A RESPONSE TO COUNCILLOR DAVID BROWN’S CALL TO ADOPT WASTE TO ENERGY INCINERATION
Ottawa Citizen Saturday January 7, 2023 https://ottawacitizen.com/opinion/brown-why-ottawa-should-adapt-a-waste-to-energy-plan
January 10, 2023
Landfills do generate significant quantities of methane gas as well as carbon dioxide. In comparison to waste incineration landfill disposal can have a comparatively bigger environmental greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint. This is not however an argument for incineration. It is an argument both for removing all organics from landfill disposal and for creating a better organics composting system with a much smaller environmental footprint.
Landfill methane, generated primarily by organic waste, is a more potent GHG than carbon dioxide from combustion. Diverting the organics into a composting or an anaerobic digestion system significantly reduces landfill gas generation.
Furthermore, capping a landfill and installing a landfill gas collection system can significantly reduce fugitive methane emissions. According to the Pembina Institute a landfill which captures 75% of the methane generated produces less GHG than an equivalent incinerator. The City has operated a landfill gas collection system at the Trail Road landfill since 2007 and made major improvements in 2018. While collection system effectiveness can vary from year to year, in 2019 the system recovered 89% of the gas generated.
The cost of an incinerator is indeed a challenge but to claim that “these costs are modest” ignores the financial reality that an incinerator is the most expensive way to dispose of waste.
The last big municipal waste incinerator built in Canada was for Durham and York Regions east of Toronto. It opened in 2015 after 10 years of controversy and start up challenges with construction and permitting costs of $284.2 million and in 2020 reported gross operating costs of $16.8 million. At 2023 prices an equivalent sized incinerator for Ottawa would cost considerably more in capital and life time costs and take years to be approved and built. The suggestion that “efficiencies” can be found to fund a capital investment of at least a third of a billion dollars stretches credulity.
Using municipal waste as a source of electricity and steam power might sound attractive, but power generated by any waste incinerator is never going to match the much lower GHG footprint of clean, green renewable energy from hydro, wind and solar sources.
If incineration isn’t the way to go what’s the answer? The answer lies in a series of mutually supporting, environmentally attractive and much cheaper waste diversion policies and programs such as those being evaluated by the City’s Solid Waste Master Plan. This means rolling out green bins to multi-residential properties and ensuring greater diversion of organics. In addition we must enhance recycling programs, restrict what can be put out for garbage collection and provide a direct incentive to divert more curbside waste from disposal. The latter can be achieved simply and more fairly by putting a price on what waste is collected through implementing a user pay system.
Priority should be given to extending the life of the Trail Road site and not replacing it with a highly environmentally problematic and very expensive waste incinerator.
Waste Watch Ottawa Briefing of New City Councillors
NOVEMBER 8, 2022
When thinking about the City’s waste management challenges and the upcoming 2023 decisions that will need to be made in response to anticipated Solid Waste Master Plan (SWMP) recommendations the following need to be taken into account:
- 9% of the corporate and community GHGs are represented by waste – collection trucks, leachate haulage, fugitive methane emissions
- Through the blue box, black box and green bin programs Ottawa diverts from landfill 43 – 45% of the total waste generated residentially in the city – we have been stalled at this level for years – at least since the implementation of the green bin in 2011/12
- In York Region the diversion rate is 65% and in Markham which is part of York Region the diversion rate is over 80%
The next numbers are the most worrying and are the numbers which need to be the primary focus as decisions are made about Ottawa’s waste management future
- SWMP waste audits show that 50% of the waste that is collected curbside and from multi-residential properties is not waste and should either be in the recycling program or the green bin program
- The Trail Road landfill will have to close in 14 years – capacity projections show that the site will be full by as early as 2036. This means that at the end of the 4 year term of Council the landfill will only have 10 years of life left
SO WHAT TO DO?
- Manage and use the Trail Road landfill as an “evergreen” sustainable facility as a long term asset for the 30 year planning horizon of the SWMP by reducing to the extent possible the residual waste requiring disposal
- A new landfill or an incinerator will take 10 years to locate, get approved, construct and commission. Each would cost in excess of $300 million. How easy will it be to locate either within the bounds of the City of Ottawa? How long might it take and at what environmental, financial and social cost? Where are the willing host communities?
- Focus on reduction and waste diversion
- Reduce the amount of garbage that can be put out for collection – 6 bags/containers is way too generous
- Phase in a user pay / pay as you throw system. Such systems are successfully used by dozens of municipalities. They work by providing an incentive to recycle and separate household organics. This may be controversial but if a decision is made to proceed early in the new mandate, looking back in 4 years the decision will be shown to be prescient and the right choice
- Specifically target products such as mattresses, electronics and textiles for special / depot collection for recycling
- Significantly increase spending on promotion and education to levels spent by comparable municipalities. Ottawa has consistently spent as little as 25% of what other municipalities spend per household
- Ensure the 2022 council decision to provide green bin collection to multi-residential buildings is properly and actively supported with staff resources and budget.
WWO Priorities for the Solid Waste Management Master Plan (April 2022)
- support city council’s zero waste vision and adoption of the climate emergency declaration
- aim for at least 70% waste diversion comparable to leading municipalities
- reduce climate impacts by improving organics collection and considering bio gas options
- no new landfill / no incineration
- manage and use the Trail road landfill as an “evergreen” facility for the long term
- adopt a user pay system for garbage collection
- reduce the allowable waste for curbside pickup
- mandate recycling and organics collection in all multi-residential properties as a condition of city garbage collection
- increase spending on promotion and education by 4 times to match spending by other municipalities