With organic matter comprising 30 to 40 percent of residential waste, successful management of organics is vital to any municipal solid waste program. Accordingly, a large part of a municipal diversion strategy is identifying and gaining support for organic waste processing operations. Taking a leading role in diversion in Canada, the City of Guelph, Ontario is familiar with the successes and challenges associated with organic waste management.
Guelph is a university city whose progressive 125,000 residents take a keen interest in environmental matters; waste management is no exception. A third-party 2008 survey found that 68 per cent of residents said that they wanted Guelph to exceed the provincial waste diversion goal of 60 per cent. Another 27 per cent said the city should achieve and maintain the provincial waste diversion target.
A decade ago, Guelph was one of the few cities in North America to collect residential organic waste at curbside, to be processed into compost at a municipal facility. The city decided to close the local processing operations in 2006, while still recognizing the program’s significance to the community. Since that time, Guelph has been exporting its curbside-collected source-separated organics (SSO) for management at an energy-from-waste facility. However, as energy-from-waste is not classified as diversion from disposal by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, the closure of the organic processing facility resulted in a negative impact on the city’s waste diversion rate (from 45 per cent in 2005 to 39 per cent in 2006).
In 2007, the desire to re-establish Guelph as a waste diversion leader caused the city to reconsider a local composting operation. Other factors influencing this decision were the high cost of the energy-from-waste option, concern about the environmental impact of long-distance hauling, and the missed opportunities for revenue from compost sales.
So, as part of its 2008 Solid Waste Management Master Plan, the Guelph made plans to proceed with a new organics facility, to be part of an overall integrated waste management solution at the Guelph Waste Resource Innovation Centre. Since the previous organics facility had been located at this site, the city was able to use some of the existing buildings, modified to meet the requirements of the updated processes.
The Guelph Organic Waste Processing Facility (OWPF), which has passed through the approvals stage and is now under construction, will process Guelph’s “wet” waste stream into organic compost. The re-establishment of local organic waste management will contribute to the city’s goal to achieve 65 per cent per cent waste diversion by 2016.
Community involvement key to site approvals
Ontario’s current approval climate for projects involving SSO waste is very challenging. Understanding the sensitivity of siting composting facilities in the province, and anticipating keen interest from the community in this project, consultation with both regulators and the public was initiated at the early stages of developing the permitting application for the proposed OWPF.
The city decided to carry out a community consultation process that went beyond the legislative requirements, more closely resembling the level of consultation required by an Environmental Assessment (EA). This included demonstrating the planned engineering controls, processing measures and operational procedures to manage odour, litter, noise, traffic and other potential impacts that the facility might have – and particularly the backup or contingency plans to be implemented if the usual steps failed.
The consultation process aimed to determine issues of importance to the community and to provide responses to community concerns. Accordingly, the city held two consultation meetings in an open-house format, and held two meetings with local residents’ interest groups. A project information website was established and an email address was also publicized, so that stakeholders could comment or ask questions about the composting plant and its planned operations.
Contingency planning for process upsets
As laid out by the environment ministry’s updated “Guide for Applying for Approval of Waste Disposal Sites,” designing and planning Guelph’s new OWPF required detailed advanced planning for potential breakdowns or failures in the process. In Ontario, it’s no longer good enough to just state in an environmental application that steps will be taken to deal with potential process upsets or nuisances. Guelph prepared a detailed analysis of the possible problems, and an equally detailed description of the steps that will be taken in each instance, demonstrating that the right equipment, staff and other necessities are available to minimize the risk of their occurrence and implement those backup plans, if necessary.
Response planning included, for instance, a description of what would happen in a power outage. The planning included such items as how long the facility could operate on backup power, at what point the facility would need to close its doors to new organics shipments, what would be done with those shipments, and phased facility re-start procedures.
The comprehensive nature of contingency planning included how to deal with shipments of organic waste received from new sources of generation. In addressing the stringent requirements of the ministry, Guelph will implement procedures to test material from any new source of organic waste delivered to the OWPF to see if it meets minimum quality requirements.
Organic waste management into the future
One of the design priorities in the OWPF is the need to meet needs not just in the present, but in the future. Guelph currently generates some 10,000 tonnes of organic waste annually. The OWPF is designed to handle 30,000 tonnes of organic waste feedstock per year. While the amount of organic waste Guelph generates is expected to reach 16,000 tonnes per year over a 25 year period, there is room for the city to process organic waste from other sources, to generate additional revenue from fees and from the sale of the product. This may include waste from food processors in the city or elsewhere, and the organic waste from other municipalities.
Guelph’s new OWPF is scheduled to begin operating in spring/summer 2011. It will be owned by the City of Guelph and operated by AIM Environmental Group (www.aimgroup.ca), which also operates a similar-sized compost facility in the nearby City of Hamilton.
Amy Burke, B.Sc. (Environmental Science) is a member of the waste management practice of Golder Associates Ltd., based in Whitby, Ontario. Contact Amy at email@example.com Bill Shields is Supervisor, Governance & Compliance, with the City of Guelph. Contact Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org
Risk-management steps at the Guelph OWPF
Some of the measures that will be implemented at the Guelph OWPF to minimize the risk of potential negative impacts are:
- The entire composting process will be done indoors, within a building operated under negative air pressure;
- Receiving area doors will be kept closed at all time, except to allow for entering or exiting of hauling trucks;
- Air curtains – air forced downwards from fans located above the door, acting as an invisible curtain – will be installed on receiving bays doors to further reduce the risk of any fugitive odours emanating from the building;
- Truck loads will be inspected before unloading, so unacceptable material can be identified, removed and disposed of properly;
- Landscaping enhancements have been completed in the vicinity of the OWPF, including berms and vegetation, to reduce noise and improve the aesthetics of the site.