New research aims to evaluate spent stone wool substrate and greenhouse organics management options in Essex County

May 17, 2021

Walker Industries (Walker) and the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers (OGVG) recently entered into a coordinated partnership to examine waste management options and collection strategies for spent stone wool substrates, vines and other organic greenhouse waste in Essex County.

In Ontario, stone wool slabs are one of the main substrates used in greenhouse vegetable production, however limited processes currently exist to manage the spent slabs in an environmentally friendly manner. Walker, Canada’s largest fully-integrated resource recovery company, has developed a method in which to process and recycle spent stone wool slabs by separating the stone wool from the plastic encasement and grinding it to a size that can facilitate its re-use.  The primary re-use preference is to add the ground stone wool as a bulking agent in compost, which would then be used to create soil blends, effectively diverting the material from a landfill. However, with the recent emergence of the tomato brown rugose fruit virus (ToBRFV), there are concerns surrounding the possibility of pathogen survival during composting.

Accordingly, Walker and OGVG plan to undertake a study which evaluates the efficacy of Walker’s composting processing in the deactivation of the ToBRFV. This virus is remarkably environmentally stable and as it is relatively new to Canada, little to no research has been conducted on viable viral deactivation methods for greenhouse waste. As a result, there is currently a moratorium on land application of spent vines and growing media, forcing many Ontario greenhouse growers to landfill their organic material at a high cost. Consequently, the results of this study could effectively result in the diversion of thousands of tonnes of plant material and spent stone wool slabs from landfills by providing the option to safely and effectively compost these materials.

Supporting this initiative, Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (Vineland) and Grodan will be sharing their extensive research and greenhouse experience with Walker and OGVG,  in order to develop a complete picture of the greenhouse waste management challenges in Essex County. This includes collaboration on an analysis to identify the proportion and volumes of available spent stone wool substrates (and other compostable greenhouse waste) in the Leamington/Kingsville area; research to consider a range of greenhouse organic waste collection and processing options for the region; and, formulation of greenhouse waste collection and processing options suitable for the Leamington/Kingsville area, considering factors such as cost, transportation distances, collection options, and economic and environmental benefits and barriers.

As part of the collaboration, Vineland will be creating a survey to be distributed to interested growers in order to help gather first hand information on greenhouse waste management challenges and barriers to adoption. This survey will be ready for distribution in March 2021, so please keep an eye out for the link if you are interested in completing it, or reach out to your Grodan sales representative or OGVG for further information.

The importance of the project was recently recognized by the Greenhouse Competiveness and Innovative Initiative (GCII), administered by the Agricultural Adaptation Council. The GCII funding requires organization(OGVG) and industry (Walker) collaboration. Vineland is a not-for-profit organization funded in part by the Canadian Agricultural Partnership and delivers innovative products, solutions and services through an integrated and collaborative cross-country network. Grodan is a leader in the supply of innovative stone wool substrate solutions for the professional horticultural based on Precision Growing principles.