Does Boulder County even need this? 

I've heard, "Well, if it shouldn't go there, where should it go?" to which many of us emphatically reply,

"Nowhere."

Written by PJ, another person I've been fortunate to meet on this journey:

Does Boulder County's proposed composting facility really have to go somewhere?

 

We, as producers of waste and consumers of waste disposal services, need to examine if this facility really "needs to go somewhere".  Colorado, and in particular Boulder, with CU's prestigious Environmental Studies Program, is thought of as a forerunner in environmental stewardship.  In doing whatever possible to keep our land, air and water clean.  Many people moving here cite Colorado's beauty and their love of the outdoors as their biggest reasons for relocating here.  Boulder is now the 7th most expensive town in the country in which to buy property.  Boulder clearly enjoys, promotes and benefits from its status as a "Green City."

 

As part of its Zero Waste initiative, Boulder plans to process more of its own waste in county.  That is an admirable goal.  Taken at face value, Boulder's large composting facility looks like a promising, forward thinking idea.  Processing Boulder County waste as well as the region's.  A facility bigger and better than any other around.  Than most in the entire country.  But has Boulder fallen victim to believing this facility will push forward their goals while having no drawbacks?  Or have promised profits from questionable waste diversion processes usurped investing in better innovations?

 

Ecocycle, Boulder's recycling arm, has been losing money since 2017 when China stopped buying "recyclables." No sales and nowhere to put that stuff led Eco-cycle to find other ways to make money.  It seems Boulder came across San Francisco's Zero Waste platform from 12 years ago and is emulating it.  Copying it verbatim.  Even the Boulder County Zero Foodprint farm and restaurant application pages say "California" on them.  Boulder has even hired a consultant who was a developer of SF's Zero Waste plan over a decade ago.  A plan that garnered tons of praise.  But also a fair amount of bad press, not only for mandating recycling and green waste diversion, which raised waste bills on an already beleaguered population, but also for its compost giveaways touted as "organic compost." Which caused an uproar when found to be called organic because it was "carbon based," not because it was actually made from products that don't have pesticides or pollutants in it, as most people assumed from the name.  Clearly, SF was hiding what was in the finished product. Farmers and home gardeners who had been using the stuff were livid.

 

SF was making compost from green waste, compostables, feedstocks and biosolids.  Just as Boulder is proposing to do.  Biosolids' land application has been known to pollute soil, air and water for decades already.  The National Sierra Club has been vocally opposing biosolids land application for many years, commissioning lab studies and publishing reports on the dangers inherent in the process and the product, and in allowing this industry to flourish.  It is fully known what we are doing to our planet with this rebranded waste, and yet this industry is allowed to continue its egregious polluting.  

 

The worst side effect of this rebranding is that so many environmental groups, which profess to love our earth, are participating in the greenwashing of applying this toxic pollutant as "organic fertilizer" and soil regenerating compost.  Fighting fracking on the one hand, yet pushing to ruin that same precious air, soil and water with this polluted compost concoction.  What's the difference in the end?

 

Although still allowing the practice of biosolids land application, the EPA reported back in 2018 that it is "unable to assess the impact of hundreds of unregulated pollutants in land-applied biosolids on human health and the environment."  And yet CO proudly declares 85% or more of its biosolids are land applied. Certified organic farms can't use it.  Whole Foods, Heinz and Del Monte won't buy produce grown in it.  Why would that be if it is actually beneficial for the soil and the produce grown in it?

 

Even if Boulder takes biosolids off the table, as they offered at the February 17 CU roundtable, green waste mixed with compostable dinnerware is known to be full of PFAS. Even without biosolids in the compost mix, commercial compost is a huge issue. Even if you can somehow set aside the damage being done by commercial composting facilities of any make up, it is clear that after processing, by the industry's own admission, about 25% ends in the landfill.  That is the normal waste amount of the process.  And that is in States that do not test for pollutants or have weaker levels of safety set.  All of the finished product must be landfilled if whatever limits set by the State EPA are surpassed.  Most commercial compost is currently not passing Maine's strict water-protecting PFAS levels.  If the Federal levels are set anywhere close to Maine's levels, most of the country's commercial compost will be landfilled.  Right now, Maine is hesitant to test milk and other food products grown in commercial compost because they fear too many will not pass PFAS levels, and the State will have a food shortage crisis.  PFAS are called forever chemicals because they do not break down, even during incineration.  So getting PFAS out of the soils and water supply will be no small task.  There is no known successful method of removal.

 

Clearly, if the finished compost gets landfilled for toxicity, then the processing site has also become polluted.  So then you have polluted composting sites, along with all the toxic compost that ends up in the landfill anyhow.  And the land applied soils, and water.  The longevity of the commercial composting industry is about to be cut very short.  Why is Boulder County attempting to build one of the largest facilities in the country when the prognosis for viability is poor?

 

All this for a 5-10% diversion of Boulder County's landfill?  And whatever finished compost that passes Colorado's fairly weak toxicity standards is applied to our Open Space, Park, golf and ag lands. Then rain, snow and irrigation soak the compost into our soils, and water runoff drains into our lakes, streams, drinking water wells and reservoirs.  And then we grow food in this soil, with this water (because now we don't have any clean water options), and the plants uptake the pollutants.  We eat it.  Our animals eat it.  If we eat animals that eat it, we now are getting it in our meat, produce, grains, water and air.  

 

As restrictions tighten and increase, as is currently in process, the viability of this facility is questionable at best.  Our country does need to develop waste diversion techniques.  But it needs to figure out a better way to deal with it than this.  Otherwise we are just pushing our problems down the line, downstream and down generations. We need to ask our local government to go back to the drawing board.  To protect our food and water supply and our health.  Maybe even to be the green innovators we thought they were all along.

 

 We should all be examining what all of this available knowledge means for us.  For our landscape, and our health.  Our kids and grandkids.  After all, how can we enjoy our outdoors when we're starving because we've ruined our ag lands and water?  Boulder isn't actually developing or employing best practices.  Or pushing pause on the worst practices.  So do we really need to put this facility somewhere?  Maybe in the landfill where it belongs.  I really hope not.