City defends compost facility, despite lack of certification

A longtime organic gardener is concerned the city isn't doing enough to maintain high standards at its composting facility.

A longtime organic gardener is concerned the city isn’t doing enough to maintain high standards at its composting facility.

Shiela Alexandrovich, who sits on the Agricultural Industry Advisory Committee as a representative of the Growers of Organic Food Yukon, teaches local food growing out of her home in Mount Lorne.

She used to send her students to the city’s compost facility, back when it was organically certified by the Centre for Systems Integration, she wrote in a letter to the editor.

But she doesn’t anymore, since the city lost its certified status after its two-year contract with Boreal Compost Enterprise expired in October last year.

The certification follows the operator, and the city will have to re-apply for it in the future.

“I can hardly believe that they would let this go, that is it not valuable enough to maintain the standards needed for this certification,” she wrote.

“People want to compost, and we need the product. You know how to do it right, so we need more than lip service to the most central ingredient if we are to seriously move towards more food security for the North.”

The city took over operations at the compost facility last November from Boreal Compost Enterprise.

The company’s owner, Garret Gillespie, unsuccessfully bid on a public tender to manage the facility.

He described the outcome as a “recipe for disaster,” claiming the city didn’t have the resources or expertise to see the operation succeed, and he predicted the city would have a tough time receiving its own certification.

David Albisser, the city’s waste and water services manager, said attaining organic certification is a rare feat in the North, let alone in the country, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

“We’ll pursue the certification,” he said at the time.

“We have systems in place that Garret set up that will aid us in doing that. I really don’t think there’s any concern about not being able to attain the high standard that Garret set.”

Miles Hume, the city’s environmental coordinator, said the lack of certification doesn’t affect the final product.

One of the employees at the facility used to work alongside Gillespie, Hume said, and is ensuring that the same high standards are kept.

The city needs to manage the compost facility’s operations for a year before it is eligible to be certified, Hume added.

“It’s something we need to prove that we’re doing over a period of a year,” he said.

“Our product is looking really good and we haven’t had any issues that I know of. We do have the capacity there now.

“There are growing pains with taking over the service, but things are going really well and I don’t think any customers wanting compost have been turned away.”

Upgrades at the facility two years ago have doubled its capacity from when it was just managing residential and landscaping waste, Hume said.

On June 1, the City of Whitehorse passed a bylaw banning organic waste from the landfill.

That means all food scraps, compostable paper and packaging, food-soiled cardboard and waxed cardboard need to be recycled if you’re a restaurant, grocery store or food distributor, according to the city’s website.

This week, Hume announced the city had already doubled the amount of organic waste it collects on a weekly basis from those businesses, to six tonnes up from three tonnes.

About 66 businesses are taking part in the program right now, Hume said, but he’d like to recruit more large-volume participants – mainly restaurants and grocery stores – which make up only 14 of the total businesses in the program.

Earls Kitchen + Bar, for example, has cut down on its waste considerably – it’s gone from having a waste dumpster to an organic dumpster to a small waste cart, Hume said.

“Because tipping fees for organics are much less than waste, they are seeing a cost benefit there,” Hume said.

Businesses can use the organic dumpsters for free, and only have to pay for the collection and tipping fee at the landfill.

There are several important benefits to doing this, Hume said. Jobs are created, the landfill’s lifespan is extended and its surrounding groundwaters will be protected, he said.

By the fall of 2016, the city will start handing out fines to businesses that aren’t sorting organics from their trash, to the tune of $250 per tonne.

Contact Myles Dolphin at


An earlier version of this story misstated when the city will begin fining businesses that don’t sort their organics from their garbage. We’re sorry about the mistake.