May 23, 2005 | General


BioCycle May 2005, Vol. 46, No. 5, p. 43
Article analyzes how many households have access to collection programs, systems now in use, their costs – and what is needed to aggressively move forward.
Dan Lantz and Bronwen Smith

IN ONTARIO, composting is entering the next phase as it moves from its current leaf and yard focus to broader management of other organic materials, specifically residential food residuals. The primary driver in this expansion is the Ontario Ministry of the Environment’s (MOE) 2008 voluntary goal of 60 percent diversion from disposal of all wastes from all sectors – single family, multifamily and institutional, commercial and industrial (IC&I) sources. Municipalities recognize the limitations of curbside recycling programs and understand that to reach the 60 percent target, curbside collection of food residuals and other compostable materials must be initiated. A second stimulus for the push to increase collection of household organics is that most of the major urban centers in Ontario do not have their own landfill site or recognize that they have to make their existing site last as long as possible. Getting approvals for a landfill in Ontario is an extremely slow and onerous process.
Currently, four million households out of the total 4.6 million households in the province have access to curbside collection and depot collection of residential organics, albeit the majority of these programs are for seasonal leaf and yard trimmings collection. Table 1 provides a detailed breakdown of the 435,000 metric tons of residential organics collected in Ontario in 2003, as compared to 2002. Table 2 describes the major source separated organics collection programs in Ontario in 2003.
Reviewing the state of source separated organics (SSO) collection in the province, it is clear that few incentive based or disincentive based measures are necessary to get municipalities to embrace SSO diversion as a means of increasing diversion from disposal. Currently, municipalities totaling more than 6.5 million people, representing more than 50 percent of the population of the province, already have or are in the planning process for a curbside organics collection program and are expected to have full-scale programs in place for (at least) all single family dwellings by 2007, one year ahead of the MOE voluntary 60 percent diversion target. This includes all of the major centers in the province including the Cities of Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton and London and the Regional Municipalities of Peel, York, Durham, Halton, Niagara and Waterloo.
Combined, it is anticipated that when these programs are more mature (by approximately 2009), the recovery of SSO will total between approximately 330,000 and 470,000 metric tons per year depending on the materials accepted in each of the programs. Examples of three different types of programs and acceptable materials for each are as follows:
o Low Diversion: All food scraps; household plants, including soil;
o Medium Diversion: Everything in the low diversion scenario plus: soiled paper towels, tissues; soiled paper food packaging – fast food paper packaging, ice cream boxes, muffin paper, flour and sugar bags; some newspaper and boxboard (used to wrap food residuals); and paper coffee cups, paper plates.
o High Diversion: Everything in the low and medium diversion scenarios plus: diapers, sanitary products; and animal waste, bedding (e.g., from bird/hamster cages), litter, pet food.
Generally, the choice of what to include in the program is contingent on the options available for processing. The low and, for the most part, medium diversion scenarios can be processed in facilities employing any type of technology (i.e., windrow to in-vessel to anaerobic digestion), but the high diversion scenario would require a high technology approach (i.e., enclosed in-vessel, anaerobic digestion).
The estimated number of metric tons of organics that could be diverted under the low, medium and high diversion scenarios are summarized below. Also calculated are the impact of these SSO tonnages on the residential diversion rate (based on an overall residential generation rate of 400 kg per capita for the province) and overall provincial diversion rate (includes residential and IC&I wastes or 1,000 kg per capita for the province):
Low diversion: 328,600 metric tons; increase of 6.8 percent in residential diversion rate and 2.7 percent overall.
Medium diversion: 400,900 metric tons; increase of 8.4 percent in residential diversion rate and 3.3 percent overall.
High diversion: 473,500 metric tons; increase of 9.9 percent in residential diversion rate and 3.9 percent overall.
Ten years ago, the biggest issue surrounding separate collection of food residuals was how to collect them. Food residuals take up a small amount of space, but because of their wet and odorous nature, they had to be collected weekly and in their own compartment on a truck. With the introduction of the new cocollection vehicles, the issues surrounding the collection of food residuals have been minimized. (See separate article in this special report on food residuals collection).
To determine the cost for the collection of organics for each of the three diversion scenarios – low, medium and high diversion – a number of existing household organics collection programs were modeled in both urban and suburban environments. The assumptions used in the modeling were consistent with assumptions used in modeling exercises that recently have been completed for two regional municipalities in the Province in order to develop their organics diversion strategies. The results of the analyses completed suggest the following collection costs (including all amortized capital and operating) for organics under cocollection systems:
o Low Diversion Scenario – $80 per metric ton
o Medium Diversion Scenario – $70 per metric ton
o High Diversion Scenario – $60 per metric ton
The results suggested that for highly urban environments the collection cost could be lower than $60 per metric ton. However, for the analysis of the cost for the program across the large urban centers in the Province, the lowest cost of $60 per metric ton is assumed.
The processing costs for organics were calculated as well. Open windrow composting of leaves and yard trimmings in Ontario is estimated at $45/metric ton (capital and operating). The same processing technology – with SSO added in with the leaves and yard trimmings – is $70/metric ton. Medium technology (enclosed aerated windrows) for those same feedstocks is $85/ton; High technology (in-vessel composting) is $110/metric ton and $130/metric ton net for processing through anaerobic digestion.
In completing the analysis, no one specific technology under any of the low, medium or high technology approaches has been singled out or adopted. All of the technologies are considered capable of managing the streams with some limiting factors. Factors that will affect which system is chosen are more related to items such as proposed feedstocks, siting constraints, odor management, etc.
The total costs (collection and processing) to manage SSO in Ontario are outlined in Table 3. The combined collection and processing costs for the anticipated recovered tonnages (328,600 to 473,500 metric tons of household organics) from single family dwellings in the large urban municipalities in Ontario would be between $49.3 million to $80.5 million. On an annual basis, assuming 100 percent participation, the cost per household ranges from approximately $24 to $37 per year.
There are a number of key shortfalls that have been identified that are keeping composting from reaching its full potential in the province including:
o Composting is not seen as an essential part of the overall waste management strategy. It is still considered a luxury for diverting material from disposal.
o Some jurisdictions consider landfilling food residuals to be a reasonable option as they have established gas collection systems to pull off the methane and then use this methane to generate electricity. Having the food residuals removed would reduce the potential methane generation of the landfill site.
o Product regulations are extremely restrictive and limit flexibility in product manufacturing and product arrays.
o Industry growth in composting is still being limited because of its high cost relative to landfilling (Greater Toronto Area municipalities pay approximately $55 per metric ton ($42USD/ton) delivered and disposed).
o MOE guidelines for composting facility operations are not easy to understand and the application of these guidelines is inconsistent. Enforcement tends to be punitive rather than mitigative.
o The cost and timing associated with finding a site and getting approvals for the site are high. The NIMBY syndrome stretches out the approval time.
There is a lack of municipal, provincial and federal government support, e.g., through specifying the mandatory use of compost in appropriate projects, to promote a sustainable, high value end market for the compost products produced.
o The inconsistent nature of the postconsumer food residuals stream makes the composting process more difficult to manage.
o In order to secure the necessary bonding for the facility, the private sector needs a guarantee of metric tons, lengths of contracts and insurance of being able to continue operations, even through temporary upsets in the process. Considering these factors, combined with the high capital cost associated with some of the technologies, it can be difficult for the private sector to attract sufficient backing and interest in a facility.
Composting is naturally evolving. With municipalities seeking to increase their diversion rates, they are looking to food residuals as the largest single component still in the waste stream. However, it is not a lack of available capital that is keeping organics diversion from reaching its potential. Other issues preventing development include an arduous approvals process, an inconsistent application of standards and restrictive regulations on compost quality.
The private sector has indicated that investment capital would be forthcoming with a business and policy environment more supportive of organics recovery and product development. Therefore, it is incumbent on all levels of government, in combination with industry, to work together if the diversion potential of source separated organics is to be realized in the Province of Ontario.
Dan Lantz is a Partner and is the Business and Practice Leader in Solid Waste Management at MacViro Consultants Inc. He can be reached at (905) 475-7270 x466 or at Bronwen Smith is a Technical Analyst in Solid Waste Management at MacViro Consultants Inc. She can be reached at (905) 475-7270 x306 or at

Sign up