The City of Montreal’s Auditor General recently tabled a report highlighting the city’s failure to take the necessary steps to put in place a comprehensive waste management plan that would, at a minimum, meet the Province of Quebec’s mandated goal of diverting 60 percent of waste generated by households away from landfills or incinerators by 2008. While the perception might be that this situation is unique to Montreal, it really is not. Many communities in Quebec, Ontario and the other provinces and territories where waste diversion goals exist lack economically viable waste management plans.
While the media often communicates that there are no quick fixes, some government bodies may have ignored solutions offered by the private sector. A key fact is that over 30 percent of the waste generated by a homeowner and picked up at the curb is organic in nature. Organic waste streams can be diverted away from landfills or incinerators, and can be treated, processed and then beneficially reused as a compost product. It may not be flashy or hip, but it’s being done in leading edge municipalities in Canada.
What needs to be done
While a considerable investment of time, effort and money is made analyzing solid waste challenges and conducting feasibility studies, some municipalities have realized that immediate relief and results are available to them for 30 percent of their waste stream. Although composting is not the single answer, it can be a significant component in an integrated waste management plan. Methods and technologies are available today that have proven themselves at commercial scale and been in operation for years.
The waste crisis is probably most obvious in Ontario, particularly in and around the Greater Toronto Area. The province predicts its population will grow by 8 per cent by 2011. Meanwhile the province will have lost 70 per cent of its traditional waste management capacity. The Ontario Waste Management Association (OWMA) forecasts that landfill capacity within Ontario will decline by 50 per cent in the next four years. Like Quebec, Ontario has set the target of 60 per cent residential waste diversion (from landfill disposal or thermal treatment) by 2008. That’s a long way to move from Ontario’s current diversion rate of 20 per cent in just two years.
Again, the private sector offers solutions and has the capability to divert and beneficially reuse the 30 percent of household solid waste that is the organic waste (gathered in “Green Bin” programs in some areas). This large fraction of the waste stream can be treated and reused as compost in agriculture, remediation, landscaping, and horticulture.
Although much has been said about Europe successes, home-grown examples abound of large-scale composting operations that work. The municipalities of Haut Saint-Francois, Sherbrooke, and Victoriaville in Quebec are on track to exceed the 60 percent diversion target though partnership with GSI Environnement (GSI) through composting the organic portion of their solid waste. (For other new examples, see article on page 24.)
GSI was founded in Quebec and a member of the EMS group of companies (TSX: EMS). Through a subsidiary company called Les Composts du Quebec, GSI has operated composting facilities in Quebec for 20 years, garnering unique know-how and capabilities. It’s the largest composting company in Canada with seven composting centres with an annual throughput of over 500,000 tonnes.
The success of GSI (for which I do some consulting) comes in large part from its focus on beneficial end use; the staff of 250 includes 20 agronomists. Having so staff trained in the science of crops and soils helps GSI ensure that use of a composted product benefits a particular application, be it the rehabilitation of degraded sites, agricultural soils, geotechnical applications or landscaping.
GSI’s Les Composts du Quebec subsidiary has become a sort of genuine one-stop-shopping for buyers since it’s the distributor for a large assortment of complimentary products such as mulches, peat moss, decorative stones, organic fertilizers and other landscaping products. Major retailers and many garden centres and nurseries are among its clientele. The municipalities of Haut Saint-Francois, Sherbrooke and Victoriaville have found a private sector company with practical for a third of their solid waste without the need for their own capital investment. It’s an idea that will catch on elsewhere.
John Nicholson, M.Sc., P.Eng., is a consultant based in Toronto, Ontario. Contact John at email@example.com