Analysis of organic waste diversion efforts in Canada

Ontario, Canada – As Canadian provinces and territories set more ambitious goals for organics diversion and waste reduction, additional organics management infrastructure will be needed to meet these goals.

This is one of the conclusions of a recent analysis carried out by the Canadian Foundation for Environmental Research and Education (EREF-Canada), a scientific research organization that focuses on solid waste.

The diversion of municipal organic waste has become a growing concern across Canada, primarily at the provincial and local levels, as collection policies and programs have become widespread. But the collection and access to reliable data has been inconsistent. The results of the EREF-Canada study fill a number of information gaps.

Researchers looked at the 10 provinces and 3 territories to analyze each to (1) get a clear understanding of the organic waste management policies and approval / permit regimes in each, (2) the availability of the diversion program organic waste across the country, and (3) the number of operational organic waste treatment facilities, their capacities and tonnes processed.

For the purposes of the study, organic waste was defined as food waste not consumed and discarded, as well as inedible waste such as garbage, agricultural waste (e.g. (including grass clippings, debris from yard and garden). The report also covered residential, industrial, commercial and institutional organic waste diversion. It did not consider organic waste that could be applied directly to the land, composting in the yard or waste stabilization methods such as lime stabilization, fermentation and pasteurization.

The analysis revealed that most provinces (except the territories and more remote areas) have adequate processing capacity to handle more basic degradable materials such as leaves and yard waste. For example, collectively, there is sufficient processing capacity for 2.66 million of these basic degradable materials in static pile and windrow facilities (facilities with an open air process that places the material in long stacks that run regularly) in Canada.

However, most provinces do not have sufficient processing capacity to process larger and more complex materials such as source-separated organics. Based on the 3.08 million tonnes of treatment capacity available for tank and anaerobic digestion facilities, they are at full capacity or have relatively low buffering capacity.

The composting facilities were primarily responsible for managing the organic waste generated. Of the 4.83 million tonnes of organic waste treated in 2019, 72% was treated by composting facilities. EREF-Canada calculated that, on average, composting facilities treated 10,611 tonnes of organic waste. However, this reflects a wide range of plant sizes and processing capacities with plants handling from 50 tonnes to 150,000 tonnes. The anaerobic digestion facilities (facilities that degrade organic waste without oxygen) were responsible for the treatment of 1.35 million tonnes of organic waste.

Collectively, the 387 facilities can process up to 5.74 million tonnes (excluding Quebec) of organic waste per year. Total processing capacity reflects the ability to process easily degradable organic wastes such as leaves and yard waste, as well as the ability to degrade materials that require more infrastructure intensive such as source-separated organics.

According to EREF-Canada analysis, there is a deficit of approximately 1.1 million tonnes of total capacity compared to the amount of food and yard waste generated annually. This capacity deficit becomes even more pronounced given that the majority of this waste is more complex food waste that may require more intensive infrastructure such as tank and anaerobic digestion systems. EREF-Canada found that there is a capacity of 3.08 million tonnes for the composting and anaerobic tank digestion facilities, resulting in a potential shortage of 3.72 million tonnes of capacity for the processing of more complex organic waste.

The 128-page report also highlights the growth of the organic waste sector in Canada since the early 1990s, when the first municipal green and yard waste collection programs were implemented. Research from EREF-Canada found that in 2019, there were a total of 328 composting facilities and 59 anaerobic digestion facilities active in Canada.

The researchers also found that there is widespread implementation of organic waste management programs at the local level. Ninety-one percent of all Canadians live in an area with a residential organic waste management program. Additionally, curbside programs are widely available, with 83 percent of the population living in an area having access to leaf and garden waste collection programs and 71 percent with access to separate organic programs in The source.

As a result of the analysis, the researchers say that in general, the country is highly motivated to increase the amount of organic waste diverted from disposal and reduce the amount of organic waste generated. Diversion for disposal was the most commonly used target across the country, with 10 provinces / territories citing diversion as the target. Waste reduction was the second most common goal, with 7 provinces / territories citing this goal.

The specifics of each province’s goals vary. For example, while the Canadian government’s overall goal is to reduce organic waste by 30 percent by 2030 (or 490 kg per person), the Ontario government is aiming for a 50 to 70 percent reduction in organic waste. ‘by 2023 or 2025, depending on the sector where the target is applied. Likewise, Nova Scotia is aiming for a waste diversion target of 50 percent, as well as a waste disposal target of no more than 300 kg / person / per year. Quebec and British Columbia were more aggressive targets. Quebec wants to recycle or recover 70 percent of all organic matter by 2030 and reduce the amount of waste sent for disposal to 525 kg per capita. Meanwhile, British Columbia aims to divert 95% of organic waste to agricultural, industrial and municipal waste.

EREF-Canada’s analysis suggests that as provinces and territories set more ambitious goals for organics diversion and waste reduction, additional organics management infrastructure will be required. The country has the capacity to collect additional materials, as many residents already have access to an organic waste collection program. However, the researchers say it is also necessary to ensure that these programs are regularly and correctly used by residents. Many provinces and territories have already developed policies and programs that advance their organic waste goals. Their continued progress will require supporting existing policies and programs, while promoting improved access and availability of organics management infrastructure.

To download the full report, click here.

The Environmental Research and Education Foundation of Canada is a registered charity with the designation of a public foundation. Its mission is to advance education by conducting and funding research on all aspects of the Canadian solid waste management industry in order to achieve greater sustainability, process efficiency and increased knowledge and by making results available to the public.

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