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COMPOST CHRONICLES – Chapter 2: The business model and compostable bags

(Image: Ben Kerckx, Pixabay.com)

By DAVID JOHNSON
ArmchairMayor.ca Contributor

This is the next installment of the ongoing Chronical of the Kamloops City Composting Pilot Project.

This year I will be sharing the details, trials, tribulations and hopefully successes as we test out the service provided by the City, our home being on a pilot project route.

NOTE: If you are not on a predetermined pilot project route, you did not receive the mailers, or the bins.  In that case, consider this series as introductory fodder if and/or when the full program proceeds.

——

Number 2 in the series focusses on the business model; the plan and costs during this one-year pilot program and the business plan if/when the program is expanded to the entire city.

Attached is news on the issue regarding compostable bags that has surfaced as a primary interest to many pilot program participants, details why not allowing them is a short-term reality and also discusses how this could change to allowing compostable bags in a full City program.

——

To gain knowledge on the city’s perspective on the pilot and hopefully the ongoing program, I was able to sit down with City Staff:
– Gen Farrow – Streets and Environmental Services Manager
– Marcia Dick – Solid Waste Services Manager
– Christine Nickel – Communications and Community Engagement Advisor
– Graham Lamont – Sanitation and Sign Shop Supervisor

… and I am very grateful for their accessibility and willingness to engage,
the goal being to get information out to participants of the pilot program and all city residents.

What happens to our compost?

Our green bin is dumped into one half of our existing two-sided garbage collection trucks.  From there it is unloaded at a designated spot at the City yard on Bunker Road.  There will be a future column specific to the City side of that task.

Here we have to pause and recognise that there are two timelines to deal with:
– during the pilot program
– after a potential full city-wide program rollout

For the year of the Compost Pilot Project, disposal of our compost is directly linked to the Kamloops biosolids contract presently held by Arrow Transportation through one of their subsidiaries.

Since 2018, biosolids generated at the Kamloops Sewage Treatment Facility are mixed with fibre supplements, then trucked by Arrow to their Ingerbelle Compost Facility in Princeton, where it is treated and turned into Class A compost, which they then sell.

For our residential compost pilot project, those same Arrow trucks stop at the Bunker Road site on their way from the Kamloops Sewage Treatment Facility (KSTF) on its way out of town.  The compost waste is dumped on top of the Arrow trucks biosolids load.

The city decided, for the pilot project year, to simply add this service to the existing Arrow contract.  This provides time to determine exactly what the actual ongoing needs of a full Kamloops composting program will involve.  To put it simply: we are all learning about this, including the City, and they decided it makes more sense to use an already existing contract, for now.

The City is in no way attached to Arrow regarding any future residential compost program contract.  This is a short term and temporary solution, and it shows the cautious approach being taken by the City, who have decided to crawl before it can walk.  The amount of the compost being added to the biosolids contract is described as ‘small potatoes’ compared to the biosolid tonnage Arrow already handles for us.

This strikes me as a prudent move.  We wouldn’t want to be tied into an ongoing contract with any company, then learn through our own experience, that it’s not what best suits our needs.

The City pays Arrow $87.23 per ton to pick up and haul away our biosolids from the Kamloops Sewage Treatment Facility, and our pilot program residential compost materials are being added to that, at the same price.

At the conclusion of the pilot program, if the City decides that the residential compost program is to be an ongoing, permanent program that includes compost pickup from all addresses in Kamloops, a Request for Proposal (RFP) competitive bid process will be initiated, and proposal bids will be considered.

Apparently (news to me) there are a number of larger and smaller companies in B.C. and beyond that would be interested in a long-term residential compost contract like this, and their business model shows why … in case you missed that part above; they get paid to accept our raw material, and are paid a profit again when they sell it.

To say the least … I’m in the wrong business

This model appears to be the norm for collection and processing of these kinds of waste products, for all regions and Cities that are engaged in composing.  I was told that no one is going to pay you, or even just accept for free, waste materials that are not a final value-added product, at this scale. That’s just the reality.

Beyond this pilot year, an ongoing contract will likely cost more per ton than our $87 biosolid deal, for two reasons:
1) The volume of a full program will require dealing with contaminants (things that should not be in the mix), which means man hours for sorting,
2) Processing for mixed compost like this is more intensive than biosolids alone.

By example; Arrow knows exactly what materials they are going to get from the Kamloops sewage treatment facility, but what we throw into our compost bins increases the potential risk of contamination, and that will increase the price from a future provider.  This is another industry reality.

The question becomes, how will this future ongoing cost be paid for should the full program rollout?

Simple — this will be a new bill that the city will have to pay.

This tonnage rate and any potential tax increase (via the garbage utility bill) levied on taxpayers is a potential future I will be paying close attention to.  I have already said in a previous column that there is a planned increased to our garbage collection utility bill, to pay for potential increased costs due to composting as stated by Councillor Dale Bass back in March … even though the original plan was for the RecycleBC revenues to be directly used to pay for any composting program.  In reality, this composting program should already be paid for without any increased taxes.

But I digress.

This rolls us into the Compostable Bag problem.

At this time, for the pilot project period, Arrow cannot deal with compostable bags as it’s just not in their existing processes to have them included at a high volume, and to them, at their site, it is a contaminant.  This is why we are not, at this time, allowed to use them.

The City recognises residents’ desire to be able to use compostable bags, and (alongside other needs) will look at including the requirement for the allowance of compostable bags in any future RFP, for a future full-program roll out.

In other words, the City will consider making it a basic requirement in future contracts.  Just be aware that in order for compostable bags to be allowed, it is possible the tonnage rate paid will likely increase, because they will have to be able to deal with them … and nothing is free.

For those in the pilot project today, creative use of paper bags, pizza boxes at the bottom of your bin or putting yard waste in first before sloppy kitchen scraps are dumped, are all doable short-term solutions, but just know that for this year it’s just something we will have to deal with, keeping in mind that this could change later and we may be allowed to use compostable bags in an expanded program.

How can you let the City know about compostable bags or any issue important to you:

To let the City know that you want compostable bags to be included in the future contract, or to report any other issue or difficulties you are experiencing with the pilot project, the City wants your engagement by filling out the survey at the City website before Oct. 29, the deadline for the initial survey.

If you are on a pilot route, regardless if you are participating by using the compost bin or not, the City is interested in your feedback.  Go to the website link and “CLICK TO SUBSCRIBE”.

This will put you on the email list for the newsletter which will provide you with a link to the survey. As the year progresses, you will receive emails for future surveys and news, directly from the City staff responsible for the program.

Curbside Organic Waste Collection Program

I’ve been on this list since the beginning, and it looks like the City is not interested in email spamming, so it’s not problematic to join up from that perspective.

There are people at the City actually reading everything sent, and are monitoring social media conversations regarding this subject … they really want to know.  Direct input via the survey will help the City understand what works well, what needs improvement, and what the barriers to participation are, and this can include the issue of compostable bags if this is important to you.

Please feel free to comment below here at the Armchair Mayor, as well as at the City site,
with any tips, tricks or unique problems you have come across as a pilot participant.

David Johnson is a Kamloops resident, community volunteer and self described maven of all things Canadian.

About Mel Rothenburger (8573 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

4 Comments on COMPOST CHRONICLES – Chapter 2: The business model and compostable bags

  1. Excellent work here David. Thank you for unpacking the details.

    My household is also part of the 1 year pilot program. Originally from Vancouver, we were used to composting and the associated issues. Two things stick out.

    First, while I understand why our garbage collection should be moved to a two week frequency (composting of all kitchen scraps reduces household waste tremendously), I do not see the rationale for dropping our recycling pick-up to a two week frequency. The compost program has made almost no difference to the amount of recycling material we generate. Our bin, like those of most of our neighbors, is overflowing at the end of every two week period. I get that the city is trying to find a cost efficient model that does not involve buying more garbage trucks and I certainly support that. A simple solution would be for the city to offer all residences in the pilot the option to get a significantly larger recycle bin. That option has not been offered and I anticipate problems as people get tired of fighting their recycling bin. In fact the most obvious option will be that people start to toss excess recycling into the garbage.

    2nd concern is bears. In Juniper, about 30% of households currently keep their garbage bins outside all summer. They are technically compliant with the city’s ineffective bear bylaw because they do not put their garbage out on the street all week, just outside their house (because we all know how bears respect property lines). What will happen when all residences are faced with really smelly composting bins this summer ? I expect 50-70% will choose to keep them outside. Add that the smell will worse than typical household garbage because the bins themselves become disgusting slop houses – the bears will be running wild. Last summer my neighbor got bluff charged by a bear that had gotten into another neighbor’s garbage. We are going to be putting a lot of bears down next year, or worse, someone, maybe a kid walking to school, is going to get hurt. I don’t know the solution to this problem. Better bagging options by the time the program goes city wide may help. Lockable bins, or as you mentioned some kind of city paid bin cleaning service. I guess on the bright side, the dead bears can be composted too…

    • David Johnson // October 22, 2021 at 5:02 PM // Reply

      Great comments Pedro.

      A future piece will include a bit on recycle bins and sizes. Briefly; The city knows all about your recycle bin concerns, they know a lot of people want bigger bins, and have ordered a bunch of new recycle bins … like 6 months ago … and they are caught in the worldwide logistics crap, with no expected date of arrival. If its planned to be on the same boat as my long awaited video card, they may be another year. They had to go with the pilot program as is (pointless to hold it off just for that), and the issue is on their short list.

      I have the same problem

      And yes, as the garbage truck only has two cavities, increasing recycle pickup to weekly will mean more trucks, more staffing costs, and … probably increased taxes. I dont see that as being on their short list, but more likely the longer term dream.

      LoL … composting bears fer trespassing … theres an image.
      Seriously, wildlife is on their radar as a top issue, and they are gathering data. Please do the survey, thats where they are collecting info. If you come up with any potential solutions, add those too.
      Re: the smelly bit, ya. I pointed that out in my first precursor column (cut/paste address below)

      https://armchairmayor.ca/2021/06/29/johnson-composting-works-but-apparently-we-shouldnt-worry-about-cost/

      and I touched on it in Chronicle chapter #1.

      Honestly, I dont have any answers for you … at the end of the day, I’m just a writer with a smelly bin myself. I do believe that all these issues still leave us with a need to try, learn, bugger stuff up, and hopefully figure it out without too much political backlash or increase in utility taxes, and i counsel others to have the same approach.

      Thanks for sounding off,
      City personnel are reading these comments,
      one of the bonuses of living in a smaller centre … they really do care.

  2. First and foremost a full audit of the carbon footprint of the whole program is in order.
    Speaking of bio-solids, I would like to know what contaminants Arrows expects to find in the organic waste bins…is there anything worse than bio-solids?
    Lastly, if a household does indeed pay a lot of attention to minimize waste and its carbon footprint it should be rewarded even from a taxation point of view. In other words, if a household consumes less it obviously spends less. But not necessarily from a taxation point of view. Just like water which allows for a basic amount at a certain base price, waste generated by a household should increase substantially beyond a basic amount.

    • David Johnson // October 18, 2021 at 3:27 PM // Reply

      Thanks for your comments Pierre.

      Regarding Arrow expectation of contaminants and bio-solids; with the KSTF product they pick up, they know precisely what it is to a finite degree. These bio-solids being worse or not than anything else is irrelevant, it lacks a high degree of variability (literally only what we flush or dump down the sink), and given precise measurable processes it goes through, its not just manageable, but the final product is forecastable, thereby profitable.

      Residential composting is pretty much at the other end of the scale. Every pound or ton will have a % of stuff in it that doesnt belong or is a surprise, and that creates uncertainty for a processor. In business terms that is risk, and any risk will be mitigated with a price that protects … well … their bottom line. The very contingency of what you or I aimlessly drop in the bin creates this variability … which means increased cost to us.

      What do they expect to find in our bins? plastics, glass, metal, Styrofoam … meandering 2 yr old small child toys … it runs the gambit, in the end … variability.

      Where I wont generally disagree with the call for a carbon footprint study on this, assessing the carbon neutrality of a single household, and taxation geared towards our own personal stewardship (the more we do, the less we pay) is brilliant, and I would not be surprised to see a Scandinavian country doing this, here it would mean weighing every compost bin at pickup visa-vie the weight of our landfill and recycle bin, and an onboard and City based data collection system capable of the grunt work … I’ll just leave that there, and you can judge how that will go, and how much it would cost us.

      Thanks for chiming in.

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