January Dialogue Summary Report

Last month, more than 45 members of the Composting Collaborative convened at the US Composting Council’s 25th annual conference. The cross-section of individuals engaged in the composting space met to further explore numerous project ideas that were generated during the first Collaborative dialogue in November.

 Collaborative members look over a draft project matrix.

Collaborative members look over a draft project matrix.

To kick things off, the group looked over the first draft of a visualization depicting needed projects in the composting space. With constructive criticism and a clearer vision of how to best convey priorities, the matrix will be developed into a more evolved systems map reflecting the barriers, drivers, and levers present in compost manufacturing.

Next, the dialogue shifted focus and examined seven project ideas that rose to the top after the November dialogue. With a core tenet of the Collaborative to illuminate opportunities and reduce redundancies, two of the seven ideas were tabled with the understanding that USCC committees were in fact already producing similar deliverables. Below are are snapshot of the five remaining project ideas and the discussions the team had about each:

 

Quantify: Compost Manufacturing’s Potential to Create Jobs

It’s widely understood that on a per ton basis, composting creates four times more jobs than landfilling creates. Working from this premise, the group discussed the benefits of focusing on compost manufacturing’s job creation potential in light of the current political climate. Specifically, the attendees debated the merits of a study exploring how many jobs compost manufacturing could potentially create through hauling and processing if a given area were to divert… say 75% of organics from landfill.

This framework was applied with great success in California by using a simple multiplier and the state discovered that it could create 14,000 jobs through the diversion of 75% of its organic waste. However, the group quickly came to the consensus that it would be more catalytic to quantify the employment that composting could bring to a metropolitan area as opposed to a state. Attendees astutely pointed out that Seattle led Washington state’s composting efforts, as did San Francisco in California and New York in New York state. This pattern highlights how localities have generally been more agile than states in piloting or adopting new programs. Similarly, several city government representatives that attended the meeting pointed out that it would be useful in their work, particularly coming from cities that have higher than average unemployment rates.

 Founding Partner BioCycle's Nora Goldstein discusses a potential project with Advisory Committee members Sego Jackson and Jorge Montezuma.

Founding Partner BioCycle's Nora Goldstein discusses a potential project with Advisory Committee members Sego Jackson and Jorge Montezuma.

Explore: Possibilities of Remediating Brownfields and Siting Composting Facilities on Brownfields

In the November dialogue of the Composting Collaborative, remediating brownfields with compost and siting composting operations on brownfields emerged as an exciting concept that addressed several important functions. Amazingly, the United States is home to more than 450,000 brownfield sites, many of which are located in underserved urban communities.

The group discussed how there is significant overlap with areas that have high densities of brownfields and also that the same areas typically have lower than average recycling rates and diversion rates, along with higher than average unemployment. Not only would compost play a big role in remediating the highly-polluted soils of most brownfields, but the sites themselves could serve as important small/mid-scale processing sites.

Acknowledging the potential odor issue, numerous other benefits were mentioned ranging from the opportunity to use the end product to restore urban soils throughout the neighborhood and also apply the compost to nearby urban agriculture efforts. Moreover, the deep wealth of resources and funding the EPA provides in the brownfield space could leverage urban composting endeavors on brownfields. Similarly, BioCycle editor and Collaborative founding partner Nora Goldstein pointed out that Brownfields 2017 could be a proving ground for the concept with a hyper-specific audience to supply feedback.

 

Frame: The Potential for Carbon Credits Applied to Composting Facilities

Designing a carbon credit system to finance composting facilities was a thrilling concept that emerged from the market workshop group during the Collaborative's November dialogue. With widespread understanding that banks rarely make loans for initial facility development or capital expansion, financing composting facilities raises complex and difficult questions.

However, with carbon credit markets in flux, the group determined that initial vetting would be best done with a specialist in the field. While a carbon credit was developed a few years back for compost application itself that did not take off, no entity has pursued facility financing itself through carbon crediting. Additionally, the market for carbon credits is expecting to widen significantly in the coming year when California changes its current policy on compost cover in landfills as an acceptable carbon crediting scheme.

 

Develop: A Sample Business Model

Perhaps no project could be more fundamental to increasing access and infrastructure in composting than helping composters use unassailable business models. Susan Thoman of Cedar Grove Systems and Jeff West of Olympic Organics reinforced the idea that keeping composters in business is essential to moving composting forwards and ensuring momentum isn’t lost. For this reason, the group expanded the original idea of creating a guide for new composters to develop a business model to include how existing composters can improve their own business models, as well. Consensus was reached that this would be a worthwhile endeavor and that the USCC could leverage their reach within the compost manufacturing community to further refine the concept.

 

Investigate: The Ecosystem Services of Composting

 Collaborative members lean-in.

Collaborative members lean-in.

We all know that composting has countless and priceless benefits. But, the lack of a discretely quantified approximation has held back investment and more persuasive policy. Examining the advantages that composting provides through the end product of compost as well as the processing of organics that would otherwise be incinerated or landfilled could serve as a building block and catalyze investment in the composting industry. Further, it would be critical to weave in the financial benefit that compost contributes to improving water quality and preventing erosion, among many others.

The monolithic role model for this idea is ReFed’s example of unlocking and defining value in food waste. Much like ReFed has provided a firm financial framework to ignite action in the realm of wasted food, a quantification of composting’s ecosystem services could shed light on the numerous externalities in the processing, end product, and application of compost.

Charlotte Dreizen