Composting Organics In Canada

Bans on landfilling of organic waste streams, commitments to high diversion rates and rollout of curbside collection of residential SSO contribute to the steady growth of composting in Canada.

Peter Gorrie
BioCycle October 2012, Vol. 53, No. 10, p. 27

Organic waste diversion is spreading steadily across Canada, with greater tonnages being collected through residential curbside pick ups and depots, as well as from food processors and others in the industrial, commercial and institutional sectors. At the federal level, Canada’s government has a small presence in organics diversion and composting. It offers occasional financial support, as it did in July with a $500,000 loan to Envirem Organics Inc. for expansion of a facility in New Brunswick that produces a new form of pelletized compost from agriculture, forestry and fishery wastes. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency sets standards for compost products offered for sale. Environment Canada offers some educational information and is compiling a report that compares composting technologies.

The provincial and territorial governments have varying levels of involvement. In most cases, they only license and regulate composting facilities, with a focus on preventing odors and leaks.

Eastern Atlantic Region

The leader among the provinces is Nova Scotia, which banned compostable organic materials from its landfills back in 1998 as part of a waste management strategy approved three years earlier. In 2006, it set a target for waste disposal of no more than 660 pounds/person/year by 2015, compared with 884 pounds in 2010. More aggressive organics diversion is essential to reach that goal.

Tiny Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest province and the only one entirely dependent on groundwater for its drinking water, launched a mandatory waste diversion program called Waste Watch in 2002 to eliminate 65 rudimentary disposal sites and prevent seepage and contamination. The system, covering every household and business, includes organics, which are composted at a central facility operated by New Brunswick-based ADI International Inc. for Island Waste Management Corporation, a quasi government body. The province claims an overall residential diversion rate of 64 percent, with the average household putting out 19 bins of organic material each year, compared with 15 bins of trash.

In New Brunswick, only two of the province’s regions offer residential organics collection. Other areas promote backyard composting. Even so, Statistics Canada says the amount of organic waste “prepared for recycling” in the province increased by 250 percent from 2004 to 2008, which mainly reflects considerable processing of residuals from the forestry, agriculture and fisheries industries.

Quebec

Quebec — with a goal of 60 percent diversion of all organic wastes but a current rate of only 22 percent — is to start banning compostable materials from its landfills in 2015 and plans a complete prohibition as of 2020. A $250 million fund supports public and privately operated composting and anaerobic digestion facilities. Several composting facilities in Quebec were temporarily closed due to odor problems, some stemming from taking too much material from Ontario. But capacity is increasing again, with an expected emphasis on anaerobic digestion. The province says 70 percent of municipalities have organics diversion programs, although many cover only leaves and yard trimmings.

“The responsible management of organic materials will be at the heart of our priorities,” Sustainable Development Minister Pierre Arcand said in June, as he announced a $4 million grant to promote organic materials streams this year. “With this in mind, we will support municipalities and the industrial, commercial and institutional sectors in acquiring modern and effective systems to manage these materials and improve our environmental performance.”

In July 2012, Recyc-Québec hosted a joint action committee meeting to bring together stakeholders in the organics industry to discuss key steps to meeting the diversion goal and complying with the landfill ban. Priority challenges include gaining social acceptance for source separation of organics, establishing collection and transport infrastructure, and increasing research and development related to organics management.

Ontario

In Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, about 40 percent of municipalities — including Toronto and its surrounding suburbs — have curbside organics collections, and more are implementing programs. Combined with tonnages from industrial and commercial sources, the province diverts and composts far more organic wastes than any other. But since local governments, not the province, run the programs, there’s a confusing array of rules for what is allowed in green bins or bags, and a wide range of participation and diversion rates. As almost everywhere across Canada, most organics programs haven’t yet extended into multiunit buildings.

Ontario composting facilities still operate under regulations dating from 1991, and the province hasn’t yet responded to the industry’s repeated requests for updates to reflect best management practices and standards. In a 2011 report, Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller stated: “Despite the Ministry of the Environment considering a program as early as 2002 and acknowledging in 2004 that reaching Ontario’s 60 percent (overall waste diversion) goal would be ‘determined in large part by finding better ways of dealing with the large portion of solid waste that is made up of organic materials,’ there is still no province-wide organic waste diversion program or target.”

The province also has suffered from a shortage of composting facilities, especially when two in southwestern Ontario were closed because of odor complaints. But capacity appears to be catching up to current demand. Toronto has its own anaerobic digester and is building a second. Several municipalities have contracts with privately owned and operated composting facilities — including some that are branches of international corporations — while about 35 percent of the organics collected are processed in municipally owned operations using advanced tunnel technologies. Industrial, commercial and institutional organic wastes go to some of these composters and to on-farm anaerobic digesters that operate under the province’s Feed-in Tariff (FIT). The FIT program pays premium rates for electricity generated by renewable energy sources including the digesters, which convert manure as well as off-farm commercial food wastes and grease into methane.

This fall, Massachusetts-based Harvest Power plans to open Canada’s first anaerobic digester intended to take only food processing wastes as a feedstock. Located near London, Ontario, it will handle 70,000 tons annually. The generator fuelled by the methane it produces will have a 2.85-MW capacity.

Central And Western Canada

Manitoba, in Central Canada, has 40 municipal composting sites, including those that serve its largest cities, Winnipeg and Brandon, and the province is beginning to get involved. It exempts diverted organic wastes from a $10/ton landfill fee, has launched a survey to assess the state of diversion, supported the development of a composting co-op and is planning “to further support organics management in the near future,” according to a spokesperson for Green Manitoba, a provincial agency that focuses on sustainability issues and programs.

In Alberta, which generates more waste per capita than any other province, the capital, Edmonton — spurred by a shortage of landfill space — has operated organics diversion programs and a central composting plant for more than a decade. On the other hand, Calgary, the commercial heart, is just launching a program.

Like many of the other provinces, British Columbia (BC), has little provincial oversight of organics diversion and composting. “Each community collects its own,” says Angela Paley of the BC Recycling Council. But again, municipalities have stepped in. On Vancouver Island, the Regional District of Nanaimo banned organics generated from commercial and institutional sources from its landfill in 2005. Two years later, it launched residential curbside organics collection with a pilot program that is being expanded to the entire municipality. These measures have allowed Nanaimo to achieve a 64 percent total diversion rate; that number is expected to hit 70 percent when the residential program is fully implemented.

More recently, the region around Vancouver, home to two-thirds of the province’s residents, approved a ban on organics in its landfills as of 2015. The measure is spawning residential and commercial programs, and construction of the area’s first anaerobic digester, again by Harvest Power.

Compost Markets

Most composters have local buyers that include landscapers, commercial nurseries, home gardeners and a few farmers. Some municipalities sell or give compost to their residents; those programs are popular, particularly when the material is from leaves and yard trimmings.

The Compost Council of Canada, working with the Canada Food Inspection Agency, created a Compost Quality Alliance (CQA) to set higher and uniform standards for compost. Certification “pulls together strong consistent quality,” says Rod Fry, Envirem’s senior engineer and business developer. “It moves compost from small time to a major replacement for peat moss and other products.

CQA certification is voluntary and currently applies to about 500,000 tons of compost manufactured annually. To help boost compost’s profile, a multiyear field trial is underway on 14 southern Ontario farms. A recent presentation at the Compost Council of Canada’s annual conference noted that in 2010-2011, about 1,150 tons of compost were utilized in the trials, applied at a rate of about 8 tons/acre. Most of the research is being directed at traditional row crops. Research trials are also underway in Nova Scotia, through the province’s agricultural college.

Peter Gorrie is a Contributing Editor to BioCycle.

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