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The Management of Organic Waste


I had the opportunity to speak at last week’s Canadian Waste Sector Symposium in Montreal about organic waste management in Canada. Some of the thoughts and ideas that were included in this talk are included below. http://www.canwastesectorsymposium.ca/
Organic waste processing has evolved considerably in Canada over the last twenty years, from back yard composter programs and simple open windrow composting facilities to sophisticated large in-vessel facilities and anaerobic digestion facilities.
The initial development of the industry included many small open windrow composting sites composting mostly leaf and yard wastes. With time food waste composting programs began to develop including province wide programs in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island as well as programs in places like, Guelph and St. Thomas Ontario and the City of Edmonton.
The industry has grown considerably since the early 1990s. In 1998 the Composting Council of Canada (CCC) estimated there were about 350 facilities across the country. The vast majority of these facilities were open windrow facilities composting mostly leaf and yard wastes. By 2006 they estimated that there were about 225 facilities which on the surface looks like a stagnation and contraction of the industry. In fact quite the opposite happened. In 1998 about 1.3 million tonnes of organic waste was composted. By 2006 about 3.9 million tonnes was composted. There was clearly an intensification of the industry. While facility number decreased facility capacity grew by 2.5 to 3 times.
This intensification has continued since that time but not without considerable challenges.
For example much of the greater Toronto Area (GTA) embarked on source separated organics programs resulting in the development of larger composting facilities (>50,000 tonnes/year). However, not all municipalities had sufficient processing capacity and more importantly contingency processing capacity. This flooded a largely unprepared marketplace with SSO from some of these larger municipalities. In hind sight it is clear that there was insufficient processing capacity to deal with this SSO. This led to period of considerable problems in Ontario but also in Quebec primarily related to poorly operated and off site odour generating composting facilities. At one point the gap between required processing capacity and available processing capacity in Ontario was well over 100,000 tonnes/year. It appears that after a number of years that the required processing capacity is coming closer to matching that which is captured. This includes some facilities that now can process more than 100,000 tonnes/year.
Notwithstanding the challenges, primarily related to the management of odour, that the industry has faced it is clearly recognized that organic waste diversion is critical to achieve a high waste diversion rate as well as to minimize the greenhouse gas impacts created through the management of wastes.
Today the organic waste processing industry is on a cusp and changing rapidly.
Composting certainly remains the dominant way of processing organic waste. However, anaerobic digestion is making advances. This is due to a combination of factors including weariness for underperforming composting facilities, nascent financial viability helped in no small measure by various feed in tariffs and the elegant way that it can both manage organic waste and create energy from this waste. It converts the greenhouse gases into usable energy as opposed to composting which releases them as carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
It will be interesting see how the management of organic wastes proceeds over the next few years and whether anaerobic digestion will, as it appears to be happening, gain a strong foothold as a viable management method.


See 2cg’s new primer on the various types of organic waste management at www.2cg.ca


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