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County waste systems update suggests mulch and composter giveaways; organics facility

Plans to address incoming provincial rules and rising costs of dealing with organic waste in the County include promoting use of composters with a giveaway, seeking provincial approval to permit mulch giveaways at existing waste sites and investigation into building a municipal organics management facility.

The County’s waste diversion rate last year was slightly below the 2020 provincial average, but it exceeds the provincial goal of 30 per cent.

“The next Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) goal is set at 50 per cent waste diversion by 2030. This may require a shift in the way organics and waste are managed by the County,” said Albert Paschkowiak, the County’s environmental services and sustainability supervisor, in a report to Thursday’s committee of the whole meeting. “Developing a plan to manage organics in the County or locally, and a strengthened organics program will mitigate potential impacts related to any ban of organics from landfills. A homegrown solution would also ensure the County is ready to manage increased organic wastes that are anticipated to be generated as a result of population growth.”

The County operates three active waste disposal sites and four waste transfer stations (waste leaves the County), as well as maintaining several closed stations. Each falls under rules of the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) dictating operations. The anticipated lifespans of those sites ranges from 35 to 103 years depending on how they are used.

The curbside green bin pickup and disposal program for the County cost $319,000 in 2021 (half to collect, half to dispose) – funded entirely by taxes. The program dealt with 780 tonnes of food waste or source separated organics last year.

Paschkowiak’s report notes conversation with the contractor (e360 Solutions, which hauls the organics to its Moose Creek compost facility), “estimated that only 60 per cent of all households participate in the program and 80 per cent of the users are urban. This varies slightly from the results of the (recent public) consultation which indicate a 44 per cent participation from urban users and 56 per cent from rural.”

Just over 150 residents participated in the municipality’s recent Have Your Say online consultation.

Staff recommend council invest in giving away 200 composters in the fall, in effort to reduce organics leaving the County and subsequently, the cost of the program.

The report notes 44 per cent of respondents do not wish to transition to home composting from curbside green bins. Of the respondents, 62 per cent use the green bin program weekly, with almost 24 per cent generating more than half, or a full green bin. Just over half noted they could compost on ther property – 24 per cent were already doing it and 19 per cent stated they would be interested in trying it.

Respondents expressed interest in a pilot to compost leaf and yard waste at existing waste sites. Results of consultation with the province on this are expected to be presented to council in early 2023. About 60 per cent said they would transport their leaf and yard waste to a central location and 73 per cent indicted interest in using wood mulch generated by the County.

“A significant amount of leaf and yard waste material has accrued at the landfill and transfer sites. This material was originally used for interim cover; however, this practice is known to generate increased amount of leachate and greenhouse gases (methane) via anaerobic degradation.”

Staff are also in early preliminary discussion with Lehigh Hanson regarding using County waste (material that would end up in landfill and couldn’t be diverted otherwise) as alternative low carbon fuel (ALCF) for their kiln.

“Diverting municipal wastes for management at ALCF would require Lehigh Hanson to successfully amend their ECA (currently underway). This amendment will require a number of studies which evaluate the potential impact to adjacent residents. Use of refuse in the process would also require significant processing capabilities, currently not in place in the County, to make a suitable product for use by a kiln.”

Paschkowiak notes use of this material would require testing to ensure the material contains enough thermal units to meet Lehigh’s threshold. “At this point there is no municipal decision related to this pilot project, as it is governed by the province.”

Staff does not recommend other options considered, including, increasing bag tag fees, user-pay fees or discontinuing organics pickup. It also did not recommend participation in a Food Cycler program presented to council recently due to the high cost of the home units and participation in the program estimated to cost as much as $4 million to implement (not including ongoing electricity and replacement filters) on equipment that would likely need replacement after six to seven years.

“This is in contrast to a low-tech solution such as a waste recycling compost facility that will require a single upfront investment, modest operating costs, would be accessible to all.”

The report notes that with the population increase expected over the next several years, a municipal composting facility could help manage future increases in organics generation and could offer a revenue source with compost.

Paschkowiak notes staff recommend retaining a consultation to detail feasibility, costs and design to be included in the 2023 capital budget. The feasibility cost portion is estimated at $50,000 to $100,000.

“There are a number of facility types that would meet the demands of the County, ranging in approximate cost from $1.5 million for an open-air windrow compost (WRC) type system (similar to the facilities in Perth and Gravenhurst, Ontario) to over $5 million (such as anaerobic digesters or Gore systems that cover compost). Annual operational costs are estimated to be between $80,000 and $100,000 for an open row windrow facility. These costs assume the site could be built on County-owned property and operated by County staff. Conducting the required studies, planning, contracting, and construction of a composting facility is anticipated to take between three and five years to complete.”

The report also recommends the County revise its tender package for the organics program, breaking it down into components which would allow smaller, local providers who may be excluded from larger contracts if they are unable to service every aspect.

It was also noted the Federation of Canadian Municipalities offer grants for programs under the Green Municipal Fund that help municipalities achieve a waste diversion of over 60 per cent. The program offers low-interest loans of up to $5 million and a grant worth up to 15 per cent of the loan; to cover up to 80 per cent of eligible costs.

The Blue box program is also scheduled to transition to producer responsibility for 2025 due to provincial regulations. Consideration could be give to re-allocating funds from that program ($660,928 annually) to the capital and operational costs associated with organics management.

The report and recommendations comes before council’s June 21 meeting for decision.

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