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Unlimited speed limit, yet Canada stalled en route to diversion, waste experts say

Increase in waste generation despite myriad technologies available to reduce, reuse and recycle
David Nesseth
EcoLog, 11/30/2012 2:55:00 PM

Perhaps the biggest fear of two respected Canadian solid waste experts is that in 10 years’ time they’ll be at yet another environmental expo talking about the country’s poor progress on waste diversion.

Paul van der Werf, president of 2cg Inc. in London, Ontario (Ont.), and Michael Cant, principal and Canadian Waste Sector leader for Golder Associates in Whitby, Ont., are trying to understand why Canada has virtually stood still while its waste generation has more than tripled over the last 70 years. They know all too well that myriad waste diversion technologies are ripe for the taking, and have never been so plentiful.

“It hasn’t changed a lot. Waste diversion is stalled nationally and provincially,” Cant told a November 14, 2012 audience at the Canadian Waste Sector Symposium in Toronto. “Waste is a participation sport. Are we doing things the right way? Or are there different ways we should be doing things?”

The waste duo has lectured on the expo circuit in recent months, bringing to life their co-authored article “Growing Waste, Stalled Diversion” from the summer 2012 edition of Solid Waste and Recycling magazine for other industry stakeholders across Canada. The stat-filled article seems to scratch its head in wonder over why waste generation has erupted despite myriad technologies available to reduce, reuse and recycle.

In terms of jumpstarting Canada out of its stalled position, the waste duo noted the upward swing of on-farm biogas, composting, mechanical and biological waste treatments, anaerobic digestion, and the promise of facilities like Ontario’s Durham York Energy Centre or the new facility planned for Edmonton, Alberta. That facility alone will convert an estimated 100,000 tonnes of non-recyclable or compostable municipal solid wastes into biochemicals and advanced biofuels.

“We need these [technologies] to get past the plateau we’re at,” said van der Werf, who noted there are currently about 24 biogas facilities in Ontario

The Solid Waste and Recycling magazine article is hinged on Statistics Canada data that has been central to the waste duo’s expo presentations. For example, van der Werf told the symposium that waste generation is closely linked to Gross National Product. In 1940, Canada’s estimated waste generation rate was about 300 kg per capita, van der Werf said. Now it’s about 1,000 kg per capita. Waste generation has been on a steady climb until recent years, when the economy slumped and correspondingly dropped waste generation rates with it. 

“As we become more prosperous we generate more waste. Not a big surprise,” he said.

 In fact, the “Growing Waste, Stalled Diversion” article actually begins with an observation that touches on the link between waste and time. The article begins: “It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact year that our society shifted from mere subsistence to affluence.”

Cant and van der Werf said they’ve found distinct differences between the residential waste sector and the industrial, commercial and institutional (IC&I) waste sector that have contributed to Canada’s stalled waste diversion. Since 1998, waste disposal in the residential sector has increased by about 10 per cent; IC&I waste has increased by about 15 per cent. Diversion, meanwhile, increased by 70 per cent in the residential sector, and only by 15 per cent in the IC&I sector.

The waste duo explained to the symposium that setting waste diversion goals are important, however, they need to be attainable goals. For example, they said Ontario currently has a 50 to 60 per cent diversion goal with no timeline attached. Worse still is that these goals were set back in the early nineties.

“It becomes completely meaningless,” van der Werf said. “The number’s so big, it’s not realistic. Let’s get to 30 per cent.”

For years, Ontario’s waste diversion rate has hovered just below 30 per cent, according to Ministry of the Environment data.

Businesses should also consider setting waste diversion goals, van der Werf said.

Next stop on the road to diversion is the example set by Nova Scotia. The two experts said Nova Scotia has led the way by banning organic waste from landfill back in 1999. This resulted in the highest level of waste diversion in Canada, they said.

Quebec is poised to enact landfill bans of its own, starting with cardboard and eventually organics. For maximum impact, the waste duo said landfill bans should target organics, paper fibre, and especially construction and demolition wastes, which has only a 20 per cent diversion rate.

“Paper [diversion] is slowly being overtaken by organics as more programs get in place across the country,” Cant said.

Cant also noted that burning garbage shouldn’t be a debate, but a formula.

“It’s not whether we should or shouldn’t do it. It’s how much should end up there,” Cant told the audience.

Other avenues for change include following Europe’s lead by implementing landfill taxes to “alter the economic landscape and make diversion more attractive”, the waste duo wrote in their article.

Waste-to-energy projects are some of the most promising and unchartered waste solutions for Canada, Cant said. Anaerobic digestion facilities are popping up more and more. In Ontario alone, the Bruce Energy Centre and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, have conducted extensive research into using biogas as cooking fuel, in heat and power gas engines, and upgrading it to natural gas-quality biomethane. The nutrient-rich digestate produced can be used as fertilizer.

If Canada is willing to invest in some of these new technologies for waste diversion, van der Werf and Cant said the country can start to get back on track to tackle waste as the population climbs to 35 million and beyond.

Read the State of Waste in Canada article here.

Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment released key regulations in 1994: the 3Rs (Reduction, Reuse and Recycling)

• Recycling and Composting of Municipal Waste (O. Reg. 101/94)

• Waste Audits and Waste Reduction Work Plans (O. Reg. 102/94)

• Industrial, Commercial and Institutional Source Separation Programs (O. Reg. 103/94) 

• Packaging Audits and Packaging Reduction Work Plans (O. Reg. 104/94)

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