My hopes go up and down and up again!

A year ago, a group of citizens got together to answer the question: how can we reduce waste in St. John’s? Composting was one of the answers.

In June 2019, the province launched a consultation about solid waste management. This was part of a comprehensive review, the first since the strategy was released in 2002. The consultation included meetings with management authorities across the province, feedback from various forums, an online questionnaire that received 107 responses and 25 written submissions from the public, educational institutions, private individuals and public organizations.

The results of that review were made public in December 2019 in the report “Finishing What We Started.” What it shows about participant perceptions and composting is not surprising:

  • Composting is key to meet the goals of the provincial strategy and mitigate emissions and other environmental impacts from landfills;
  • Composting costs money;
  • There can be many approaches to managing organics: community, regional or provincial, and private.

The consultation report made two recommendations:

  • The Multi-Materials Stewardship Board should lead development of a provincial organic waste management strategy;
  • The organic waste management strategy should be developed against the backdrop of implementing an appropriate provincial landfill ban for organic waste in five years.

These recommendations are great! But they must be first assessed and approved by the province. Although I know the provincial government is working on it, I don’t trust that we’ll see comprehensive composting programs in the near future.

Towns like Cape St. George, on the west coast of Newfoundland, give me hope. In 2015, the town received the Sustainable Communities Award from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities for its resourceful approach and results with different aspects of their composting and recycling programs including environmental (waste and GHG reduction), economic (cost reductions, town and school financial benefits), and social (community pride in town’s leadership, student involvement, less littering and dumping in natural areas.)

So, I started thinking that maybe St. John’s didn’t need to wait for the province, and could start its own program. Because of differences in population size and logistics associated with the construction of a facility (if it were a centralized system) costs and risks would be way higher here than in Cape St. George.

I’ve since learned from City staff that because waste in St. John’s is managed by the regional board and because of associated costs, the City wouldn’t build such a facility on its own. What the City does is promote and facilitate composting in partnership with the Botanical Garden. While they’ve done an amazing job, it’s still far from a city-wide program.

My hopes rose again when I learned that two organizations right here in our province, with funding from the Multi-Material Stewardship Board (MMSB), have started community composting programs, with enormous environmental, social, and economic benefits and the potential to expand across the city.

  • The Western Environment Centre in Corner Brook, which started a community composting program in 2017 and is now partnering up with the City of Corner Brook.
  • In St. John’s, the Association communautaire francophone de Saint-Jean launched its program in November 2020 and I’m eager to learn from and work with them. These are examples of community composting programmes.

Community Composting has the potential to tackle the issues of costs and risks associated with the construction of large facilities and also yield social and environmental benefits including:

  • Creating social enterprises that can provide jobs to youth and marginalized people who also suffer food insecurity because of low income. Compared to landfills and incinerators, composting sustains four times more jobs per ton of waste (Institute for Self-Reliance, 2014).
  • Increased local vitality by bringing people together to work on a common project where they learn new skills and make new community connections and, by extension, promote local inclusion and empowerment.
  • Embedding a culture of composting know-how in the community by involving people who don’t know about composting and also people who do know but haven’t been able to start composting because of lack of space, upfront costs of bins, uncertainty about what to do with compost, fear of pests and odours, etc.
  • Improving the quality of existing soil and thus boosting local food production in community gardens, which is key to food sovereignty in our city and province.
  • Increased community engagement by giving participants the opportunity to be active in caring for the environment and community.
  • Ability to closely monitor the materials going into the bins to minimize contamination and ensure the final product is high-quality. This is really the key, considering that contamination is a concern for the city regarding large-scale composting as Sandy Hickman told CBC in an interview in 2017.
  • Help residents to comply with the new four-bag limit implemented in January 2021 by the City of St. John’s.
  • Help the city and the province move closer towards climate action goals and extend the life of the Robin Hood Bay landfill and associated costs of closing the site and opening another further from the city centre.


community composting programs across the city benefitting individuals, neighbourhoods, community gardens, schools, businesses, and more!

I’ll be exploring these possibilities with the support of the Zero Waste Action Team (Social Justice Coop of NL), the Food Animator team (Food First NL’s St. John’s Food Assessment), Stella’s Circle, and the Food Producers Forum. I’ll be having conversations with current practitioners, conducting surveys, and hosting a panel during International Composting Week in May.

A large component will be a pilot community composting program in downtown St. John’s, which has received funding from the City of St. John’s (Community Grant) and Food First NL (Food Assessment Program).

Stay tuned and contact me if you would like to help! –

2 Responses to Planning for a City-wide Composting Program

  1. Brian says:

    While large scale composting should be a serious goal for the city of St John’s, and any other city that lacks a composting culture, I believe community composting programs still hold a high value.
    Let’s say if multiple community composting programs started in the next month and somehow a large scale composting system was implemented shortly afterwards, those small scale community composting programs would still be highly valuable and can still be exist in a city with an industrial composter. As you mentioned, quality and contamination are a large concern and a community composting system can be more intentional and better monitored.
    I would hope that a push for city wide composting continues as there are many people who will not compost if it’s not easy. Some won’t even compost if it’s not mandatory. Additionally, a community composter cannot handle animal products, oil, grease, etc. while industrial composters can.

    Thanks for sharing this post 🙂

  2. Viviana Ramirez Luna says:

    Thanks so much, Brian, for your comment! I agree that community and industrial composting can complement each other. They’d meet different needs and benefit different groups. Stay tuned for progress on the project and feel free to contact me. Take care!

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