Dysart chews on organic waste management

By Sue Tiffin

Dysart et al is looking for options to better manage waste in the municipality.

At a Nov. 10 committee-of-the-whole meeting, environmental manager John Watson presented a report to council about food waste organics composting, detailing what is currently happening in the municipality, his research findings from other jurisdictions in Ontario, provincial legislation and policy around food waste organics composting, and potential options for Dysart to consider, in response to a request for such information by Councillor John Smith at a Sept. 8 meeting.

In 2015, about 60 per cent of the 3.7 million tonnes of food and organic waste Ontarians generated was sent to landfill, according to Watson’s report.

“When these valuable materials end up in a landfill, they contribute to climate change,” reads the report. “As food and organic waste breaks down in an oxygen-deprived environment, it creates methane, a potent greenhouse gas.”

In 2019, Watson’s report reads, Dysart et al managed 2,223 metric tonnes of garbage from 7,083 single-family and multi-family households.
“It is a generally accepted practice that approximately 30 to 50 per cent of garbage is food waste organics. This means in 2019, approximately 667 to 1,111 metric tonnes of residential food waste organics was managed by Dysart (as garbage).”

Last year, Dysart et al began offering backyard composters and digesters for sale at the Haliburton landfill for backyard use at a cost – $39 for a composter and $83 for a digester – comparable to other nearby municipalities, although some municipalities subsidize the cost of the composters to make them more affordable for all households.

“Backyard composters use aerobic decomposition (with air) and can decompose fruits and vegetables, tea bags and coffee grounds, and small amounts of leaf and yard waste, into humus,” reads the report. “Digesters use anaerobic decomposition (lack of air) and decompose cooked food, baked goods, dairy products, meat and bones, and other food waste. No humus is produced.”

Dysart also supports research around behaviour and attitudes about composting being conducted for Abbey Gardens by a Trent University student, and has partnered with U-Links Centre for Community-Based Research on an application to the Federal Climate Change Action and Awareness Fund to support food waste reduction, backyard composting promotion and education, and climate change environmental education.

Haliburton County’s climate change mitigation plan includes recommendations to continue to support and promote backyard composting, and explore a potential for organics diversion for yard waste and food waste at landfill and community sites.

In researching programs in neighbouring communities, Watson found local municipalities are responsible for garbage disposal while the county takes responsibility for recycling and food waste organics in the County of Peterborough, which has 15 transfer stations, five which accept food waste organics.

“Food waste organics are currently hauled to the City of Peterborough’s compost facility and if this small-scale facility reaches its annual capacity, the organics are then hauled to Astoria Organic Matters in Belleville which can process 70,000 metric tonnes of organics,” reads Watson’s report. “The County is currently acquiring an organics consultant to assess geography, waste management services, financials, etc. to determine what curbside collection system could best be implemented for food waste organics. The County suspects the consultant will recommend purchasing processing capacity at the City of Peterborough’s new composting facility, expected to open in fall 2023.”

Simcoe County began a food waste organics program in 2008, in which food waste is collected curbside in green bins from all households, and is transported to a facility in Elmira that can process 200,000 metric tonnes of organics anaerobically, producing electricity and heat.

“However, Simcoe County has plans to open its own composting facility within its own borders,” said Watson. “In 2014, the County began a site selection process which follows the provincial environmental assessment process. As of 2020, the County is still in the planning approvals phase. While the composting technology has not been decided as of yet, Simcoe County’s plan is to process 30,000 metric tonnes of organics per year. The County is estimating $25 million to $31 million for capital costs.”

In Muskoka, a weekly curbside food waste organics program in eligible urban areas began in 2008, as well as a curbside leaf and yard waste collection program which occurs four times throughout the year. “Food waste organics are composted at the municipally owned Beiers Landfill/Transfer Station in Gravenhurst, Ontario, using open windrows (piles of material which are turned regularly to add air),” said Watson. “The initial capital costs for this facility (an asphalt pad and equipment) were $950,000. Muskoka is planning some minor repairs to the compost facility in 2021 with a budget of $50,000. Muskoka can process up to 1,344 tonnes per year. It is noted Muskoka is currently considering long-term options for organics processing given the changing technology and potential to capture biogas and coordinate processing with their water/wastewater operations. In 2019, Muskoka’s total operating costs for food waste organics was approximately $880,000 (the majority of these costs being for curbside collection).”

Ottawa Valley Waste Recovery Centre began a food waste organics program in 2002, operating a composting facility at its centre.

“The composting facility uses in-vessel composting for food waste, and windrow composting for leaf and yard waste,” said Watson. “At the facility, food waste is placed into large compartments (in-vessel) that are aerated to help decompose materials. OVWRC’s in-vessel system is at capacity and requires fairly significant ongoing maintenance. Each year, OVWRC processes about 4,500 tonnes per year of green cart material and 1,200 tonnes of leaf and yard waste.”

Approximately 2,000 households in North Algona Wilberforce Township participate in the OVWRC program.

Watson noted that determining how to best manage separated organics would require “many capital, operating and program considerations to research and approve,” and would take time – at least one year of review is required by the province for an environmental compliance approval for the Haliburton landfill.

Watson said there’s a lot to consider, with the possibility of enhancing promotion and education or subsidizing the price of composters and digesters should the municipality opt for the status quo, or, if planning a new program instead, questions would include would it be mandatory or voluntary participation, what kind of feedstock would be included, would the municipality haul to an external facility, build a facility or build a shared facility?

“Without a doubt, composting food waste organics is a lead driver of waste diversion,” said Watson in concluding his report. “However, there are many considerations that need to be explored before deciding on an appropriate course of action.”

Mayor Andrea Roberts thanked Watson for his “incredibly detailed” report before opening the floor to questions and comments from councillors.
Councillor John Smith echoed Roberts’s praise for the in-depth report. He said he had heard from residents that they were concerned about the possibility of composters and digesters attracting bears, which is not something he had encountered in his own use, and wondered about increasing awareness of the equipment, perhaps through a tax bill insert.
Watson said enhanced education and promotion would be key, as well as the benefit of a digester, which helps to mitigate bears even more than composters.

“This is a pressing concern to many in our community, they look at the food waste in our landfill site and it really upsets people who are concerned about climate change, and look at the impact of that being in our garbage in terms of the production of methane and gas, as opposed to the alternative of turning that organic waste into a useful product, there could actually be good for our community,” said Smith. He asked if a regular checkpoint could be established in which Watson returned to council to report on the progress being made in terms of addressing the issue. Watson said staff could do that if council wished for a consistent check-in.

Councillor Walt McKechnie asked Watson if he had been in touch with anyone regarding garbage incineration.

“I just don’t understand why no one talks about it,” said McKechnie. “The garbage problem isn’t going away. It just totally blows my mind.”

He said that Europe had been incinerating garbage for decades.

“What are we thinking here, in Canada? Nobody talks about it except some old broken-down hockey player in Haliburton. I mean, what is going on?”

Watson said incineration has been around for quite some time, and there is public concern about the air quality from incineration. He said Europe has been able to mitigate those impacts. Two incinerators are in use in Greater Toronto Area, he said, one which has a scoreboard outside to show in real-time the emissions that are being trapped, but it is extremely expensive to build such a facility, as well as a lengthy approval process to do so, and a certain amount of garbage required to make it economically worthwhile and a potential need for a connection to natural gas.

“In addition, you actually do want to have the food waste organics out of the garbage because those are wet items and that doesn’t really lend itself to incineration,” said Watson.

“I don’t care what it costs,” said McKechnie. “Our process right now, we’re getting rid of our garbage, isn’t working. You’re talking about polluting the air. What about these diesel trucks running up and down the 401 non-stop? … I just don’t understand … this is an important, important issue, and nobody talks about it.”

Roberts said that Watson’s point about needing to extract organic waste from garbage even if it was going to an incineration plant is of note, and said she was interested in the Peterborough model, offering a transfer station with a compost bay, and also in Smith’s idea of enhancing education through a tax bill insert.

The report was received by council as information, with further direction that staff report back regularly on progress to exploring alternative solutions.