Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Iqaluit May 14, 2014 - 11:08 am

Iqaluit council agrees to hear Arctic composter’s advice

Jim Little warns that city’s “windrow compost” plan will fail

PETER VARGA
Arctic compost pioneer Jim Little used to collect household waste for compost from households in Iqaluit between 2004 until the start of 2013. He hopes to demonstrate the project to the city once again. Participating households used to gather their waste in green bins, pictured, which he then loaded into a similar pickup truck. (PHOTO BY PETER VARGA)
Arctic compost pioneer Jim Little used to collect household waste for compost from households in Iqaluit between 2004 until the start of 2013. He hopes to demonstrate the project to the city once again. Participating households used to gather their waste in green bins, pictured, which he then loaded into a similar pickup truck. (PHOTO BY PETER VARGA)

The City of Iqaluit’s proposed composting program is doomed to fail, according to Jim Little, a local expert who has successfully run a composting program in the community for almost nine years.

Passed by council on Jan. 28, the city’s solid waste management plan includes a new waste site with a dump that will replace the overflowing West 40 landfill, as well as facilities for recyclable material, hazardous waste, a re-use centre – and composting.

“From what I see, there are still more decisions to be made in the composting part of the waste management plan,” Little told council at a regular meeting May 13.

“Knowing that you folks will be making some decisions in this regard in the future, I would really like to see you make decisions that are fully informed,” said Little, who then offered to do a series of workshops on composting.

Councillors agreed, and promised to set a schedule to hear about Little’s findings.

“I’ve been asking for this since the solid waste management plan came through,” said Coun. Kenny Bell. “We’re told we should be doing all these things, but we’re not provided with any information, so I’m in.

“I really don’t understand the composting process, and I’m more than willing to learn.”

Composting degrades plant matter, food and other organic waste into fertile soil, which can be used for planting. Separating compostable matter helps lessen the amount of garbage that makes it into the landfill.

The city’s waste plan calls for windrow composting, which is done in the open air. Little says this type of composting simply won’t work in the Arctic.

“I hope this isn’t planned,” he told Nunatsiaq News after the meeting. “Because if they proceed the way it’s set up now, it’ll fail.”

Public documents on the city’s website do not describe how the city’s windrow composting plan would work.

The documents claim that such composting “is feasible” in an Arctic environment, and refer to “the experiences” of Whitehorse and Yellowknife.

Little ran a composting program in the city from 2004 until the start of 2013, under a non-profit organization called the Bill Mackenzie Humanitarian Society, which he founded. Up to 100 households took part in the program.

Each of these separated and collected their compostable household waste in two bins, which Little would pick up on a weekly basis, and accumulate at a site near the city’s landfill.

He describes the operation as strictly “out of pocket.” Much of it was funded through government grants that support environmental initiatives, he said.

“We charged $25 a year per family,” Little said. “Most families didn’t pay anything. It was just a token.

“But we got a lot of goodwill in the community, and a lot of support — and I don’t know how you measure that.”

He recalled academic researchers were astonished to find that Little’s composting project produced “class-A” soil, fit for agricultural use.

“We did it,” he said. “And it took quite a while for us to figure it out – but it’s the Arctic cold that’s the secret. The fact that (the compost) is frozen for eight months of the year means that it’s simply a storage problem for eight months of the year, so that our labour costs are one-third.”

The Bill Mackenzie Society used the soil to grow flowers and leafy plants in a greenhouse, he said.

“We started out doing flowers, because we didn’t think vegetables would do much here,” Little recalled.  “But we were really pleasantly surprised. It’s just phenomenal, the growth you can expect from certain plants.”

Little believes the city could also capitalize on the potential to grow food out of composted soil in greenhouses.

“We can grow tons of food here. I see that in the future.”

Little’s project came to a halt at the start of 2013, he said, when his compost-collection pickup truck broke down.

The composting enthusiast, who served as a city councillor from 2007 to 2010, said he does not believe the city can run a similar program on its own, throughout the entire community.

“I don’t see that it could be run by the city right now,” he told council at the May 13 meeting.

“It would be a huge expenditure for the city to hire somebody with the training and the background to be able to do that.”

Success calls for “an incentive to make money, to make it work, to have a finished product that has value,” Little said, adding he believes this is only possible as a private enterprise.

Until then, Little said he is ready to describe to city council and administration how a composting program would work in the city.

“We’re both trying to ride the same horse, so let’s work together,” he said. “These workshops are going to give me a good opportunity to express how we (the Bill Mackenzie Humanitarian Society) had it worked out to be sustainable.”

 

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