Compost speech for March 22 2011

Compost speech for March 22 2011

Good afternoon, lets thanks Mayor Taveras for his vision of a community that composts.    My name is Greg Gerritt.  I am the coordinator of the Compost Initiative which is a partnership between Southside Community Land Trust and the Environment Council of Rhode Island Education Fund where I am based.  I want to again thank RISD for hosting us and Olivia Roger, Pamela Kimel,  Ginnie Dunleavey, and Pierre St Germain for their support of today’s event and over the last 18 months.  ECORI.org is not only a sponsor of this event, but their efforts to collect food scrap and get it composted using Ecotope’s MORPH units at events and Farmers markets reminds us that composting food scrap is an idea who’s time has come and just needs a jump start.  I must recognize the work Katherine Brown does to help me, and the informal compost network that has developed in Rhode Island that I rely on so heavily for information, advice, and support.  Christopher, Krystal, Michael, Olivia, Sejal and Vinka.  Thanks.

I have had conversation with many of you about compost, and appreciate the time and knowledge you have shared.  Your presence today is a statement on the importance of compost and that you recognize this is an opportunity for our communities. Those of us putting on this gathering can convene you, provide you with some information, stimulate a discussion, but much more important is what you do when you leave here.

All over the world communities are composting.  From backyard compost piles to large electricity production facilities based on methane collected by anaerobically digesting source separated food scraps, communities are seeing the future.

As expected, in places where the disposal of waste is very expensive, the infrastructure has been developed to collect food scrap so that it can be removed from the waste stream and reprocessed for beneficial use.  I recently read about $160 a ton tipping fees in England, and most Western European countries have a relatively well developed food scrap collection and composting system in place.  Anaerobic digestion facilities as well as windrow compost facilities are common.   In North America, Toronto and San Francisco are among the leaders, with Canada generally well ahead of the United States in the development of systems to collect food scrap and compost it, and California ahead of the curve in the US.

Rhode Island, like much of the Northeast, has a waste system cost structure that does not as easily lend itself to the large scale collection of food scrap and composting.  The $32 a ton tipping fee for municipal waste was set by the RI legislature 20 years ago and remains unchanged.  The $32 a ton fee has not kept up with the cost of disposing of waste, nor the cost of replacing the Central Landfill when it fills. It is also colliding with the changes in the world that make collecting compostables good public policy.   The commercial tipping fee is higher, and may provide us with an opportunity to get started on composting while we work out the kinks.

Collecting and composting food scrap can help Rhode Island reduce pollution and increase community food security while providing new jobs. We are here to further the conversation about how to do this in the unique environment that is Rhode Island with our archaic cost structure and abundant food scrap.  I hope all of you who work with the various pieces of the puzzle walk out of here today a bit more empowered about the possibilities, a bit more ready to tackle the obstacles, and a bit more connected to the partners who will join you in creating these community benefits and economic activity.

During the planning for this event many of you asked if you could speak and/or exhibit today.  I wish I could have accommodated all who asked with a podium and a table.  Alas our time and space constraints force us to have a leaner gathering.  One way we compensated was by including materials from many participants in the packets and picking a representative sample for the very small exhibition area. Our speakers are also just a sampling of the industry and community.  There are glaring omissions such as no one beyond Mayor Tavares from the municipal sector, no one from the restaurant sector or from a supermarket, no turning equipment manufacturers, or vermiculturists -though many of these businesses are represented in the audience.

EPA has been supporting compost development efforts in Rhode Island with encouragement and an ongoing feasibility study for Rhode Island and Bridgeport Connecticut.  I thank them for their efforts to help us learn more as we move forward.  Christine Beling will provide us a bit of an overview on food scrap in America.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation have been my partners in this endeavor from the beginning.  When I need information or advice there are always people at the agencies I can rely upon.  I look forward to what DEM Director Janet Coit and Resource Recovery Director Michael O’Connell will tell us about how they are working to upgrade our system and stop the wasting of our food scrap.  Director Coit is uniquely positioned because DEM both regulates the disposal of waste and promotes Rhode Island agriculture, an industry that will benefit greatly from an increased compost supply.    Resource Recovery currently accepts all of our food scrap for landfilling, thankfully piping the landfill to collect the methane generated in the ground and using it to produce electricity rather than let it all escape.  But Director O’Connell is aware that keeping the food scrap out lengthens the life of the landfill as well as improving our carbon budget and providing an economically valuable resource, and has been welcoming to businesses looking for a way into the compost business in Rhode Island.

The second panel is made up of business people working to convert food scrap into a useful product.  Mike Merner is the proprietor of Earthcare Farm, which has been producing the finest compost for 30 years.  Mike is a shining light for all composters in Rhode Island and he will tell us a little of what it is like to run a composting operation in the Ocean State.

18 months ago I was discussing the compost business with a person at Waste Management and was told that in a few years almost everything we now throw away will be considered a resource and the whole trash business will change.  Waste Management collects from a variety of Rhode Island communities and businesses and is highly involved in the compost business elsewhere in the US.  Senior Manager Terry Bennett will discuss what Waste Management is doing to help Rhode Island move forward and the innovations in collections and hauling we are likely to see soon.

The anaerobic digestion of food scrap allows us to completely capture the potent greenhouse gas methane that would be escaping from a landfill if the food scrap was buried, as well as recycling the plant nutrients that once buried are lost forever.  In a densely populated place like Rhode Island’s central cities, with tons of food scrap per  square mile, this is an intriguing possibility as transport costs for the heavy food scrap can be minimized.  Reese Howle of Orbit Energy is working to develop a digester based electricity production facility in Rhode Island and will report on his particular technology and progress.

In Rhode Island we constantly hear of efforts to develop the knowledge industry.  My favorite parts of the knowledge industry are those sectors that help heal ecosystems while they provide jobs.  My friend and colleague Michael Bradlee has been actively developing innovations applicable to the collection and processing of food scrap.  He will tell us of his work and his vision for what the compost industry could become.

It is a small sample of what we could have heard about today.  As you listen and discuss keep in mind that a compost system will not spring into being full grown, that it will grow and evolve from humble beginnings. I hope all of these speakers will inspire you to ponder how to start and where you fit in.  I hope restaurants, supermarkets, colleges, hospitals, and haulers think about if y’all might jointly put together a commercial composting operation in the metro area specifically serving your industries and how that discussion might begin.  I get the feeling that if we open  the door, get one facility operating with the early adopters and the industries that have the most food scrap to stop trashing, it could set us on the path that will eventually end up in all the food scrap in the state being collected and composted and returned to the land.   I challenge municipal officials to ponder food scrap collection for composting, maybe building on current leaf and yard waste collections, and to discuss this across boundaries looking for economies of scale, and to keep in mind the benefits in food security and the agricultural sectors of the economy as well as the costs when you ponder how this fits in your community.

As much as I look forward to the speakers, I look forward to your comments and your thoughts on how your business and community will get involved.  I will continue to offer my services to connect you, help you find information, and facilitate whatever work there is to do and I look forward to further collaborations.

I now turn you back to Katherine Brown who will facilitate the panels.  Thank you for your time and attention.

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