Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario Commentary By Suzanne Armstrong, CFFO Director of Research/ Manager Of Board & Committee Services.
The Ontario government’s proposed strategy to build a circular economy in the province recognizes the economic value of many of the things that we “throw away” into landfills. There is greater economic value in turning trash into treasure whenever this is possible.
On Feb. 12, two of our CFFO staff and two members of the Executive Board were given a tour of the Walker Industries campus which straddles the boundary between Niagara Falls and Thorold, Ont. The campus includes office buildings, a gravel quarry, a working landfill, a recycling and garbage drop-off, a composting facility, and a fertilizer processing facility.
The campus also illustrated the long-term thinking that has emerged as the company has expanded into more and more areas from the original gravel pit operations. Spent gravel pits have been converted into landfills. The company is also doing research on methods to restore the filled landfill sites back to workable productive farmland on the surface. The landfill sites are equipped with a methane capture system, which they have been marketing as voluntary greenhouse gas reduction offsets.
Walker Environmental is the division responsible for the waste-related aspects of the company. Their approach to managing organic wastes fits well with the goal of the Ontario government’s Waste Free strategy. They are focused on processing organic waste materials into products that are valuable and sought after in the market place. This is part of what keeps their business viable and thriving.
Walker Environmental produces two types of fertilizer on the campus. The first is a higher quality compost sold mostly for use in landscaping. This is produced from a well-composted combination of yard waste, kitchen waste, and wood chips. The other fertilizer they produce is more appealing for farmers, since it is less expensive, but also well suited for use on our acidic Ontario soils.
It was the tour of the final fertilizer facilities that were most fascinating to me. Walker Environmental ships in municipal biosolids that have already been processed and treated at the municipal treatment plants from Niagara and Toronto. Although these biosolids look like a suitable soil amendment when they arrive, they are processed even further at the facility. Through a patented process, biosolids are pasteurized and combined with lime. The final product is an excellent agricultural fertilizer (although some of the ammonia smell remains).
According to the Ontario government, “organic wastes make up approximately one third of Ontario’s waste steam.” Organic wastes like kitchen scraps and municipal biosolids are still ending up in landfills in large quantities. When put into landfills, they produce methane, a particularly potent greenhouse gas. Although well-managed landfills can capture much of the methane, organic wastes are far more beneficial when they can be cycled back into the economy and the earth as fertilizers to rebuild soil organic matter. The move to a truly circular economy may be challenging, but organic wastes are an excellent place to start moving in this direction.