Solid Waste & Recycling

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"Pregnant Chads" of the Waste Business

The face of waste disposal in Canada may be set to change after the City of Toronto dropped its plan in October to ship garbage north to the Adams Mine near Kirkland Lake. (See article, page 16.) Desp...


The face of waste disposal in Canada may be set to change after the City of Toronto dropped its plan in October to ship garbage north to the Adams Mine near Kirkland Lake. (See article, page 16.) Despite the city’s numerous high-rise apartment buildings and other challenges, Toronto council voted to boost recycling from 25 to 60 per cent by 2006 and to 80 per cent by 2009. It stated that 100 per cent of municipal waste could be recycled and composted by 2010.

Implementation of this ambitious scheme will require a massive investment in new methodologies and could generate useful models for the rest of the country.

The go-ahead for the Adams Mine seemed a forgone conclusion. But traditional landfill players must now rethink their strategy as the proponents of novel diversion technologies may get an honest hearing. One outcome of Toronto’s raucous disposal debate was confirmation that there’s widespread public support for aggressive waste diversion even if it costs more. (Whether Toronto politicians will actually come up with the money remains to be seen. Watch for a user-pay system.)

“An outcome of Toronto’s raucous disposal debate was confirmation that there’s widespread public support for aggressive waste diversion even if it costs more.”

Toronto has turned to innovative cities like Guelph, Halifax and Edmonton for ideas. (See article, page 24.) Each city’s program is very different, so once again the need is underscored for an independently verifiable, uniform standard for waste diversion measurement to allow “apples to apples” comparisons.

In a way that’s disturbingly reminiscent of the Florida ballot recount in the recent US election, this publication has often had to contend with diversion data filled with “dimpled ballots” and “pregnant chads.” It’s not fair to pick on one municipality, since many skew data to achieve politically acceptable results. (And the problem isn’t restricted to the public sector.) But a look at Guelph, Ontario is instructive.

The achievements of Guelph, Ontario’s wet/dry recycling facility are widely known and other communities regard the plant as something of a model. The facility handles roughly 135,000 tonnes on the dry side and 44,000 tonnes on the wet year each year. In 1998, we’re told, the plant achieved an impressive overall diversion rate of 56 per cent — 58 per cent wet and 45 per cent dry. Interestingly, the tip fee of $40 per tonne is about $13 less than the local landfill.

There’s more good news. After eliminating a copper contamination problem, the net cost of processing a tonne of wet waste dropped from $110 in 1996 to $73 in 1998. The cost of processing a dry tonne dropped even more precipitously in the same period, from $175 to just $80. (During this time the price for recycled commodities rose; hence the low tip fee.)

However, the “overall” data mixes municipal and commercial waste tonnages. So, CSR: Corporations Supporting Recycling led a group of experts in an external review of the plant to discover how much residential waste was being diverted from landfill, apart from the commercial stream. The results were startling. The group found that in 1999 the facility diverted about 70 per cent of the wet waste collected at curbside. This is excellent. But it also discovered that only 14 per cent of dry residential waste was diverted.

This dry residential diversion rate represents only 2,200 tonnes of 15,640 tonnes collected. This is lower than even the beleaguered Blue Box.

From an unvarnished perspective, it’s hard not to think of the Guelph wet/dry as a bit of a failed experiment. Politicians spent more than $36-million building the facility that then had to be reconfigured, only to divert 14 per cent on the dry side. (The plant is experimenting with the SUBBOR digester and is considering a three-stream setout to address this problem.)

To be fair, many of the facility’s design flaws wouldn’t be repeated today. The wet diversion rate is good and, in reality, a wet/dry plant can be built for less money and achieve higher diversion rates in part because of lessons learned in Guelph. (And who would build a facility that didn’t take IC&I waste, anyway?) Plus, Guelph’s bag-based collection system is efficient and cheap.

But it’s annoying when facility managers aren’t more forthcoming about their less pleasing numbers. Professionals need to learn from one another about the relative strengths and drawbacks of different systems, yet the 14 per cent dry diversion number — and the reasons for it — weren’t well publicized, even after the independent study.

CSR struck a task force that completed a study in early 2000 that examined how to apply standardized general accounting principles to the measurement of municipal waste flows and diversion. The procedure is currently being tested for ease of application in a number of communities across Canada.

The “GAP Report” and the first individual municipal GAP Waste Flow Measurement charts (for Guelph, Northumberland and Ottawa-Carleton) are posted on the group’s Internet site (www.csr.org). CSR plans to eventually post a GAP Municipal Waste Flow Measurement Instruction Kit so individual municipalities can apply the standard when recording and reporting waste generation and diversion.

It’s an idea whose time has come. And if Toronto lives up even to part of what it recently promised it must assess its various diversion experiments in this agreed-upon way. Huge market opportunities await the systems that prove to be the most effective.

That is, if we can certify the vote.


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