Bound to Be Earthbound
MMSB Puts on Excellent Organic Waste Conference
I was recently invited to come speak at their inaugural Earth Bound conference (http://www.earthbound2013.com) (26 and 27 September) and give an overview of how the composting process works. The conference agenda was filled with many high quality speakers from Newfoundland and “away” that presented an overview of organic waste processing across the country and the methods and means to implement it here.
It was an opportunity for Newfoundlanders to coalesce some of the progress made to date and savour their current initiatives while at the same time providing a clear look into the future and understanding the potential and possibilities.
Newfoundlanders are if anything humble, welcoming and terribly entertaining (they make you kiss a fish and drink Screech when your new). They have what I consider to be a unique joie de vivre that rolls out of them in unexpected ways. Self-deprecation and comedy are as common as the water that surrounds them (and that keeps falling on them if the last couple of day’s weather is any indication). They don’t take themselves too seriously.
The province of about 515,000 includes a few densely populated areas along with many rural and remote places.
Newfoundlanders have been working for a good number of years to evolve their waste management system. The pattern will be familiar to most of us. They started with many landfills and have over time started to consolidate this to a few highly engineered landfills.
The Province is essentially divided into 12 waste management regions, with 8 on the island (Eastern, Burin, Bonavista, Coast of Bays, Central, Green Bay-Baie Verte, Western, and Northern Peninsula). The Province’s 2002 Waste Management Strategy outlines three host regions: Eastern, Central and Western regions that are destined full service regional waste disposal sites. To date the Eastern (Robin Hood Bay) and Central Regions (Norris Arm) have developed regional waste disposal facilities. The Western Region is still developing its long-term waste management plans. They are currently bringing their waste to Central Region and are investigating how best to handle their recyclables.
At the same time they have also been working to evolve waste diversion including dealing with organic wastes. Given its geography and population distribution Newfoundland will struggle with developing the appropriate critical masses that will allow organic waste processing facilities to be viable.
In a 2011 MMSB report entitled “Management of Organic Waste in Newfoundland and Labrador” it was estimated that approximately 110,000 tonnes/year of organic wastes are landfilled. To meet the Province’s waste diversion goal significant quantities of organic waste will need to be captured for processing.
It makes sense to consider following the aforementioned regional approach. The areas with greatest organic waste diversion potential will be those with the highest population. For instance the Avalon Peninsula and surrounding area has approximately 50% of the Province’s population and on that basis generates an estimated 55,000 tonnes/year of municipal organic waste. It seems reasonable to expect that an organics processing facility should be built in this region to capture its organic waste. Central Region’s waste management strategy contemplates the development of a composting facility. If Central and Western Regions, which make up about 30% of the Province’s population, worked together to process organic wastes this could create a critical mass for the development of a single facility either in Central or Western Region.
It is more challenging for the smaller waste management regions. The cost of collecting and hauling organic waste to distant regional facilities may be cost prohibitive. In those cases it may be possible to build a small windrow composting facility to manage organic wastes. This is being piloted in the Burin Peninsula to some success. In some cases community composting or backyard composting may be the only feasible options.
There a number of non-municipal waste streams including fisheries, aquaculture, agricultural and forestry waste that could be incorporated into organic waste processing facilities. It was useful to have representatives from all of these fields in one room at the conference to discuss their waste streams in some detail and again present possible opportunities.
A key challenge for composting in Newfoundland will be able to secure sufficient carbonaceous materials (i.e. wood chips) at a reasonable rate. (MMSB’s (and new Dad) Gordon Murphy eloquently calls it a Carbon Quagmire). There are currently various pulls on sources of wood chips. There are however a number of old sawmills in Newfoundland with “heritage” piles of wood chips and sawdust. Having toured a number of these sites myself their size can be considerable (think multiple football fields with materials 40 feet deep). These materials could be mined and used at composting facilities. A key challenge with this is the cost of their removal the ever-present cost of transportation. As was pointed out by one of the speakers an enterprising owner of one of these sites could consider developing a composting facility at one of these sites. They would have a ready source of carbon for composting and if it was extended further they could develop products from this “heritage” wood and sawdust.
While the answers will take some time to develop and politics and money to implement the conference offered ideas that can contribute to the province’s organic waste management IQ.
Lisa Von Strumer of Growing City who met with the Dragons Den to help develop her unique food waste collection business; Daniel Bida of Regenerate who’s going to anaerobically digest zoo manure and grocery store waste at the Toronto Zoo; and the hilarious Keith Antle of the town of Grand Falls-Windsor who is composting the town’s leaf and yard waste embodied how seeming impossibilities can be made possible.
This is some great “food for thought” for the good people of Newfoundland.