Solid Waste & Recycling


Cape Breton's Turn

The Diffusion of Innovations Theory sheds some interesting insights into human behaviour. This theory plots our acceptance of innovations as five different types of individuals. The first through the ...

The Diffusion of Innovations Theory sheds some interesting insights into human behaviour. This theory plots our acceptance of innovations as five different types of individuals. The first through the gate are given gold star titles of innovators and early adopters while those that finally get around to adopting are labelled as laggards.

Applied to technology, this implies that those who ditched their VCR to buy a DVD player at inflated prices are good little innovators. Those who waited until after they learned how to set the clock on the thing before leaping to the new wundertechnology are laggards and may be even Luddites. Oh the sloth of it all!

Apply this Nova Scotia’s organics ban casts, perhaps, a similar shadow. In 1995 Nova Scotia developed its Solid Waste Resource Management Strategy, a lynchpin of which was the bold move to ban organic wastes from landfill disposal and incineration (effective November 1998). This spurred the development of considerable composting infrastructure.

Almost ten years later, the Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM) is one of the last to comply. Donnie Burke, the CBRM’s Manager of Solid Waste, notes, “Our Region was one of the last in Nova Scotia to implement a curbside organics collection program and to construct a central compost facility. Prior the launch of the curbside organics program, the region operated a municipal waste to energy facility.”

“The incinerator in Sydney was operational and a disincentive to move to a composting program,” says former mayor and current Councillor Clarence Prince. When the incinerator starting incurring greater operating and repair costs, it became clear that a change was needed.

Just as in the VCR/DVD analogy, it was important to let the current technology run its course before adopting the new way; it’s fiscally more prudent to delay these types of decisions.

When the time was right, the region developed a “Solid Waste Go Forward Strategy” to help it comply with provincial regulations. Council endorsed this strategy, which included the development of a curbside organics program and the construction of a composting facility, in Sydney, Nova Scotia.

Burke continues, “The physical location of our site is on the footprint of our waste management facility at or near the centre of waste generation in the CBRM, within 500 metres of a residential subdivision and within 1,000 feet of the new center of economic development in the CBRM where box stores such as Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Canadian Tire constructed new outlets within the previous two years or so.

“We recognized that there was a challenge to operate a compost facility in this general area but we had experience operating a waste to energy facility within this general area for more than 20 years.”

A tender process resulted in a single bidder to build a facility. Maple Reinders Group, using the Christiaens Group composting technology, was awarded the contract. (See “The New State of the Art” article in our August/ September 2006 edition for a description of the technology applied in Hamilton’s organics facility.)

The system

The $13.5 million in-tunnel composting facility (a variation of an in-vessel system) has an annual capacity of 12,000 tonnes per year to handle both SSO and biosolids. The composting building is divided into separate receiving areas and composting tunnels. The composting process is divided into two phases and includes a total of seven tunnels. Compost remains in these aerated concrete tunnels for up to a month. Thereafter immature compost is directed to an adjacent building for up to another five months of curing after which it is placed in an outdoor storage area.

“Given the close proximity of our facility to commercial outlets we incorporated significant design changes and adaptations into this facility to ensure that odours are properly treated,” says John Haanstra, Vice President of Maple-Reinders Group. “This included a large and specialized biofilter, ensuring sufficient air changes in the receiving hall and paying extra attention to potential fugitive emissions.”

The program was fully rolled out to residents in September of this year. Green carts (65 gallon) are used to capture and store food wastes and non-recyclable paper as well as leaf and yard wastes. To maximize capture rates these carts are emptied weekly. Already a high quality compost is being produced that will meet CCME “A” requirements.

“What I like best is the tremendous buy-in from the citizenry,” says Councillor Prince. “Many are from an industrialized mindset and I was not sure how well they would participate, but my God I am tickled pink!”

Ultimately, the economic landscape changed. The costs of repairing the incinerator outweighed the costs of implementing a composting program and fully complying with Nova Scotia regulations.

“All the pieces, including Council, administration and residents, bonded and fit together to make this work,” continues Prince. “Nova Scotia was recognized for its waste diversion initiatives but Cape Breton was a bit of a blip. Now we feel like we are part of that ‘number one’ rating and contributing to the province’s success.”

The Diffusion of Innovations Theory might label them as a laggard, but it has really been a case of picking the right time to adopt an innovation — a time that recognizes today’s realities and the citizen’s pocket books.

As they say, “there is no first without a last.”

Paul van der Werf is president of 2cg Inc. in London, Ontario. Contact Paul at

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