According the recent information released by Statistics Canada, waste management in Canada is a $5.6 billion industry. Waste Management Survey: Business and Government Sectors - 2008 (StatsCan, 2010) paints a rosy picture for the waste industry sector and I predict more good days ahead. Below are my top five waste business opportunities in Canada.
The Ontario government's approval of the environmental assessment for a $260 million municipal waste incinerator for the Regions of York and Durham in Ontario has opened the floodgates for more municipalities across Canada to seriously purse waste-to-energy (WTE) projects to follow suit. (See article about the project on page 19.)
An interesting point about the York-Durham project is that it is a mass burn incinerator. The future may be in more advanced forms of thermal treatment of waste like gasification. There are already a number of WTE partners with demonstration facilities operating or planned including Enerkem is in Edmonton, Plasco in Ottawa, REM in Wesleyville, Elementa in Sault St. Marie, and Alter Nrg in Dufferin County.
The next few years will see more full-scale WTE facilities being built in Canada.
4. Waste as Feedstock
The growing number of companies making saleable products from waste has grown tremendously over the past few years and will only continue to grow. Examples include Watson Brown regenerating scrap rubber into its un-vulcanized form and XPotential Products Inc. manufacturing parking curbs from recycled plastic.
One of the biggest challenges facing manufacturers that utilize waste as feedstock is the legislative regime in some Canadian jurisdictions that consider waste to be waste no matter how it's utilized. If governments want to divert from landfill and promote green jobs, they will have to accelerate changes to the rules that allow waste to be used as feedstock.
It continues to amaze me how slow Canada is in utilizing biomass. The tremendous bioenergy potential in Canada has been well documented, most recently in Canada Report on Bioenegy 2009.
The great aspect of bioenergy is that you produce energy while getting rid of waste. It's also carbon neutral and capable of providing steady renewable electricity flow (unlike solar and wind). Besides agriculture sources (manure) and forestry feedstock, there is also feedstock in urban centres (e.g., used coffee grinds, expired food).
There are players in Canada but plenty of room for growth. (See Organic Matters column on this topic, page 26.)
The data doesn't lie - despite a 10 per cent increase in recycling and composting rates between 2006 and 2008, the quantity of municipal waste sent to landfill remained unchanged at 26 million tonnes. I don't predict this number to seriously fall anytime soon.
Even the more ardent supporter of zero waste concedes that landfills will be necessary for some time. To get approval for a landfill at a greenfield site, you need about $1 million dollars for the environmental assessment, about five to 10 years of patience to deal with the consultation and study phases, and the willingness to accept the fact that the government may never give you the go-ahead even with an EA.
What I see happening with landfills is what I see happening with oil refineries. No one is building new ones; they're just expanding the ones they have. Similarly, there's a growing list of entrepreneurs examining the possibility of mining older landfills and re-opening them.
1. Above-average Growth
No matter what sub-sector one considers among the 32,000 waste management professionals that were employed in Canada in 2008, their jobs will be relatively secure over professionals in other industries. The number of professionals in the industry will continue to grow. Between 2006 and 2008 the full-time employment grew 11 per cent, with more than 75 per cent of those jobs being created in the private sector.
New sub-sectors are starting up and growing rapidly in the waste industry. Tire recycling, e-waste recycling, industrial composting, plastics recycling, waste-to-energy, and bioenergy will all continue to grow.
I'm predicting at least five more years of growth in the waste management sector before some sub-sectors begin to mature.
The only way I can see the industry dropping off would be serious moves toward eliminating the creation of waste in the first place (the highest stage in the waste hierarchy). This is a noble goal but one that I don't see that happening any time soon.
John Nicholson, M.Sc., P.Eng., is a consultant based in Toronto, Ontario. Contact John at firstname.lastname@example.org