems?” etc. So they act as almost crowd intelligence on this. Their aim is explicitly to show that these higher standards are possible, and then press politically for these to be adopted nationally. And so, they’ve formed local political parties, and they have a large number of local councillors who then press for these things within their local council, to change the standards. And then they combine, and press it nationally. This has changed the food economy, in terms of farming and its quality, but it has also changed the way food is thought about and then used and cooked in the home. And I think this is a model of how soil economy and the human economy have been brought back together.

That is fascinating, so essentially these communities have bypassed the middleman and gone straight to the source, taking control of the distribution and being directly involved with the producers. And do you think this model, this co-op model should be replicated, or would be the main way to go forward in the future?

RM: Well, I think that is one way. We should all say to ourselves, “Right, what can we do about this?” You quickly find that there are other people doing something about it, and some are better at it than others. But what is amazing is that the Seikatsu started in 1972, so that’s forty-two years, and they are still enormously strong. They’ve kept the principles very much to the centre. Whenever they have problems, they discuss it openly, and in terms of cooperatives – this is a very important point – what they’ve tried to do is always to retain a sense that you’re in control of the thing, and you’re not just voting for people to do it for you. So they’ve purposefully broken up some of their bigger organisations so that people feel that it is close to them. And if you don’t do that, very quickly you get experts and they start running it, and it becomes more like the old system.

Now this model: recently in South Korea, they’ve been copying the Japanese one. And they, within fifteen years have got four major food cooperative systems linking farmers and consumers. They’ve now got over half a million people involved, almost from a standing start. Now, it’s led in – as the Japanese put it: it’s not just “how to get nice food”, it is “how to live a different life.” How not to be what I think they call “the robotic consumer”. The role of the human being is not to be a robot or to be the prey of advertising and so on; it is to take this under your own control, and think about it, and participate in it, because that is actually what creating life is about. That’s their approach, so it’s not just the co-op – the co-op is an aspect of this. It is about a whole approach to the way we live our lives, in whatever we’re doing.

Yes, that’s incredible, and I can easily imagine that such a co-op system, since there is such a link between households and farms, could work to ensure that household organic materials like food scraps and so on, be properly disposed of and brought back to the farm for composting, because the consumers then understand the need for having a clean stream of organic materials for composters.

RM: Yes.

But then as a larger social movement, and we talked about the ways governments are sometimes slow to react to this kind of thing in part one, but when it comes to transitioning our current paradigm or economy into a circular economy – do you see any other opportunities, or ways to build the movement so that it can move up to the government level and make a real impact perhaps?

RM: Well, the political issue: I was referring to it in the way new paradigms are introduced, and I think the first thing is that it’s not done just from the top – it’s usually top-down and bottom-up going on at the same time. And in our cultures, you have to have people who have some kind of connection to this, and some experience of it, which is why I mentioned gardening and getting people involved. It means that they become interested in the new way of thinking. It’s almost like speaking a language.

One of the things we found in recycling is that if you introduce a scheme of boxes for recycling, that the interest in the environment – which in one borough in London was at about twenty-three percent before the scheme started – after people started recycling, within a year it had gone up to something like sixty-eight percent. What that taught me is that then people have a reason not to screen out difficult things. If there’s nothing you can do about something…like these terrible events in Sudan, for example: if you had a brother or sister working there you would be extremely worried, but otherwise it’s somewhere far away, and there are so many of these things going on, you’ve got to live a life. Now, in the environment, if you can be actively involved in a way which fits in with life, then you become more open to this, and then you are interested in it; and if someone stands up and says “I believe x, y and z”, you think, “Yes!”. I think the same is true of soil: the more people are involved (either in gardening, or community gardens, or whatever it would be), the more open they would be.

And then You’ve got to have the social movements, who are barefoot experts: people whose lives are this – thinking about it and explaining it, being the people to animate the movement. So you’ve got that. And out of that, incidentally (if we look at it in the long-term, and we have to), some people will say “Well, why don’t I go for the local council?” And some might even say, “Why don’t I go for Parliament?” You’re growing the crop like that.

At the same time, any social movement will then link-in with universities and link in with specialists, who themselves may be worried. I don’t personally know people who spend their lives on soils, but I am sure that many of them have real worries, they’re thinking: “How am I going to influence this?” So they become part of it, and you then can reach out to ministers – particularly if we have this wider sense of representation, and if there are events or constituencies which mean that people have to listen, and this is what politicians have to do. Then the politician is open to these different expertise – because there’s always contesting expertise. So, it’s partly a question of expertise and it’s party a question of what the political punch is behind it, and you can never do it with just one or the other.

Part of the great battles we’ve had in waste is actually in public enquiries. What I would call the old interests, they fund so-called science and consultants purely negatively in order to try and destroy the new arguments. And I spend a lot of my life in University, and coming from the University we were amazed that people are so instrumental about science; that they’re actually only looking for something which will argue a particular case – lead is a very good example; it took forty years to get lead finally banned from petrol. But, you know, what was then revealed (and it happens with drug companies as well), which is people who are financed don’t have to prove anything, just disprove whatever the argument is that they’re opposing.

So there is that part of the battle, and therefore people who are informed and who are able to relate to the new movement and the new paradigm (but also with the expertise necessary for that), they are part of the important mixture.

Yes, that is definitely true because there are a lot of interests at play here and as you say, not all of them fight fairly. That is definitely a challenge and leads into my last question, which is about the challenges that might crop up. We’ve talked a lot about campaigning and policies, and with your wealth of experience, I’m sure you’re well aware of the roadblocks that can crop up along the way. Can you tell me what kind of roadblocks are in our way, and is it something we can overcome easily, or is there still a way to go?

RM: I think there are many roadblocks along the way. One of them, if you work at all levels of government, will be financial. Mainly the Treasurer comes along and says, “Oh no, we’re not going to have that because we’ve got no money.” That is a constant, and particularly when you’re early on in the new disruptive technology. How to deal with this fact? Even if you say, “Look, in the long run it’s going to be better”, and so on, he or she is interested in the actual pound signs at the end – immediate, and during this years budget. So that will always be a factor. Very often, once things are established, then suddenly it actually becomes….And the same with waste – when we started off, it was more expensive to do our systems, but once we’d adopted the Italian system (which was based on food waste collection first, and then followed by the others and you needn’t have so much residual waste collection), suddenly we were able to save money and the finance officers became your friends, not your enemies.

Then the second lot are the lawyers, because laws will have been constructed and regulated around the old way of doing things, and then they may get worried. And there is also an issue, for example, the question of how you treat organic food waste – whether it’s heated to seventy degrees, or whether we need to put it up to eighty-four degrees. What are we losing through this? Can we think through that so that we don’t lose some of the micro-organisms as a result of this? what is going to be the effect? How does that come about? Well, the regulators just say, “Well that’s what it is”. So those negative forces come it, and you have to think through them positively, you know: “That is an issue, how do we deal with that issue?”

Then you have the interests, which may be both professional interests (that’s how we’ve always done it and how we’ve always organised it as well), and then you have the commercial interests, which are also strong. The organisational interests, I find, has been one of the big ones – which is government, and in this area in particular it’s local government – because they don’t want to have complexity. Simplicity – particularly now with contracting out, they don’t want to have to deal with a hundred different small contracts, they would love a simple contract, and then they monitor it.

So, how to actually have the interface between the government at any level, and those who are doing the work, in such a way that allows for that complexity – this is one of the very interesting aspects of modern public administration. But without it, what has happened in waste is that the big waste companies have effectively side-lined the community sector. In Canada, USA, Germany, I believe, and certainly in the UK it’s dominated by I think only four major companies now. They say they’re doing recycling, but they are certainly not upcyclers. They are profit maximisers who are used to dealing with residual waste, and who want large facilities the equivalent of the nuclear power plant (though not quite as dangerous as that). But that’s what they’re used to dealing with, and that’s what their large organisations can handle, whereas we want a much more complex ecology in order to do that.

So, those are some of the roadblocks, and I never like to think of them as barriers, because any creative process always finds a block or problem. The question is how to get round it – and in this case – what kind of alliances and coalitions you can build to get in between them, or to win some of them over and get them on your side? How do we do this? That, I think, is the art of what we might call transition – the politics of transition.

The art of transition – that’s a really nice way of putting it. And yes as you say, we need to be creative and open minded in order to succeed in what we’re doing. And I’m sure we’ve only scratched the surface of this topic now, but unfortunately Robin, that’s all we have time for today. Thanks a million for coming on, it was wonderful to have you on the show.


Drought Special #3: Fighting A Drought: Levers for the Public Sector


This episode corresponds to Lesson 5 of our online course.

In episode three of the drought special, we’re in Australia to learn about the role of the public sector in preparing a country for drought, and the policies, incentives and strategies that can be put in place to help prevent and protect against it. We look at the current Australian system, soil health, incentives for compost production, farm management practices, and the need to change our systems in order to better reward and support our land managers – the stewards of the earth. Joining us are former Governor General of Australia and current Advocate for Soil Health, Major General Michael Jeffery, and co-founder of Ylad Living Soils Rhonda Daly.

Thank you to Kellogg Garden products for making this episode possible.

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Photo by suburbanbloke / CC BY


When it comes to drought, it seems that up until now, the drought relief packages were based on Exceptional Circumstances programs and included mostly financial support for farmers already in dire circumstances, with very little attention given to actual prevention of drought or preparing for drought before hand. However, there are some changes occurring now with the National Drought Program Reform that is starting in July, which recognises that drought no longer fits in the exceptional circumstances category, and will focus more on drought preparedness through providing training programs for land managers on risk assessment and financial planning and so on. But General Jeffery and Rhonda Daly, you both agree that a lot more has to be done. So General Jeffery, maybe you can tell us what you think is necessary for the public sector to do in order to actually prepare for drought and minimise the effects of drought on the Australian landscape?

General Jeffery: Well I think the first thing to do is recognise that at the present time, Australia doesn’t have a real national policy in terms of how it wants to look after the Australian landscape as a totality; that is, its river systems, its flood plains, its wetlands, its riparian zones; agriculture areas, grazing areas, mining areas and so on. And I think until we get a policy that spells out the need to have, perhaps as a light on the hill, to restore and maintain an Australian landscape that is fit for purpose – that is fit for all the things I just mentioned – we’re all going to be stuck doing itty, bitty things (and some of them quite important and quite good), but until we get an over-arching aim of what we want to do, with total state and local people all singing from the same sheet of music, I think we will be struggling, particularly when it comes to drought.

It’s getting that policy agreed to restore and maintain an Australian landscape fit for purpose; it has been knocked around a bit. And you can’t blame people, that’s the way people were taught and trained at the time, but –

Rhonda Daly: Don’t you think also that because they’re using water as a commodity – as an economic commodity – and so we’ve got this false economy coming in where we think we’re a rich country, but we’re actually deteriorating the landscape really badly. Short-term it appears that we’re not doing so much damage because economically we’re doing so well, but ultimately, the wheels are going to fall off that analogy for sure.

So Rhonda you’re saying that people involved have a very myopic view of the situation and focus only on the short term economic results, rather than the bigger picture, which I think is definitely the case in many other countries as well. And General Jeffery, you’re saying that we need to get all levels of public sector – local, national and state, to come together and agree on a national policy for restoring and maintaining the landscape. How would you propose we start?

GJ: Well part of the issue has got to be that, if we want to restore and maintain this landscape so that it is fit for various purposes, you’ve got to ask yourself, “What are the three key ingredients that will enable us to do that?” And it’s really about the integrated management of your soil, your water (that is, the hydrology), and the biodiversity – the plants and so on that you’re growing, whether crops or grasses, or what have you. So, good farming practice and land management practice, mining practice and everything else, depends on the stakeholders having a very clear understanding of the need for that integration, and understanding the art and science of doing it properly. And that’s where good farming practices and land management practices come into play.

My next question here was to ask you if you think soil is the most important factor for healing the landscape and therefore protecting against drought, but what you’re saying is that all three aspects, soil, water and vegetation, are all important?

GJ: Yes, I think we’ve got to talk about landscape rather than soil. Although I’m the National Soil Advocate, I think that’s a misnomer to a degree because it gets everybody focused on just looking at soil, when we should be looking at water and biodiversity. And Rhonda raised a very good point specifically on the water, where I think our focus in this country for many years has been in the wrong direction. We’ve always looked at how much water we’ve got in our rivers and streams and dams, and we then issued licenses, and so on, to users of that water. But the total amount of water falling on our landscape every year, if you take it as a hundred drops: only ten drops end up in the rivers, two drops end up in the dams, and another two drops end up as run-off off the roads and roofs – that’s only fourteen percent.

But that’s what we all look at – we focus on that because that’s what we can see. Where we’re missing is the other eighty-six percent that falls on the landscape, of which only about thirty-six actually gets into the soil where you want it, and the other fifty percent evaporates into the atmosphere because it can’t infiltrate.

And holding water in soils is a very important of drought management as well, which we’ve mentioned quite a few times in previous episodes. Rhonda, would you agree with that?

RD: I would agree. I would agree that there’s a huge amount of land that, as you say, needs hydrating – the wetlands and… But you know, truly and really I think that it’s quite sad that I don’t know whether they see that as the most important thing that they have to do at the moment. I think so much energy is going in other places. I truly don’t believe they know the workings of our environment and landscape, and what is the best way of getting it back – and spending the dollars to get it back into a healthy condition again.

GJ: I think that you really need political decisions at the senior level of federal and state to ensure a proper implementation of an appropriate process. So, I think it gets back again to this lack of an over-arching policy where we need to look after the landscape, and then the various ingredients that’ll make it work, and we discussed two or three of them earlier on.

Indeed. And what you’re saying is that it really is important for senior levels in government to take an active role in this, because there are big decisions to be made, and they need to steer the ship. But in terms of getting the research right, there are already wheels in motion, because just recently the Australian Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry recently launched the National Soil Research, Development and Extension Strategy, which aims to secure Australia’s soil for profitable industries and healthy landscapes, and among its many goals, it aims to “improve communication and sharing of soil knowledge”, and “to adopt a national approach to building future skills and capacities”. SO this is definitely a step in the right direction and perhaps it will achieve some of what you are calling for?

GJ: Yes, I think that is a good step in the right direction, and as the National Soil Advocate, we were able to bring together an expert advisory panel of four of the nation’s top land management scientists, backed by another twenty or so scientists who support them, and we were able to input into that strategy, which was really about doing four things: quantifying our soil asset in respect to data and mapping, and what are our soil types, and how healthy is it. And then, how do we go about securing our soil by identifying and evaluating best practice by looking at soil structure improvement, soil biology, carbon and so on. And the third bit was to look at understanding our soils, which is the technical level: the training of our ag scientists, soil carbon sampling, understanding the hydrology of our soils, understanding the soil biology and so on. Then there was soil at the interface, which was really looking at the search on environmental impacts: understanding water capture and storage in soil. So I think that the RD&E (the Research Development and Extension policy) that was launched by the minister a couple of weeks ago is very much a step in the right direction and I’m pleased that we were able to have at least a little bit of an input into it.

That’s a pretty comprehensive strategy focusing on soils, and I daresay one of the first of its kind. And it will be interesting to see how it plays out in the future. But in the past, has soil and soil health has featured in Australian drought policy in any big way before now, or has it been side-lined?

RD: From y perspective I would think that in all of the drought policies that they’re putting into place, soil health is definitely featured, and not only soil health but the management practices as well. So, yes they are incorporating and recognising that soil health is a major player in ensuring that we hold more water in our landscape for plants in these drier times. So, I think they’re recognising that, but there just seems such a huge part, and chunk, that still needs converting. Because, I would say that there’s really only maybe two or three percent of Australian farmers who are actually really practicing regeneration of the landscape, and the rest is going as business as usual. And how do we get the business as usual people to understand the importance of their soil, not just for today’s farming and their productivity and profitability, but for future generations to come?

So, I think Australia’s got a really short term view of their soil health, and we tend to – and that’s because of economic restraints – but we tend to look at just the now. “What do we do now to make us a profit this year that will keep us on the farm next year?” And I think economics, with one in seven farmers owing more than half a million dollars, plays a huge role in farmers up taking these different methods of rebuilding our landscapes back to being healthy again. It’s very much on just paying the bills.

GJ: One of our policy drives in restoring and maintaining this landscape fit for purpose is to reward farmers fairly not just for their product, which is another subject in itself, but also as primary carers of the agricultural landscape, because they look after about sixty percent of the continent. And I believe that we need to reward farmers for looking after the landscape on behalf of twenty-two million urban Australians. Now as to what sort of thing you might do to do that, it can be varied: it might be designating part of the new land army that the Government is going to establish to plant trees on the ridges where a farmer wants it, or to get a cheaper bank loan if he’s going to fix his riparian zone, or a whole range of measures that are not hand-outs, but are provided with a definite outcome in view, which relates to restoring and maintaining that landscape so that it’s in the best possible condition. And I think if we’re clever we’ll be able to do that, and in part overcome the problem that Rhonda’s just raised, that so many of our farmers are in very, very heavy debt.

Right, which definitely won’t help. And on that note, would you say, General Jeffery, that if the new carbon sequestration methodology gets approved, that this would encourage farmers to change their practices? And for our audience, this new methodology is part of the Carbon Farming Initiative, which is a Federal Government initiative to enable people in the land sector to generate revenue through the reduction of carbon emissions by using approved methodologies. So, would this be a potential help for them?

GJ: Yes, I think that if we’ve got a climate change problem – and I believe we have – that’s going to exacerbate our ability to produce more food, and the only way we can help to adjust to that is by sequestering carbon into the soils. The big issue for Australia is going to be in the complexity of the legislation – all the criteria upon which farmers can gain access to that money. And I think we really have to have measuring systems for carbon that are set to business standards, not to scientific standards, so your means of measuring don’t have to be quite so accurate when you’re talking about commercial operations, and therefore can be a bit simpler in terms of a farmer then being able to access what could be a very important source of revenue; and also a very, very important source of helping to adjust to climate change, and perhaps to control it to a degree.

And touching on what you said before, about support payments not being hand-outs: I wonder about citizens in general, particularly urban dwellers, are they sympathetic towards farmers and their situation, or is there work to be done there to get them on board?

GJ: Yes, well another of our policy drivers, and I think it may almost be the most important, is to reconnect urban Australia with its rural roots. That is, reconnect twenty-two and a half million people living in cities and towns with a hundred and thirty thousand farmers and perhaps a hundred thousand miners, or something like that. Now, unless we do that we’re going to find an even greater gap and lack of understanding between the two. And of course, you’ll never get the political support that’s needed to look after our farmers and landscapes properly unless you’ve got voter support. So we have to have that reconnection.

And to do that I think there are several ways. The first is that we’ve got to get to the young people, and I would do this by setting up, for example, a school garden in every school in the country. Something that can  show a six year old, and then a ten year old, and then a thirteen year old, just exactly what the soil does, and how it’s composed, and how photosynthesis and transpiration works; and how you produce healthy food from healthy soil that leads to healthier animals and healthier people. So I think that is one simple way in which we can get urban Australia over time connected; and hopefully the kids will take these messages home to mum and dad, and that would help us get through to the adults at the same time.

But getting the adults on side, I think we’re going to have to use a little bit of stick and a little bit of carrot. The stick is going to be the global food imperative, because in my view we’re going to be pushing it, and I think we’re going to see a lot of social disruption and probably conflict impacting on hundreds of millions of people – and Australia will not be isolated from that. So what we have to say to our own people is that there are going to be big, big problems overseas, and whilst we have some problems in how we’re looking after our landscape here, we’ve also got the answers. And if we’re clever enough and fast enough, we’ll get those answers implemented pretty quickly. And not only will it ensure our own food-water security, but we’ll also be able to export some more food – but even more importantly, export knowledge, because even if we double food export, we’d only feed a hundred million, but if we exported knowledge we might be able to feed a billion.

I’d really like to stress the school garden idea myself as one of the best ways to get the urban population interested in nature. There are also things like community gardens and urban farms that can really help forge a connection. School compost schemes and education can play a huge part too, and I’d like to speak more about compost now, because we’ve heard a lot in previous episodes about the benefits of compost for soil health and drought protection. And Rhonda, you have a wealth of experience in the industry, and as a compost producer yourself, can you tell me what type of incentives exist for you that encourage compost production and use?

RD: That’s a really good question, and I’ve had to search my mind. On a smaller level, the council is starting to introduce green bins to collect compostable waste, and there’s recycling bins and things like that. But from a primary producer’s perspective, I don’t really know of too many incentives or initiatives where people will come – unless there’s a trial being done by Landcare or CSIRO, where they want to get the compost – for them to get into using compost or other biological fertilisers that are a little bit softer on the land and create healthier plants at the same time.

AORA is an industry body – the Australian Organics Recycling Association, which used to be the old Compost Australia – they are promoting it as much as they can, but I do feel as though there’s got to be more policy in there that is going to give farmers the incentive – and possibly there’s going to be a dollar incentive. However, I do believe that there’s going to be people who want to do it because they know intuitively that that’s what they need to do while they’re here on earth. However, the ones who still haven’t reached that calling yet, that maybe the Soil Carbon Methodology, or policies, will see them change over to something new.

So there may need to be financial incentives for some farmers to get them to start composting. And often compost producers will tell us about roadblocks or regulations that actually hinder their ability to run their businesses. Can you tell me about the situation regarding this where you are?

RD: Yeah, sure. It appears that our government supports recycling organic waste – so, reducing landfill, rebuilding soils and… However, the cost of complying with many of these regulations make it not worthwhile for a lot of companies to pursue. And I actually phoned Paul Coffey from AORA  today and asked him what’s going on, because he’s right on the ground level: and the EPA are at present trying to impose a new regulation that is going to put a huge financial burden on compost operations, where they have to have a bank guarantee, and it has to be supplied to the EPA saying that if the operation for some reason goes insolvent, then the money [is used] to cover the clean up of the site. Inevitably this is one situation where this happened. It’s going to cost some operations as much as one-point-five million dollars to have a bank guarantee sitting there, and, as Paul was saying, it will close down many, many operations. And the thing that they’re forgetting to see is that levies are paid to the EPA that could be used for these clean-ups.

So, this is just one of those regulations made in their ivory tower, they’re not really in touch with what’s out there, and it could cost the industry very, very dearly because less people will be wanting to go into composting and recycling these seventeen million tonnes of organic waste that we have.

I guess it just comes back again to having a clear and coordinated strategy so these things won’t happen.

RD: Yes. Well, it’s fortunate that we do have AORA there, and Paul spends a lot of time doing policies, and going to the EPA and working it out for members such as myself. So, definitely, these bodies are very, very important for the ordinary person like myself, because they’re there to ensure we don’t get so many restrictions and conditions on us that it makes it basically impossible do composting.

It’s definitely is an issue I’ve heard before, which once again seems to show that more coordination across different interests could really help. And what I’d like to focus on now is farmers and land management strategies. Because one of the key ways to make change happen is to demonstrate how it can be done, and General Jeffery, you’re Chairman of the non-profit organisation Soils For Life, which is doing great work to support farmers in changing to better practices and advocate for a change in how land is managed generally. And you have been researching case studies of farms that are using sustainable practices in order to spread the word, and the case studies are available online. But through your work with Soils for Life, could you see ways in which incentives and policies could encourage farm managers to change their practices and adopt more drought-resisting practices?

GJ: Well, thanks for those comments on Soils For Life, and of course, Bill and Rhonda are a very important component of the nineteen case studies. We just did nineteen initially because that’s what we were able to raise the money for, and we wanted to actually prove the concept, and well I think we’ve done that, and now we want to roll-out another forty or fifty – and then hopefully hundreds and then some in clusters. I suspect the encouragement to do that will be in showing those who are looking to make a change that, first of all, it’s economically viable. They’re not going to commit unless they can see a dollar in it. And to get that dollar I think we certainly have to do things in terms of how we’re looking at food in terms of pricing, and how we’re looking at rewarding farmers in how they’re rewarding the land.

But, maybe we’ve also got to look at a new definition of productivity, because so often, I’ll think you’ll find the bank saying to a farmer, “Well, to meet your debt obligation, you’re going to have to lift your productivity [muffled] by five percent next year, or whatever. And therefore the farmer then either has to put in a bit more superphosphate, or clear a bit more land, or put a bit more land under crop when he probably hasn’t even got it. And so, false pressure is put on him to lift his productivity, and the same might be true of pressures that may be imposed or implied by the two big chain stores that buy sixty or seventy percent of the produce.

So perhaps we’ve got to look at productivity again nationally in a different way. And if a farmer operating to ninety percent of what he saw as the traditional productivity, which was also degrading his landscape, but ninety percent productivity by his old measure keeps him in permanently good health and good shape, it is far better to look at a system that relates that sort of equation than a farmer whose been striving to do one hundred and two or one hundred and three percent – which he might do for twelve months or two years, and then his soils collapse on him and he goes broke, and the bank has to foreclose, and doesn’t get anything out of it either. Perhaps you see where I’m coming from – that we have to look at productivity in a slightly different way?

Yes, I think I get you, that the notion of productivity should also look at if the land is better managed and can sustain at the same level of productivity for a long period of time, rather than purely looking at the percentage of crop yield. But then, how would you envision we tackle situation with productivity, or protect our farmers from bank pressures and supermarket pressures and the likes?

GJ: Well again, I think it gets back to the policy, and about the rewards.  You see, unless we have these policy parameters in place, we’re going to have the same arguments – they’ll just continue. And the same problems will continue. So you’ve really got to get the aim right for what you want to do: you’ve got to get the soil -water strategic assets declared as such and managed as such; you’ve got to get farmers properly rewarded (and we’ve been through that); you’ve got to get urban Australia really understanding the importance of soil, water and biodiversity, and therefore the importance of farmers, so that if, for example, we might have to pay another half a cent for a kilo of carrots, or another two cents for a litre of milk to ensure that a farmer is properly rewarded for his product, then we pay it gladly. And if there are people that are disadvantaged, then there’s a welfare net to deal with that. But we cannot have farmers being knocked over with unfair prices simply because companies are competing to reduce, reduce, reduce; which is fair enough in principle, but why should the poor old farmer have to deal with that?

And then, we’ve got to refocus the science, so that the science properly supports the farmer in terms of measuring soil fertility, carbon sequestration…if we get all these things in place, then I think we will solve the problem very quickly. But until we do, along with our soils program, which is the practical and proven application on the ground, we won’t maximise the benefit.

I think that sums it up very nicely. And then, final question to both of you: how long do you think it will take for this coordinated approach and solid policy to come about and transform the landscape? Is there much more to be done?

GJ: I think in terms of what I’m trying to do and what Rhonda’s trying to do, I think we’re looking at about a ten to fifteen year programme. There is no magic light switch – you can’t just transform the whole of the agricultural society overnight, because you’re dealing with a hundred and thirty thousand very independent people with their own ideas, et cetera. But the big thing is that we do have the answers, and I think the global imperative…in terms of the opportunities that it provides for our farmers for, perhaps the first time in many, many years, to become sustainably profitable and environmentally sound is going to be there for us to take advantage of – if we can get the proper policy, and fixing the paddock policies in place.

RD: I totally agree with what Michael just said. And in particular, influential people like General Jeffery, who has so many doors he can open – we need people like that to open many more doors, and in time there will be more doors that will open, and people will be coming to us, and far more farmers will be wanting to change.