One of CMA’s core values is to be a responsible educator in bringing the reality of composting operations to all stakeholders striving for zero waste, mitigating climate change through carbon sequestration, and replenishing our soils and the environment with compost. In this blog series, we have invited Clinton Sander with A1 Organics to share his thoughts on compostables, contamination, and accountability. Clinton joined A1 Organics in July 2018. He has spent the last eight years working in the natural foods industry creating marketing initiatives, brand campaigns, and innovative merchandising techniques. He is passionate about sustainability, family, and giving back to your community. Clinton has seen first-hand the importance and value of diverting organic material away from landfills within a commercial retail food environment.

Compost Contamination-Solvable or Not?

Diverting food, wood, paper packaging and other organic materials from the landfill has great value and incredible environmental impacts. This natural resource can be processed into rich nutrient and microbial dense black gold, commonly known as compost. We continue to see more and more diversion programs emerging in the industry, which is fantastic, but with that increase in more diverse feed stocks, this progress often comes with the risk of more contamination.

As we all continue with our sustainable efforts, who is responsible for keeping the compost stream clean? Are the generators or package producers responsible? Are the creators of diversion mandates and programs responsible? Are the local commercial composters and commercial haulers responsible? Who is benefiting the most and who is not? Perhaps a better question is, who is not responsible?

Stakeholders that built these programs care about getting it right, and many of the publicly available composting programs we enjoy today were built on the efforts of many passionate and engaged organizations. Can we take the enthusiasm folks have for waste diversion and making great compost and apply it to solving problems with contamination? If so, our role at CMA and throughout our industry is  to get everyone working from the facts and realities of where contamination comes from, why it happens, and how  we tackle it within complex systems that are not always connected. Composters buy, invent, modify and pioneer many ways to take contamination out of their  feedstocks and finished products, while this does not address the root problem upstream. Without real awareness of the problem, and a plan to work on solutions to contamination, compost facilities will continue to face rising costs, and may potentially limit the feedstocks they are willing to take in.

Composters are a part of the solution by impacting the narrative with feedback on processing options, and composters can and should provide real-world feedback and results on the effectiveness of composting methods in breaking down products labeled as compostable. However, outside of collaborative efforts inspired by the CMA partnership to do this, composters are forced to reject loads and charge violation fees to maintain a clean feedstock stream.  But this doesn’t solve the contamination issue and often sends desired organics to the landfill. As a collective group, we need to have a paradigm shift and change the emphasis away from composters and haulers shouldering the responsibility for contamination, to the generators, municipalities, and/or companies producing the feedstock streams. If you are a compostable products manufacturer or distributor, are you working to assess contamination in the compost streams of your customers?  As generators, are you doing regular assessments of your compost bin materials to ensure there is no cross-contamination in them from non-compostables? Doing a contamination audit on a regular basis will help educate you on both the challenges and opportunities to do more better.

We want to hear from YOU on what you are doing to take responsibility to help keep feedstocks clean, or how you think we should engage on this issue. In our next blog, we will talk about what general categories of contamination there are, and where we might want to focus our effort to address them. We want to hear from YOU, so please send comments through our quick 6 question survey. We look forward to sharing our results in the next installment!

Part 2 is now available! Click here.