The sight of logging trucks hauling mountains of lumber out of town is nothing new for Lake Cowichan residents. However, one town councillor says there is another valuable resource we’re sending out, one that most of us don’t think twice about but which could provide real benefits to the community if it stayed: compost.
“Why are we shipping away our waste when it can actually be turned into a resource?” asked councillor Bob Day.
Day said it was knowledge of where garbage from the Lake ends up (it goes to Bings Creek and from there its loaded onto a container and shipped to Washington State) that got him thinking about the town’s waste management.
“Why are we exporting the easiest component of waste — the compostable waste — out of our community when we could be using it here and it could be such a benefit?”
It was in 2014, after he learned from a community member about “in-vessel composting,” that Day began researching possible alternative ways of dealing with the town’s organic waste.
In-vessel composting involves collecting organic materials — not just food refuse but also materials like yard clippings and wood chips — and depositing them in a long, rotating cylindrical container that is insulated to aid the compost’s natural heating process.
“It turns and it keeps adding oxygen, and that speeds up the composting process like when you go outside and turn your [backyard] compost,” said Day. “Well this one is continuously turning and because it’s turning this one gets up to about 160 degrees and stays there.”
The materials go in one end and 10 to 14 days later exit the other as fertilizer.
Earlier this year, when Day and Mayor Ross Forrest were in Winnipeg for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Conference, they toured The Forks, a shopping and dining district that manages its organic waste using an in-vessel composter called a Biovator.
Day said he would like to see the town invest in a Biovator or similar apparatus and use it to process local organic waste. The resulting fertilizer could be used in the town’s gardens and parks, or could be packaged and sold.
The Biovator comes in five sizes and ranges in price from $15,000 to $50,000.
Since the summer there has been an ongoing discussion of our waste management system at the town’s monthly Economic and Sustainable Development Committee meetings.
At the Oct. 11 meeting, councillor Tim McGonigle said by the end of 2016 they will have two full years of data on the town’s organic collections program, which should be sufficient to determine the feasibility of adopting an in-vessel composting strategy. He said it would not be wise for them to rush a decision before then.
“With one year of data and not 100 per cent participation I think it’s difficult to know what will be the size of the in-vessel composter that we would need,” said McGonigle.
Chief administrative officer Joseph Fernandez said the councillor’s points were valid.
“The other thing we need to look at is that we may get all those numbers, we may get the cost, but we need to look at the cost versus the benefits,” Fernandez added. “Is there a recovery on investment? If there isn’t then it may not make a lot of sense to go that route.”
Day, who chairs the Economic and Sustainable Development Committee, asked if a report on the town’s organic collection numbers could be ready for the committee’s February 2017 meeting. He said he hopes they can move forward on this topic.
“Should we wait for the regional district to do this? Why bother, because we’re still shipping [compost] when we could actually keep it here and use it,” he said.