Waste not, want not

Calgary processor turns discarded food, construction waste and sulfur into fertilizer

Thousands of kilograms of food are thrown out the back door of Calgary grocery stores each day, but one entrepreneur has found a way to turn that unwanted material into fertilizer.

Bio-Cycle Solutions started about 12 years ago when Alberta legislation on manure management changed. Neil Wiens and a partner started a composting business to help livestock producers deal with excess manure.

A self-described scavenger, he spied piles of gypsum in an industrial area of southeast Calgary and diverted that construction waste to his compost mix to make fertilizer.

“I was one of those guys who stood at the landfill and said, ‘I’ll take that,’ ” he said.

He developed a new product four years ago called Bio-Sul, a mix of 70 percent elemental sulfur and 30 percent compost.

“We did a major value add when we added the sulfur,” he said.

“We went from a soil amendment that you have to put on at five tonnes per acre down to a fertilizer at 200 pounds per acre.”

Product development took some experimentation to avoid creating hydrogen sulfide or a fire hazard. A grey clumpy product was eventually developed for spreading on canola and cereals.

“For the farmer, it has become a very inexpensive, simple way of getting sulfur nutrition,” he said.

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The product is sold in bulk and spread in the fall as a top dressing. Bio-Cycle recommends that it apply the product because specialized equipment is required to prevent clumping. It is spread once every four years.

He is also working with private researchers to assess the product’s efficacy. He sees this as a growing business opportunity to repurpose an unwanted product as more municipalities prohibit organics from landfills.

Clearing away sulfur from sour gas facilities is a service that benefits all, he added.

Alberta gas wells produce 2.5 to four milion tonnes of sulfur a year. Most is exported. This year, he expects to divert 70,000 tonnes of organics out of Alberta landfills and 20,000 to 50,000 tonnes of sulfur from gas companies.

He has worked with a six member board of directors to create three companies: Bio-Cycle Solution is the marketing side, Biocan processes the materials and Envirocan is a collection service.

Wiens said the concept has been a major success and has gone from three employees to about 100 people in four years.

Envirocan trucks go out daily to pick up one cubic metre containers holding 300 kilograms from grocery stores in Calgary, Edmonton and Lethbridge.

Material also comes from restaurants, food distribution centres and micro breweries.

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The food often looks fine, but an entire pallet or container could be thrown away because of a refrigeration problem, expiry dates or other issues. A single Superstore in Calgary fills four containers a day.

Vegetables, fruit, fluids, meat, eggs, dairy products, bread, brewers’ byproducts and cardboard are accepted and delivered to a processing facility in southeast Calgary.

Everything is conveyed into a machine that separates plastic bags and macerates the food into a grey goo that goes to compost facilities at Acme, Strathmore and Penhold. The sulfur is mixed in at the composting sites.

Manure comes from the Calgary Stampede, Spruce Meadows and racetracks.

The plant works six days a week, 12 hours a day and is growing be-cause national grocery store chains such as Sobeys and Loblaws want the service in other cities.

“It has increased our expansion plans probably a little bit faster than we anticipated, but it is all good,” he said.

His next move will probably be to grocery stores in Saskatchewan and set up more composting facilities.

The fertilizer is registered with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and the Alberta government has registered the composting sites.

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