Solid Waste & Recycling

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Super Size Me

In two installments last fall we discussed Canada's composting industry from a fairly macro perspective ( "State of Composting in Canada Part 1 and 2," Nov./Dec. 2006 and Jan./Feb. 2007 editions ) but...


In two installments last fall we discussed Canada’s composting industry from a fairly macro perspective (“State of Composting in Canada Part 1 and 2,” Nov./Dec. 2006 and Jan./Feb. 2007 editions) but also shone some focus on programs dealing with municipal wastes. It was estimated that there were about 350 composting facilities, although it’s as challenging to get the true numbers as it is to verify a Sasquatch sighting.

The Composting Council of Canada’s (CCC) 1998 survey estimated there were 344 facilities across the country. On the cold bare surface it would appear the industry has stagnated.

The CCC recently completed a new survey — one that drills deeper and answers some interesting questions. Completed in 2006, this survey resulted in detailed discussions with 227 facility operators.

Annually these facilities compost an estimated 3.9 million tonnes, or an average of about 17,000 tonnes per facility. Of this, 2.9 million tonnes was composted at 85 private sector facilities, for an average of 34,000 tonnes per private facility. Public sector facilities accounted for just over one million tonnes, or about 8,500 tonnes per year per facility.

Figure 1 presents a comparison between 1998 and 2006. Even though the number of facilities does not appear to have grown much, the industry has grown in intensity and scope. In rough terms, facility size appears to have grown by 2.5 to 3 times. This fairly significant growth in average facility size was skewed upwards in part by the development of a few very large composting facilities (particularly in New Brunswick). Nonetheless, composting facilities are certainly getting bigger.

This is borne out in regional data. (See Figure 2.) Atlantic Canada is leading the charge with 1.3 million tonnes composted. This represents an increase in facility size from 5,500 tonnes in 1998 to 34,000 tonnes in 2006. Quebec and Ontario accounted for about 1.7 million tonnes composted. Its facilities have increased in size from about 9,000 tonnes in 1998 to 19,000 tonnes in 2006. In Western Canada, about 900,000 tonnes was composted. Its facilities increased in size from 3,000 tonnes in 1998 to 9,000 in 2006. Mindful that the City of Edmonton’s composting facility composts over 100,000, it’s clear that most western composting facilities are relatively small.

At first glance it does seem surprising that Atlantic Canada has such high tonnages. Both Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island collect and compost most organic wastes. The real reason is due to what I like to call “hinterland” composting — large facilities in the middle of nowhere taking incredible amounts of organic waste. There are a number of very large composting facilities (i.e., >100,000 tonnes/year) in New Brunswick. They compost a wide array of feedstocks including wood residuals, papermill biosolids, and other IC&I wastes. Quebec shares in that style of hinterland composting and has a number of very large facilities. To “call in the army to plough our snow” Ontarians it seems a bit surprising that the other regions are doing so much better. There is little hinterland composting in Ontario and feedstocks are more focused on residentially generated wastes. With its southern population so concentrated, Ontarians are lucky if they can get a compost facility sited and even luckier if it stays open. With the current export of close to 150,000 tonnes of organic wastes to Quebec, you get the picture.

Facilities interviewed indicated that on average they were operating at about 75 per cent capacity, meaning that there’s about 5.2 million tonnes of composting capacity the country.

The most common feedstocks accepted at composting facilities continue to be yard waste, wood waste and animal manures. About 30 per cent of composting facilities accept food wastes and 15 per cent accept biosolids. This has not changed much since 1998.

Windrow composting continues to be the most common technology used (by far) with about 75 per cent of facilities; this is up from 62 per cent in 1998 (Figure 3). About 15 per cent of facilities surveyed were in-vessel, up from 10 per cent in 1998. There has been a decrease in aerated static pile composting to 10 per cent from 27 per cent in 1998.

The gross decomposition rate or mass reduction rate for composting in Canada is estimated to be about 40 per cent (as about 2.4 million tonnes of compost is marketed annually). Just over 70 per cent sell at least of some their compost in bulk while about 25 per cent sell at least some of their compost in bags.

While there may be strength in numbers, the results of the recent Council survey show that while the number of facilities haven’t grown they have gotten bigger, no longer content to be Davids and perhaps agitating to be Goliaths.

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


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