New Biogas Standard Anticipates Resource Recovery Laws for Commercial Food Waste

The Canadian Biogas Association (CBA) has recently released a new proposed standard, the Canadian Anaerobic Digestion (AD) Guideline, with a “view to assist[ing] stakeholders in siting, design, approval, and operations of AD facilities that process food and other organic waste materials in Canada.”   The timing for the release of the new standard, with comments due September 11, 2019, could not be more opportune.

AD as Regulatory Strategy

AD has long been one of the few relatively unblemished waste-to-energy technologies and both biogas and digestate are valuable commodities products as by-products of the AD process.  More notably, AD has emerged as a solution to the industrial, commercial and institutional (IC&I) sector’s increasing regulatory obligations over resource efficiency and environmental impacts related to food waste and organics:

1) Circular Economy for IC&I Food Waste and Organics

There is a growing list of municipal, regional and provincial initiatives to impose partial or even full bans on the disposal of organic waste, including food waste.   Ontario, in fact, has proposed a province-wide ban on organic and food waste as part of its innovative Food and Organic Waste Framework.

In conjunction with the prohibitions on landfilling food waste and organics, the province is also overhauling its IC&I waste regulation to expressly require the resource recovery of food waste and organics, which may include:

  • Expanding the breadth of food and organic waste covered by the regulation.
  • Imposing regulatory obligations upon the IC&I sector to support waste reduction and resource recovery.
  • Ensuring a beneficial use for all recovered food and organic waste.
  • Supporting processing technologies to recover organic resources from disposal streams for beneficial uses, where source separation is not feasible.
  • Increasing measures to promote the quality of recovered organic material streams, such as requirements to remove food waste from packaging or prohibitions on deliberate contamination of source separated streams.

In other words, the Framework would require drastically increasing the commercial food waste and organics management obligations of the IC&I sector, for which AD is a clear business and regulatory solution.

2) Clean Fuel Standard Requires Greater Biogas Availability

The development of the federal government low carbon or “Clean Fuel Standard” has been years in the making, leading up to the June 2019 Proposed Regulatory Approach for the Clean Fuel Standard.   This proposed standard includes a requirement that the lifecycle carbon intensity of liquid fuels be reduced by 10-12% from 2016 standards by 2030, consistent with similar regulatory requirements in the Province of British Columbia, the European Union and elsewhere.

To meet these ambitious targets, the Clean Fuel Standard expressly endorses the increased reliance upon low carbon biofuels such as renewable methane biogas.  The proposed AD Guideline, in turn, facilitates increased biogas production to meet this coming demand.

With the impending convergence of circular economy laws and low carbon standards applying to the IC&I food waste and organics, the sector will want to embrace AD as both good business and long-term compliance.

Jonathan D. Cocker heads the Firm’s Environmental Practice Group in Canada and is an active member of firm Global Consumer Goods & Retail and Energy, Mining and Infrastructure groups. Mr. Cocker provides advice and representation to multinational companies on a variety of environment, health and safety matters, including product content, dangerous goods transportation, GHS, regulated wastes, consumer product and food safety, extended producer responsibilities and contaminated lands matters. He appears before both EHS tribunals and civil courts across Canada. Mr. Cocker is a frequent speaker and writer on EHS matters, an active participant on EHS issues in a number of national and international industry associations and the recent author of the first edition of The Environment and Climate Change Law Review (Canada chapter) and the upcoming Encyclopedia of Environmental Law (Chemicals chapter).