New program to divert organic waste from landfills

By Sara Ditta

After years of stalling, Ottawa will finally follow 13 other municipalities across the province and begin a new green bin program to deal with organic waste.

The decision was passed at city council this month and the contract was awarded to Orgaworld Canada. The company is a joint venture between Orgaworld, a Dutch company which deals with organic waste treatment, and Canadian company Conestoga-Rover & Associates.

The program will begin in early 2009 and will divert more than 100,000 tonnes of organic waste from landfills, says Felice Petti, the city’s manager of environmental programs.

The program will require people to dump their food waste into a green bin instead of adding it to the rest of the garbage. The organic waste will be processed separately to enhance decomposition and then be turned into useable material, such as soil.

The initial cost of the program will be $16.8 million, plus an annual cost of $13 million to keep it running. It amounts to $35 per household each year.

But some say it has taken too long to implement the program.

“We would’ve liked to see this program move ahead faster,” says Stefan Reinecke of Ecology Ottawa, a group devoted to keeping the city green. “We’d like to see more leadership from the city by being first to implement these issues.”

He says the fact that the city is lagging reflects a lack of leadership and creativity by council.

Proposals about starting such a program in Ottawa have been around for more than a decade, says Petti, but have been consistently defeated.

He says there has recently been a change in that attitude for a number of reasons, including the filling of current landfills.

The Carp Road dump was recently closed to residential garbage and trash is now being diverted to other sites.

Kanata South Coun. Peggy Feltmate has been a supporter of the program since she joined council in 2003. She says she is looking forward to its implementation, but also wishes it had been initiated sooner.

“For many years, people didn’t see the need for it,” she says. “They thought it was going to be too expensive.”

But there is still concern by some about the merits of the program.

Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Gord Hunter voted against the program at council. He says the program isn’t as useful in Ottawa as it may be in other municipalities because the city already has an energy-from-waste program.

The program began earlier this year. In it, waste that is dumped into landfills is used to produce electricity in the city.

Plasco Energy Group, the company in charge of the process, can gasify 85 tonnes of waste per day and produce 5.2 megawatts of electricity.

Hunter says the current system is better because the waste is being used to power thousands of homes.

“In Ottawa’s particular case, we’re a leader among municipalities in collecting landfill gas,” he says. “[The green box program] is a superficial look at the problem.”

Hunter says the money spent on the program could be put to better use.

Others disagree with the positive effect of the energy-from-waste program. Reinecke says it is a disincentive to reduce garbage, which should be the main priority.

The cost of building a new landfill would be much more expensive than the green bin program, he says.

There are also some concerns about what is being excluded from the program. In some municipalities, items such as diapers, sanitary napkins and pet waste are part of the program, but these items have been excluded in Ottawa so far.

Petti says these items may be included in the future, but it would be more expensive to add them.

This could pose a problem to parents and pet owners, especially if garbage pick-up changes from being collected once a week to once every two weeks, an idea which is also being considered to cut costs.

Hunter also doubts that the program will have a significant effect on landfill capacities. He says it is unlikely that every resident will completely participate in the program, which would be necessary for it to have its full impact.

Some of these concerns are reflected in the city’s decision to include an opt-out option in the contract with Orgaworld Canada.

The contract is designed to last 20 years, but the city added a clause which will allow it to drop out if technology improves before then.

Feltmate says the addition of this clause will add extra costs to the city during contract negotiations. It was added because people like to keep their options open, she says.

Another reason the program was defeated in the past was because of the perceived “yuck factor” of having to separate organic waste, says Petti.

However, he says once people gain experience, those issues will disappear. In a pilot version of the program, 80 per cent of participants accepted it.

“People already have stinky, smelly garbage that they’re dealing with right now,” adds Feltmate.