Statement to the Special Committee of the Whole, City of Nelson, Jan 30, 2018

The following was stated at the Special Committee of the Whole meeting in Nelson City Council Chambers on Jan 30, 2018 by Bruce Edson.

The last City Council and administration had a plan and trajectory regarding waste issues. This was to get curbside recycling pickup implemented, move the transfer station to Grohman Narrows, and then look at composting pickup. Even though the RDCK has moved forward with a regional composting strategy, it appears no progress has been made by this Council as it nears the end of its mandate.

Well over a year ago I came before City Council to present the a survey that showed support for municipal composting, as well as ask the City to provide adequate resources to become engaged in the regional planning process. I do not think there has been much activity within the city regarding composting since then, other than a brief report by city staff that mostly asked questions.

Since then, the RDCK has crafted a draft plan that they want to move on, and have an established timeline to this effect.

I have now heard, though, that the city is considering a composting ambassador position of some kind. This is the same thing that EarthMatters proposed this year, but did not receive funding from the city for. The point of this project was to work within the community to raise awareness of composting related issues while the city and the RDCK moved forward with planning regrading a regional composting facility.

Now, if the city were to consider to run such an initiative on its own, the optics would be that it is more of a substitute for planning activities related to municipal composting, rather than something that would complement them.

I think that, at this time,  the city would be better served to devote resources to planning activities for a regionally integrated service than to spend money promoting backyard composting.

Since there appears to be little planning activities related to a regional composting facility that have happened up until now, it seems to me this council intends to kick the composting can down the road to the next council. I’d be happy to hear comment from any Councillors on both the idea of a composting ambassador and if they plan to make any progress on regional composting before the municipal election.

Sign the Petition: Regional Organic Waste Solution (CLOSED)


For many years now, Regional District Central Kootenay (RDCK) residents and businesses have called on local governments to coordinate a regional composting system that is able to process the large volume of organic waste, ranging from industrial to residential sources, that backyard composting is unable to handle.  Now, the RDCK is updating their Resource Recovery Plan and is being directed to include significant action on organic waste diversion. Local municipalities are involved as well.  With over 65 percent of the rest of the province already having implemented organic waste diversion, now is the time to show local government that a regional composting system is well supported.  Now is the time to make sure we get the system right.

This petition has been created and is managed by EarthMatters and the West Kootenay EcoSociety.

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City of Nelson staff asks City Council to either entertain or reject the idea of organic waste pick-up.

A proposal by City of Nelson staff asking City Council to either entertain or outright reject the idea of a centralized composting facility and compost pick-up will be tabled at the August 14th meeting of City Council. EarthMatters drafted the following letter as a comment on the proposal.

A link to the proposal follows the letter.


This is to just forward some thoughts on the proposal from the City regarding composting, to be tabled August 14th:

1. The proposal background is cursory regarding both costing and options for carrying out a municipal composting process.
2. The RDCK is just beginning the process of creating a strategy for organics diversion.

Given these two things, I think it is problematic to present Council with an option to reject at this stage based on the materials presented. The City should look closely at the RDCK organics diversion plan, which will evolve over coming months. The document presented is little more than a draft for discussion (for example, the draft is not yet costed in any manner). The City should also be directed to do much more in depth work looking at options for the City, and what they would cost, in concert with the RDCK process. For example, a split truck could be used (alternating between compost and recyclables) with an aftermarket manual/automatic hybrid bin lifter (something which is common practice). This option, which incorporates some of the existing infrastructure and also addresses some accessibility issues outlined in the report, was not explored.

Also, regarding the suggestion that the City promote the RDCK survey, note that it has been closed for over a month, and also contains limited questioning regarding organics diversion specifically. However, there will be a program of consultation and engagement associated with the roll-out of the draft organics recovery plan. The City has a great opportunity to be a part of this process.

I think coming to a reject decision at this time, and based on this report, would be, at very least, premature.

Bruce Edson

Proposal from the City of Nelson Staff regarding Organics Diversion

2005 Organics Recovery Project Report Analysis #2 : Methods for Organic Waste Processing

Is centralized composting the only solution for diverting organic wastes from the landfill in our region? It certainly isn’t, but according to the 2005 RDCK study, it is the best one.

The study looked at a number of options including anaerobic digestion, waste to energy, biofuel production, vermiculture, lime stabilization, and of course large scale composting.

All available feedstocks (sources of organic wastes) in our area were included, including those that might come from the Castlegar pulpmill,  waste treatment plants, hospitals, restaurants, grocery stores, agriculture, and private residences.

Lets take a quick look at the options they considered:

  • Anaerobic digestion: Organic wastes are broken down in the absence of oxygen, usually in an enclosed container. Biogas (methane) is produced. A crude form of this occurs within landfills, and some landfills collect the resulting biogas for energy production.
  • Waste to Energy: Basically, this is just burning the compost to produce heat which is used to produce  energy. Waste to energy can also be used for many kinds of garbage – think “incinerator with a generator”.
  • Biofuel production: Similar to anaerobic digestion, the production of biofuels from organic wastes involves a low oxygen process called pyrolysis, which can produce a range liquid and gaseous fuels. The city of Surrey is in the process of implementing this technology, which will be used for biosolids (from human waste treatment plants). These kind of wastes can cause issues with composting do to regulations regarding sale of the finished product.
  • Vermiculture: Using worms to facilitate the breakdown of organic matter, creating worm castings and a “vermicompost” product valuable to gardeners.
  • Lime Stabilization : The process of adding lime to raise the ph and make the organic material unfavorable to pathogens – sometimes used for biosolids from waste treatment plants.
  • Composting: Decomposition of organic matter in the presence of air and moisture. Can be done in controlled vessels or using a number of  open air or modified open air techniques.

The authors of the study determined that composting was the only technique worthy of further consideration since the above choices exhibited one or more of the following:

  • Inability to handle the variety of waste streams available.
  • Too expensive for the volume of material or value of end product.
  • Limited local market for end products.
  • Technology is still under development of has had limited commercial uptake.

The report suggested that the volumes of organic waste in the Nelson – Castlegar – Trail corridor could justify the development of a central composting facility. For more rural areas such as RDCK east, where there are less volumes produced, they said that transportation costs could make participation in the facility impractical. For such outlying areas, it suggested backyard composting could be a solution.



RDCK officially begins Resource Recovery Plan Update planning process

Public consultation plan layed out, Consultant could take more control after key RDCK staff position altered.

On Wednesday June 7th the RDCK launched the planning process for its Resource Recovery Plan Amendment with their invite-only “small scale solutions” organics recovery workshop at the Chamber of Commerce building at Railtown in Nelson.  Two more workshops were held the next day including one for municipalities and first nations and one for major waste haulers and producers, such as grocers, restaurants, hospitals, etc..

The workshops are a part of a consultation process that will inform the  organics diversion portion of the Resource Recovery Plan Update.  The RDCK has also invited the public to fill out a survey, which includes one significant question on composting (rated 1 to 5):  “It is important to introduce programs for diverting food waste from the landfill, even if it increases user costs”.

Prior to the workshops, a questionnaire was also sent out to regional municipalities and waste haulers, which included questions aimed at gauging interest in hauling organics, likely a part of any centralized composting approach.

These activities were largely led by a consultant hired by the RDCK  – Duncan based Maura Walker and Associates who bills at $150/hour.   The RDCK will be paying that firm approximately $20,000  for 110 hours of work on the organics diversion portions of  the plan.  The 3 workshops last week, and associated tasks,  took up 36 hours of that time. The consultant may also have a separate contract to work on other aspects of the plan.

After this consultation process, the consultant will then produce potential scenarios for organics recovery and bring these to the Resource Recovery Plan Advisory Committee (RRPAC) for analysis and comment.  According to Walker, the RRPAC is a primary avenue for public consultation  portion of the plan development.  It consists  of various government, professional and community members, but is also open to the public.  Up until now, the committee has met infrequently and been relatively inactive. That may or may not change as we enter the planning phase of the Resource Recovery plan update.

Communications directed to the RDCK regarding the new plan are being directed to Travis Barrington, a new hire of the RDCK from Nanaimo.  He replaces Shari Imada,  who last year replaced Nicole Ward as Environmental Services Coordinator.  Barrington’s position, however, has a title that indicates a lowered tier – Resource Recovery Technician.  This may be reflected in his apparent lack of experience – he has worked as an environmental educator at a recycling facility in Nanaimo since his graduation from Vancouver Island College with a B.Sc..  It is unclear how the responsibilities of Barringtons’s position will differ from those of Imada who was to largely lead the Resource Recovery Update process.

If lack of relevant planning experience, lack of knowledge of local context, and lack of experience with the RDCK politics are any indication, Barrington will almost certainly not be expected to fully take the reigns from Imada.   Who will then?

Mike Morrison, Environmental Services Manager for the RDCK,  may be taking the wheel,  but it is also very likely  that the process will be weighted instead to the consultant, given lack of appropriate staff resources and Morrison’s existing workload.  A scenario with relatively unfettered consultant control could create issues though,  especially considering the limited time budgeted for the consultant to do a complex job,  and the fact that the consultant will be operating mostly  from Vancouver Island with limited knowledge of local context and reduced local management capacity.  The consultant also has numerous other projects ongoing.

The situation demands the question – as the planning process moves forward, will the new hire Barrington be more of an employee of the RDCK or more of an employee of the consultant, Maura Walker and Associates?  If the later, we can expect a plan almost entirely crafted outside of the Kootenays, with a mostly academic regional perspective. Local research  and involvement will be restricted to the few hours budgeted to pay the consultant, and be largely achieved remotely.

Limited time and funding may produce pressures to table a plan that defaults to the existing status quo – something that the RDCK has been directed to significantly improve upon.  Anything more evolved would require more time and funding from the consultant, or more work from appropriately experienced RDCK staff, which does not seem to currently exist unless it is done by Mike Morrison.  A danger exists that if a weak plan is tabled and promoted, it may be more a reflection of the lack of will and capacity from the RDCK (and the consultant)  than what is  economically or environmentally good for the Kootenays.  The same could be true for the will of municipal governments to participate in a significant plan, since they would be an essential partner for the RDCK for any significant regional composting endeavor.








2005 Organics Recovery Project Report Analysis #1 : Overview

As a jumping off point for a discussion about composting in the RDCK area, a number of posts here will be devoted to looking at the 2005 study which analyzed opportunities and impacts of pursuing aggressive organics recovery in the RDCK and RDKB. Western BioResources Consulting Ltd. and Footprint Environmental Strategies were contracted to do the report by the RDCK and RDKB.    The report investigated the following topics:

  • Feedstock analysis (where the organic waste is coming from).
  • Organics recovery technology review (how to do it).
  • Regulatory review (regulations that pertain to industrial composting).
  • Financial analysis (including collection costs).
  • Processing, landfilling, and the overall waste management system.
  • Marketing the compost (finished product).

Some of the main findings of the report include:

  • The amount of organic material generated within the RDCK is about 19,800 tonnes.
  • The report says the preferred options for managing organic wastes is backyard composting and the development of composting facilities where volumes of organic waste generated is great enough to warrant costs.
  • Alternating weekly compost/waste pickup will result in an approximately 6% increased collection cost and a one time start up cost of $30/ household.
  • The development of a centralized composting facility will, overall, reduce waste management costs.
  • A large number of environmental and indirect economic benefits are expected.

Over the coming weeks we will be looking at the various findings of the report, and how they apply to the organics diversion planning in the RDCK currently underway.


Audio Interview – Mateo Ocejo, NetZero Waste


Mateo Ocejo is the owner of NetZero Waste Waste, which operates a number of centralized industrial composting facilities in BC, utilizing a Gore-Tex tarp cover system which traps moisture, reduces smell, and allows CO2 and oxygen circulation.  The system is classified as an “in-vessel”  system, which reduces regulatory burden, and also utilizes a relatively simpler aerated static pile process.

On the February 21, 2017 broadcast of “The EcoCentric” on CJLY,  Mateo talked about municipal composting, and how it might work in Nelson and the RDCK.

Topics of discussion included transportation issues related to rural areas, how trucks could be used in Nelson for collection, and cost issues associated with a centralized system.






Press Release, Dec 2016


EarthMatters releases composting survey results, asks City to start planning with RDCK.


With the release its municipal composting survey results, EarthMatters is asking the City of Nelson to become more engaged with the RDCK regarding planning for municipal composting.

At the City Council Committee of the Whole meeting on Dec. 19th, EarthMatters Coordinator Bruce Edson said if the City of Nelson does not become actively involved in the planning process, future options could be reduced. He said pressure to adopt a sub-optimal composting plan could bind the City to ongoing costs and lock-in marginal or even negative environmental outcomes.

Edson said the survey, completed by 157 residents, is meant to inform the RDCK and the City of Nelson as they draft their organics recovery plans, and foster a community discussion about municipal composting.

Notably, the survey indicates that 68 percent of respondents are in favor of a centralized composting facility for the entire region, and 58 percent of respondents want putting food scraps in the garbage to be illegal.

“62 percent of respondents already compost,” said Edson. “One of the questions with any new composting strategy is how these people will be impacted. Will they quit composting at home? And if they continue, will they be expected to pay for a program they do not use?”

According to the survey, people who do not currently compost often have issues with wildlife (34%) or no space (20%).

“Another interesting result is that 34 percent of people said they would be willing to compost other’s food scraps,” said Edson. “While this might be easier said than done, it does show that compost is a locally valuable resource or there is a real willingness of citizens to be part of a solution.

“Both the City and the RDCK should be looking closely at the cost of any system relative to the overall benefit, as well as their respective roles. The City of Nelson would do well to be an active part of the planning process starting as soon as possible, because we in Nelson will certainly will be heavily impacted by whatever the RDCK comes up with.”

One possible model involves the City doing compost pick-up, utilizing their present trucks, and the RDCK doing the composting. The deactivated Salmo landfill has been suggested as one potential composting site.

“Our region is rural, dispersed, and has a relatively low population. This leads to some significant transportation issues,” said Edson. “Since so many people in our region actively compost, we need to look at who we going to be serving with this, and at what cost/benefit – both for the environment and economically.”

The survey also asked other questions including how much people would pay for a compost pick-up and processing service. It did not apply to industrial food waste, such as that from restaurants or grocery stores, or yard waste.

The survey and contact information for EarthMatters can be found at