Last December during a staff meeting, we got into a discussion about the importance of this Editorial page in BioCycle always conveying optimism about organics recycling and our mission, now 58-years old, to conserve natural resources and build healthy soils. BioCycle’s founding publisher and editor, Jerome Goldstein, was an eternal optimist whose passion, vision and grit inspired many — including our staff — to stay on the expansive path to a truly sustainable planet that cherishes and preserves its natural resources, no matter the odds.
Over the decades, despite the odds favoring conventional practices such as landfilling and chemical agriculture and landscaping, organics recycling grew into an industry. Millions of people at work and home source separate their organics for composting and anaerobic digestion. Businesses discover savings. Municipal officials tap the benefits that compost and mulch offer for storm water management. Golf course superintendents battle drought and turf disease with compost-based soil amendments. In those communities, water is cleaner and soils are healthier, landfills are emitting less methane and more people are employed.
The journey on this expansive path to a truly sustainable planet was aided at times by public policies, such as states banning disposal of yard trimmings in the late 1980s and early 1990s. But for the most part, the journey has been void of laws requiring organic waste streams to be recycled into high value products such as compost, biogas and digestate. Today’s organics recycling industry got to where it is on its merits and the tenacity, foresight and commitment of the companies, public officials and individuals involved. But the industry also got to where it is today because of federal legislative acts such as the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts that have helped to frame and give economic, environmental and social value to organics recycling’s merits.
Markets for recycled organics clearly benefit from policies that encourage renewable energy, clean water and clean air, and that move the needle on drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But, very importantly, those markets don’t rely on those policies, primarily because they have been far and few between since 1960 when BioCycle first began. Instead, markets for recycled organics rely on their performance, for example: Compost’s ability to help soils retain moisture, infiltrate storm water and sequester carbon … Anaerobic digestion’s ability to capture the energy value of organics and manage nutrients in impaired watersheds … Corporations’ ability to meet zero waste goals and increase sustainability of their operations … Communities’ ability to grow food on vacant lots by improving soil health with compost made from neighborhood scraps.
Optimists are tasked with finding the upside, defined as “the positive or favorable aspect of something.” Jerry Goldstein trained us well in that department. And on the expansive path to a truly sustainable planet that cherishes and preserves its natural resources, it is often necessary to double down, defined in this context “to significantly increase or strengthen effort, investment, or resolve toward some goal, strategy, or action so as to maximize the potential yield as a result.”
Organics recyclers, and those who benefit from the acts of organics recycling, are no strangers to that definition of double down. So from this optimist to everyone on the path to a truly sustainable planet, let’s Double Down on the Upside.