May 24, 2005 | General


BioCycle May 2005, Vol. 46, No. 5, p. 48
A lifecycle analysis of Nova Scotia’s groundbreaking solid waste diversion program initiatives produces a net savings to the province.
Barry Friesen

NOVA SCOTIA, Canada’s Solid Waste-Resource Management Strategy, first released in 1995 was, and still is, world-renowned. The crown jewel of Nova Scotia’s strategy is the acceptance of the single largest component of the waste stream as a resource – organics.
By banning all compostable organics from disposal, the province shot ahead of many others in diverting waste from disposal. Municipalities have risen to the challenge by providing residences with curbside collection of all organic residuals (including meat, fish and bones) for composting. Businesses are no exception and are required to comply with all the disposal bans.
From its population of about one million, Nova Scotia diverts over 100,000 metric tons per year of source-separated municipal organics for composting. As of spring 2005, about 75 percent of residents had curbside collection for all organics, which are being composted at about 18 municipal and commercial composting operations. All Nova Scotia residents are served with curbside collection of recyclables. Diversion programs for additional organics from commercial and other municipal sources (pulp and paper operations, municipal biosolids, etc.) continue to be developed.
As waste diversion services increased, so have waste management costs. Overall, according to a study conducted by GPI Atlantic – a nonprofit, research-based company in the province – Nova Scotia’s new waste management infrastructure led to an increase in operating and amortized costs from $48.6 million or $53/person ($Cdn) before the Solid Waste-Resource Management Strategy to $72.5 million or $77/person in GY 2000-2001. The cost of landfilling now bottoms out at around $65/metric ton, sometimes reaching almost double that figure. Prior to the province’s strategy, many communities had extremely low short-term costs in managing solid waste. Through practices of open burning, rudimentary landfilling and, simply, ignorance, many communities paid very little out-of-pocket expenses for solid waste-resource management.
Progressive solid waste-resource management programs therefore look costly because of increased operating costs. For instance, with source-separated organics, recycling and garbage collection, truck routes have almost tripled compared to when there was only one single pick up. Collection costs to municipalities and businesses have therefore increased. But, conventional accounting systems ignore a wide range of hidden benefits from composting and recycling wastes rather than incinerating or landfilling these materials.
To assess the Nova Scotia program from this overall perspective, GPI Atlantic undertook a full cost-benefit analysis approach. Released in July, 2004, the analysis took into account greenhouse gas emissions, liability, efficiency, increased employment, pollutant releases and energy savings. Though not all of these items showed a positive balance, the data overall yielded dramatic results: Despite monetary costs of close to $80 million annually for municipalities, the researchers concluded “… the new system has more than paid for itself from a full cost-benefit perspective, while producing new jobs and substantial environmental benefits.”
The analysis found that, in fiscal 2000/2001, Nova Scotia’s solid waste-resource management system produced net savings of $31 million to $168 million, compared to the system from five years earlier, which translates into a savings of $33 to $178 for each Nova Scotian. The huge range in net savings is attributed to benefits resulting from reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (a low of $3.3 million to a high of $84 million) and a reduction of air pollutant emissions (a low of $9.5 million and a high of $67 million). In general, notes GPI Atlantic, the figures produced were very conservative. Even if greenhouse gas (GHG) credits were completely discounted, the data show there is still more benefit in the new system.
Among the benefits cited in the analysis were: $6.5 million to $9 million in increased direct and spin-off employment; $18.8 million in extended landfill life; $9.5 million in diversion credits, funding for approved programs and investment in value-added manufacturing related to the recycling industry; and $1.1 to $1.7 million in increased export revenue of environmental goods and services. Among the costs are $72.5 million in operating and amortized costs, up to $1.8 million in nuisance costs related to handling organics; and $4.9 million to $9.5 million in costs to increase participation.
One critical factor that had to be taken into account was the fact that while the infrastructure costs of the new Solid Waste-Resource Management Strategy were significantly higher than the old, the reality was that the old system was not sustainable. For example, notes GPI Atlantic, a primary landfill (Sackville) was plagued by leachate problems, rodents and pests, foul odors and leaked gas, producing environmental and health costs that didn’t show up in the conventional accounts. The situation became such a problem that Halifax Metropolitan Authority, which ran the landfill, compensated Sackville residents and affected individuals with $10.4 million for “loss of quality of life and property values.” The GPI factors those sorts of costs into its equations.
The GPI report found that, on a per capita basis, Nova Scotia disposes of 39 percent less waste than the Canadian average, and that Halifax Regional Municipality (the largest population center in the province) has the highest waste diversion rate (59 percent in 2001) of any municipality in Canada – twice the average. Nova Scotia’s overall diversion rate of 46 percent is due in large part to its composting system.
Twelve key recommendations related to areas where the province hadn’t yet completed its goals and where improvements could be made. These include a monitoring system to track reductions in household hazardous waste, developing a plan to divert construction and demolition debris from landfills (C&D accounts for 25 to 30 percent of the MSW stream still being landfilled), and completion of the province’s stewardship agreements with all packaging and industry sectors. Also noted was that despite waste diversion achievements, very little has been done in Nova Scotia to address overall consumption and to reduce waste at its source.
In the end, GPI Atlantic, through its Genuine Progress Index, has provided the province and others with the tools necessary for continuing its good work. Rather than simply a pat on the back for a job well done, the report has given vindication to the hard work and determination for every Nova Scotian who has participated in recycling and composting. It has also given credence to the value of research in garnering support from those who participate in environmental change and in facing those who resist making this happen.
Barry Friesen, P.E., is Solid Waste-Resource Manager with the Nova Scotia Department of Environment and Labour. A copy of the full GPI Atlantic Report is available at

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