Melanie Burnston keeps her own small, blue recycling bin beneath her desk so she can put office recyclables into her home recycling bin after work.
“We’re probably one of the few offices in the building that do it,” Burnston says of her small environmental effort. Burnston admits it’s a practice she’d rather not have to resort to, and would prefer that the building have an on-site waste diversion program.
“It’s a pain to have to take it home every evening,” she says.
The Chateau Royal Professional Building, where Burnston works, is one of a number in Ottawa with no recycling facilities and no program for proper waste diversion. The building gets away with it.
Bill Miner, the building’s property manager, says he’s never been approached by the government or anyone else about implementing a recycling program for the office complex.
“Our tenants don’t separate their garbage,” Miner says. “Unless there was some government edict that required us to do so, we don’t plan to change that because it would be a major undertaking for us.”
As the landfills dotting Ottawa’s suburbs continue to grow skyward, one question hangs heavy over the population: have negligent practices led the city into a waste diversion crisis?
The answer would appear to be “yes,” although things may be changing.
The City of Ottawa was committed to achieving a waste diversion rate of 40 per cent by 2007. However, the Ottawa Community Foundation’s 2007 edition of Vital Signs confirmed that the city’s diversion rate was 32.4 per cent in 2006 — merely 0.1 percentage points above the 2005 diversion rate. According to George Reimer, a waste diversion coordinator for the city, the rate was unlikely to break higher than 33 per cent in 2007.
The negative figures keep piling up beyond the city’s own commitments: the city lags behind other Ontario municipalities. In 2005 the residential diversion rate stood at just 34.1 per cent, and industry observers say it’s unlikely to match the provincial goal of 60 per cent residential waste diversion by the end of 2008.
Some argue that these numbers and rankings are a long overdue wakeup call for a city that has largely taken waste management for granted.
“It’s cheap to dump stuff — way too cheap. It always has been. In Ottawa it’s particularly inexpensive,” says Rod Muir, a waste diversion campaigner with the Sierra Club of Canada. “Now is the time to take this opportunity, to draw people’s attention to the importance of diversion.”
While residential diversion is more acceptable among single-family dwellings, as a continuing waste audit conducted with Stewardship Ontario revealed in its 2006 reports, diversion in high-density residential areas is not there yet. The report showed that during the fall of 2005, waste diversion in single-family residential buildings was at 34.3 per cent while the diversion rate in multi-family buildings was at 22 per cent.
The same report revealed that curbside blue bins in the same single-family residential areas were diverting just 26.6 per cent of recyclable plastics. In those same homes, the black bin (for paper waste) diverted 75.6 per cent of recyclable paper and paper packaging.
The community foundation report revealed that in 2005, Ottawa households generated over 310,000 tonnes of waste. In 2008, solid waste management will require 11 per cent of the city’s Public Works and Services budget.
In response to disappointing audit results, the city has launched a diversion-focused “Rethink Garbage” campaign, an education-based initiative to promote better waste diversion at the residential level. The campaign deals with both low-density residential areas and high-density buildings, but has faced problems from the latter.
“We have been dealing to some extent with apartment buildings. Part of that is speaking with the management companies and supplying things like posters,” Reimer says. “There’s a certain anonymity in apartment buildings — you can throw anything down your chute without anybody knowing that it’s yours.”
Aside from the “Rethink Garbage” campaign, several practical initiatives have been put in place. The city’s “yellow bag” program, which offers free recycling through the city to commercial establishments with residential areas built in, and the “Take it Back” program through which participating stores take back clean plastic bags, have seen some success.
The city has also experimented with no-charge hazardous waste collection days, and “giveaway days” wherein residents are encouraged to set at the curb refuse that they think someone else may be interested in taking.
“Through the whole auditing system we found out that yes, in fact, we need to increase our diversion rates,” Reimer says. “On the one hand council wants us to do these things, but on the other hand, with all the budget cuts, things like advertising are the first to go.”
A new pressure to boost the diversion rate comes from the city’s landfills, which are starting to near capacity.
In August 2007 the privately-owned Carp Road Landfill began to refuse residential waste from Ottawa — a block that was only recently removed. Waste Management, the company that runs the disposal facility, is also expected to release a third proposition for expanding the landfill in the coming months, after the first two plans were met with strong opposition from concerned citizens.
If Waste Management’s expansion is approved, the city will have a bit of breathing space. But even with more landfill capacity, the environmental benefits of waste diversion are clear (see cover story, December/January edition) and Ottawa will continue to be under pressure to recycle and otherwise divert waste.
The city has begun to experiment with gasification, a process wherein residual waste can be transformed into energy. In cooperation with Plasco Energy Group, the city has installed a demonstration gasification facility at the Trail Road landfill, but has yet to decide whether it will invest in more. (See sidebar article, page 14.)
Gilles Chasles, founder of the “No Dump” group opposing expansion of the Carp Road landfill, argues that progressive waste-processing technology and increased diversion are a better solution than increasing landfill space.
“I think anybody else in Ottawa in their right mind would also think the same, that we need technology now. Enough with burying our waste,” Chasles says.
“If it works, then there’s probably going to be similar types of facilities that will be used,” Reimer agrees. “I think there’s a possibility that the length of time that a landfill is able to stay open will be extended dramatically if we can take out a huge amount of the material.”
IC&I waste and the province
The main source of landfill waste, however, (as in other jurisdictions) is from the industrial, commercial and institutional (IC&I) sector. A 2006 study conducted by the city revealed that in 2005, 68.5 per cent of Ottawa’s waste came from this group. Residential waste diversion is worthwhile on its own, but disposal capacity will be used up if the IC&I sector doesn’t get its act together.
The largest problem with the IC&I sector is its infamous lack of diversion, particularly in regard to paper products. As of March 2006, only 17.5 per cent of Ottawa’s IC&I waste was being diverted. Yet a lot of the material could easily be diverted: in 2005, 45 per cent of the IC&I waste sent to landfills was recyclable paper.
“We do have regulations that require people to do source separation,” says Greg Davis, a senior environmental officer at the Ottawa district office for Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment.
Regardless of the regulations in place, the IC&I waste is a provincial responsibility and the McGuinty government is under fire for what some say is a negligent attitude towards waste diversion issues in Ottawa and the province.
Among the strongest voices ag
ainst the current Ontario government’s handling of waste is Progressive Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod, who, in an email, called the McGuinty government “the least progressive in all of Confederation.”
“The provincial government has failed to help Ottawa bring up their waste diversion rates,” MacLeod states in the email. “There needs to be more consistency and a more flexible approach over the jurisdiction of landfills and the IC&I sector.”
Observers outside of the political spectrum have also noticed inaction on the part of the provincial government.
“You’ve got to be cynical about the fact that the Liberal government in 2003 campaigned on a promise of 60 per cent diversion by 2008,” Rod Muir says.
Some municipalities in Ontario have taken matters into their own hands where the provincial government has failed to help out. Ottawa could learn from them.
The Town of Markham leads the Ontario waste diversion race with an enviable 70 per cent diversion rate. It achieved its success (and a platinum award from the Recycling Council of Ontario) largely without provincial support.
“The provincial government can’t give you the will to do it,” says Jack Heath, a councillor on Markham’s municipal council and the head of the town’s Mission Green committee, which has introduced several initiatives and ultimately doubled the municipality’s diversion rate in recent years.
“Every small little thing that one does or changes in waste management can make a difference,” Heath says.
Markham has a bit of an edge as it’s a town without much hi-rise development. It has a chance to get things right as it builds more density and multi-residential dwellings in future.
Like Markham, Toronto has dramatically increased its waste diversion rate with the introduction of source-separated organics (SSO) programs. Ottawa will be introducing its own SSO program in 2008, and those involved are hoping this will turn around the city’s low waste diversion rate, which is typical of communities with recycling but no organics program.
“Adding source-separated organics will hopefully bring it up to 50 or 60 per cent,” Reimer says. It’s fair to say that the 60 per cent (and beyond) waste diversion goal is only really attainable with an organics program, not just increased recycling — something Ottawa has in common with every other major city.
While Ottawa may predict better waste diversion results in 2008, the delay by both levels of government in recent years to take action and improve the city’s diversion has left some citizens jaded.
“Every night I drive by that mountain of garbage,” Chasles says, referring to the Carp Road Landfill near his home. A disapproving headshake seems to reflect the campaigner’s frustration.
We will watch and hope that 2008 is the year Ottawa gives its residents reasons to be more optimistic.
Chris Cooper is a fulltime student at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario and works for Miller Waste Systems in Markham, Ontario during the summer. Contact Chris at email@example.com
Since June 1999, Metro Waste Paper Recovery Inc. in Ottawa has provided recyclables processing for the City of Ottawa’s. Average annual volumes have exceeded 46,000 metric tonnes since the contract start-up. The fully automated Machinex Mach Two was chosen to sort the commingled paper fibre. In the two and half years that this equipment has been in use, less than 10 hours have been lost to equipment failure. In June 2004 Metro began processing the mixed container stream materials from Ottawa’s blue box contract.
The materials recovery facility (MRF) is very similar to the one that recently opened in Durham Region. For a walk-through of that system with photos, turn to page 34.
August 1993: Metro facility (formerly WRI) opens in east Ottawa with approx. 20,000 sq. ft of production space.
June 1996-May 1999: City of Ottawa awards contract to Metro for all residential blue box (fibre and containers) curbside recycling. Sorting equipment used for containers and fibre designed and fabricated by Metro’s Tony Metauro and Doug Radar.
June 1999: Ottawa implements a two box system: blue for containers; black for fibre.
June 1999-2009: Metro processes all black box municipal fibre (approx. 50,000 tpy). Metro installs the latest fibre sorting technology from Machinex, including the OCC and MACH 2 Star Screen Sorting System. In 1999 Metro moves to a 50,000 sq ft facility. Plant 1 – 2811 Sheffield Rd.
2001: Cascades recovery operation purchased, including continuation of the federal “Papersave” recycling program contract extending through February 2009.
2002: Sonoco Ottawa operation, including a 30,000 sq. ft. building, purchased, including the contract to service all Sonoco’s eastern Ontario national customers. Plant 2 – 2475 Sheffield Rd.
2004: Metro awarded the contract to process containers from the blue box program (approx. 17,000 tpy). Metro contracts Machinex to install the latest container sorting equipment, including the Pellenc optical sorting system. 30,000 additional sq ft added to Plant 2 to accommodate the equipment required.
2007: METRO-Ottawa earns $19.9 million from recyclables sales.
Trail Waste Facility
One of two landfills owned and operated by the City of Ottawa, the Trail Waste facility charges $75 per tonne to dump residential garbage, commercial garbage, construction/demolition waste, or yard waste (a complete list of tipping fees including other waste can be found on the City of Ottawa website, www. city.ottawa.on.ca). Currently, the maximum capacity is 6,008,000 tonnes. In a presentation to city council in March 2006, it was predicted that the landfill’s lifespan would reach to anywhere between 2017 and 2038, depending on the fill rate.
Carp Road Landfill Site
Now pushing against its maximum capacity of 8,744,400 cubic metres, this private landfill owned and operated by Waste Management Canada is still accepting residential and commercial waste from the city. WM has submitted numerous expansion proposals to Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment, all of which have been withdrawn. The most recent, withdrawn in the fall of 2007, included plans for an incinerator and the company is currently involved in joint research with Wheelabrator Technologies, although no waste-to-energy technology is currently in operation at the Carp facility.
Operated by R.W. Tomlinson Limited, this landfill’s waste stream consists of 90 per cent construction and demolition waste, as well as 10 per cent solid residential waste. It’s the only landfill in Ontario featuring a construction and demolition material recycling facility, which in the first quarter of 2007 diverted 73 per cent of the 4,819 tonnes of construction/demolition material received by the landfill.
WSI Navan Landfills
Owned and operated by Waste Services Inc. of Canada, this 90-hectare site accepts dry, non-hazardous waste from the IC&I sector as well as non-organic domestic waste. In the company’s 2006 Terms of Reference for an environmental assessment, the landfill’s life was predicted to reach 2011. The same document states that the landfill receives 40-50 per cent of the city’s total generated IC&I waste.