Solid Waste & Recycling


Composting Systems & Services: Avoiding A Garbage Crisis

Some municipalities with significant amounts of landfill disposal capacity are planning for only small-scale organic diversion initiatives with extended timeframes. Such is the case in Canada's capita...

Some municipalities with significant amounts of landfill disposal capacity are planning for only small-scale organic diversion initiatives with extended timeframes. Such is the case in Canada’s capital city. Meanwhile other jurisdictions with little or no municipal disposal capacity are rushing to expand diversion programs to include full-scale organic materials. This is the case in the City of Toronto. (See article, page 23.)

But the Region of Niagara, which has a fair amount of remaining municipal disposal capacity (10 or more years), has already taken the initiative to expand its diversion programs to include broad organic diversion components within the next year.

“We’re one of the few Ontario regions not in a garbage crisis,” says Janine Ralph, manager of waste policy & planning for the Regional Niagara Public Works Department, Waste Management Division. “And we plan to keep it that way.”

Over 400,000 people live in Niagara Region but millions more visit its tourist attractions, including popular Niagara-on-the-Lake. While the region is determined to improve its waste management system and its organics diversion in particular it also seeks to keep costs to a minimum.

On July 18, 2002, the region unanimously approved the implementation of a new cost-efficient organics diversion program. The new strategy — which is set to start on September 1, 2003 (for at least three of the 12 municipalities) — establishes a source-separated organic waste central composting system and results in greater available landfill capacity and a dramatic decrease in disposal costs.


In 1996 the Region of Niagara initiated a residential waste composition study to examine the waste generation and composition in three neighborhoods across Niagara. The study determined that organic material (food waste, leaf and yard waste and brush) comprised 35.5 per cent of the total residential waste stream. At the time only a portion of this organic material was diverted from landfill through municipal leaf and yard waste collection programs and backyard home composting.

In 1999 the region endorsed the report “Implementation of a Preferred Waste Management System” which provides a blueprint for the implementation of a new system to maximize diversion by improving existing programs and implementing a program for the collection and composting of organic materials. When all system components are implemented the region expects to achieve an optimal waste diversion rate of 65 per cent.

Organics pilot program

The region undertook an organic co-collection pilot program over nine months from July 2000 until the end of March 2001 to investigate methods for source separation, co-collection and processing organic material. Two different methods for co-collection were examined: organics and recyclables versus organics and waste.

Other pilot studies and established programs indicate that separate collection of organic materials adds significant costs to municipal collection systems and that costs can be reduced if more than one material stream is collected on the same truck. In addition, where all three streams are collected on the same truck (organics, waste and recyclables) there can be difficulties when one of the three compartments fills before the others.

The pilot examined the use of organic carts in one area and allowed residents to choose their own container type in a second area. (See Table, page 32).

The organic material collected from both study areas was delivered to the regional composting facility for inspection, pre-processing and composting. The facility is an outdoor windrow composting facility located at the Elm Street Landfill site in Port Colborne, which is operated by Compost Management of Elora, Ontario.

Pilot results

Despite some small differences the general trends exhibited in both communities were relatively the same: curbside diversion increased by over 15 to 20 per cent, the diversion of organic materials increased by about 40 per cent, and the diversion of yard waste improved to more than 90 per cent.

Participation rates were highest in the first five months of the pilot (summer and fall) and decreased during the last four months (winter). During the pilot roll out there were no households in St. Catharines that indicated that they did not wish to participate in the pilot program. In Port Colborne, approximately 70 residents (mostly seniors) did not participate for health reasons, etc.

Collection staff from Canadian Waste Services Inc. reported that the waste and organics co-collection program added a minimum of 1.5 to 2.5 additional hours to the day during peak collection times, compared to the single stream collection of waste.

One of the key findings, according to Ms. Ralph, is that while in both areas there was the same increase in overall diversion of organics and yard waste, in the area where see-through plastic bags were used food waste diversion increased to 35 per cent by winter 2001 while in the cart-based area it only reached 19 per cent.

In the bag

Niagara is one of only a few municipal jurisdictions that accept plastic film in the Blue Box, and that allows residents to use see-through plastic bags to set out overflow materials.

In 2001, the region sent 5,700 tonnes of residue from the recycling facility for disposal. The majority of the volume of this residue was plastic film that was too contaminated for recycling. The residue rate for 2002 is less than in 2001 to-date, primarily because last year the region took in co-mingled container material from Hamilton for a period of time. A region-wide plastic bag trial for organics collection will start in fall 2002.

The region is also in negotiations with companies such as Norton Environmental to compare equipment efficiency for the removal of plastic film. (See “Plastics Management in Composting” in the June/July 2002 edition.)


The combination of the recycling and organics co-collection appears to be the most cost effective collection approach for the region. With this system, paper fibres are collected one week and co-mingled containers every second week.

The report states that bag-based organic co-collection is more cost effective than a cart-based organic co-collection approach due to increased curbside collection efficiencies.

“We find that the bag system is more conducive to current public behavior in the region,” adds Ms. Ralph, “and a cart based collection approach was estimated to cost an additional $800,000 per year.” The $800,000 difference takes into account the increased processing costs associated with removing the film plastic at the compost facility.

Cost projections estimate that the new organic co-collection program will increase total annual waste management expenditures by approximately $4-million from 2002 to 2004 (including expenditures of approximately $1.6-million to roll-out the program). During the first full year of the new organic diversion program total annual waste management expenditures are estimated to be $3-million over 2002 budgeted costs. Final projections will be amended slightly to include potential for WDO funding for Blue Box and household hazardous waste programs.

The increase in total waste management costs associated with the new organic program after roll out is about $2.2-million per year. The remainder of the increase relates to recycling and waste collection cost increases and increases in the cost of other waste management programs.

“While costs are expected to increase with the implementation of the new organic diversion system,” says Ms. Ralph, “the new system will reduce the rate of fill of our regional landfill sites plus help us avoid expensive disposal costs.”

It is estimated that the new organic diversion strategy will divert an additional 18,000 to 23,000 tonnes of organic material per year. The region expects to avoid disposal costs equivalent to $1.6 to $2-million annually. These estimates do not include the avoided cost to the environment.

Connie Vitello is editor of this magazine.

of the Organic Co-collection Pilot

St. Catharines Area Port Colborne Area
Co-collection Method Recycling/Organics Waste/Organics
Curbside Container Resident’s Choice (primarily see-through plastic bags) 360 Litre Schaefer Carts
Frequency of Collection Organics – Weekly Organics – Weekly
Recyclable Fibres – Week One Waste – Weekly
Recyclable Containers – Week Two All Recyclables – Bi-weekly
Waste – Weekly
Number of Households 657 700
Co-Collection Vehicle Split 70% Recyclables / 30% Organics 70% Waste / 30% Organics
Co-collection Vehicle Labrie Expert 2000 (35 cubic yard Labrie Expert 2000 (35 cubic yard
capacity), side loader, vertical split, capacity), side loader, vertical split,
compaction in both compartments compaction in both compartments
Kitchen Container 8.5 Litre Kitchen Pail Schaefer Kitchen Container
1999 Diversion Rate 30% 40%
Acceptable Organics – Kitchen waste, leaf and yard waste, and other organic waste (soiled newsprint,
Same for both Areas brown paper bags and soiled cardboard).

Note: Brush was not included in the co-collection pilot program, but was collected separately as it requires pre-processing prior to composting.

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