Composting in Canada

Canada generates about 32,000,000 million tonnes of municipal solid waste (MSW) annually, or about 0.

by Paul van der Werf and Michael Cant

Canada generates about 32,000,000 million tonnes of municipal solid waste (MSW) annually, or about 0.971 tonnes per capita per year. Trying to put a value on the market is difficult. If one assumes compost is worth CAN$10/tonne (US$8.5), the market value is approximately CAN$25 million (US$21.4 million).

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Looking more broadly, Industry Canada reported the value of the waste management and remediation services was about CAN$24 billion (US $20.25 billion) and has been increasing at about 5% annually. This monetary figure is calculated for 2004, extrapolated from the 1997 dollar value.

Despite increasing waste diversion programmes Canada’s waste generation per capita continues to increase at a rate of approximately 1.5% a year. In terms of disposal strategy, Figure 1 shows Canada’s continuing reliance on landfilling.

Assuming that about 50% of residential wastes are compostable, it can be estimated that approximately 6 million tonnes of organic wastes are produced in Canada annually by the residential sector. And an estimated 17% of these organic wastes are currently being captured for composting.

A recent survey of composting trends in each of Canada’s 10 provinces indicates considerable variability in terms of access to programmes and number of composting facilities.

Composting at home

It is estimated that 17 million Canadians have access to kerbside organic waste collection. Essentially all of these receive leaf and yard waste collection. Of these municipalities, 40% also have source-separated organics (SSO) programmes, in which residents are expected to sort their compostable kitchen waste and place it in the appropriate bins for collection. Table 1 presents a province-by-province overview describing access to kerbside programmes.

The composting industry

The composting industry in Canada has slowly but surely grown over the last 15 years. In general it has not benefited from significant government monetary support, so it really has been a ‘fittest shall survive’ journey.

In recent years there has been a significant increase in the amount of SSO collected for composting. This trend was started by the Province of Nova Scotia, which in the late 1990s banned organic waste going to landfill. More recently there has been considerable development in Ontario where a 60% diversion goal is spurring the development of these residential programmes. There are about 350 composting facilities across the country. Because of its slow but steady growth the health of the industry is good. It continues to grow. The thorn in the side of the industry does continue to be odour. While good operators have figured it out, there are still unwelcome examples of facilities that are curtailed or closed due to odour issues.

Technologically the industry is diverse. All manner of technologies - from aerated static pile through in-vessel systems - are used to compost wastes. There has been a trend to compost SSO using in-vessel systems in recent years and some Dutch technologies such as Christiaens and Orgaworld have been starting to make inroads. Recent years have also seen the emergence of some larger composting companies such as Quebec’s GSI and New Brunswick’s Envirem. Both of these companies compost significant quantities of organic wastes in very large (often > 100,000 tonnes/annum) outdoor composting facilities. Canada benefits from large open spaces, making these types of facilities possible in the right place.

Legislative position

In Canada responsibility for waste lies at the provincial government, not at the federal level. Much of the responsibility for action, however, comes at the level of individual municipalities who actually collect and process the compostable materials and other MSW. In Canada, municipalities are responsible for collecting MSW from individual residences (about half of which is compostable), while private companies typically handle institutional, commercial and industrial (IC&I) waste.

There continues to be broad support amongst the Provinces to compost wastes. However, in some Provinces the development of composting is quite limited. Factors impacting development include the vast distances and low population densities requiring vehicles to travel considerable distances to collect organic waste. Also, the wide-open spaces in much of the country leave plenty of space for landfill, removing the financial and environmental incentives that have pushed some parts of the world to compost more.

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Nova Scotia (population 800,000) is in the ‘Best’ category. It stimulated the development of composting programmes by banning organic waste disposal from landfills in the late 1990s. A newly launched programme in the northern section of the province, Cape Breton Island, will mean that almost all of the residents of this province will soon have kerbside collection of SSO. The Province is internationally recognized in this regard.

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Ontario, with the country’s largest population (12.5 million, about four million concentrated in the Greater Toronto Area), is squeezed by some of the country’s highest population densities particularly in the region around the western end of Lake Ontario, which includes Toronto. This has meant landfill space is limited, prompting municipalities to promote composting. The Ontario provincial government has a goal of 60% waste diversion by 2008. This has stimulated the development of SSO composting programmes. In fact most of the GTA now has some kind of kerbside programme in place or is planning one in the near future.

The market for compost products

The key end market for Canadian compost continues to be residential and horticultural markets. Markets are split between bulk and bagged product. Locally compost manufacturers sell back to the public and landscapers in bulk. Some larger and established producers sell to the bagging market - either bagging their own or selling to companies that bag and distribute products. Product sophistication has increased with time. Compost is not just sold as a product - it is blended with other components such as soil and peat to make an array of products that can be used in many applications.

The companies that have moved beyond bulk product sales are those that have recognized the importance of product quality, and more importantly, that have figured out how to make high-quality and consistent products. Emerging markets include erosion control and other value-added applications.

The evolution of the Canadian composting industry has recognized that the quality of their product is critical. To make composting profitable, one must move beyond tipping fees and make a product with clear monetary value. To that end the Composting Council of Canada launched a programme called the Compost Quality Alliance (CQA) in 2005. This programme is intended to go over and above regulatory requirements for factors such as metals, pathogens and stability and focus on parameters that are important to end markets.

Outlook

About 60% of the population have access to some sort of kerbside composting in Canada and there are about 350 composting facilities, yet in relative terms very little of the waste stream is in fact composted. There is considerable growth occurring in this industry and it is anticipated that the amount composted will continue to grow along with the facilities to service this growth.

For the industry to continue its development it will need to work out operational pitfalls such as odour and make a compost facility a standard piece of infrastructure that people are comfortable with. The industry will also need to continue the positive progress on standardizing and enhancing compost quality.

One of the big changes for composting comes with the growth in concern about climate change - composting is increasingly seen as a form of carbon management, and the issue is coalescing around how we efficiently use the energy represented by this carbon. The growth of the carbon-credit trading market in Europe, gradually becoming a reality in North America, will add more change to the composting picture.

Paul van der Werf is Owner and President of 2cg Inc., Canada.
e-mail: 2cg@sympatico.ca web: www.2cg.ca

Michael Cant is Senior Solid Waste Planner and Ontario Region Waste Sector Leader at Golder Associates Ltd, Canada.
e-mail: mcant@golder.com