Composting conflict: How region plans to roll out complex, costly organic waste program by Ont. deadline

·4 min read
Windsor-Essex must have a residential organic waste program in place by 2025. (Shutterstock / Jerome.Romme - image credit)
Windsor-Essex must have a residential organic waste program in place by 2025. (Shutterstock / Jerome.Romme - image credit)

There appears to be an organic waste stalemate in Windsor-Essex, with many communities agreeing to a regional approach to the planned program, while two smaller municipalities say the cost is deterring them from opting in.

Ontario is requiring Windsor to divert 70 per cent of its organic waste from the landfill by 2025, while the target for Leamington, Tecumseh, Amherstburg and LaSalle is 50 per cent by the same time. Essex, Kingsville and Lakeshore are exempt from the provincial program due to their size.

But Essex County Warden and Tecumseh Mayor, Gary McNamara, said everyone needs to be all-in for this organic waste plan to really work.

"What's really important here is that you can't piecemeal participation ... because we all share one landfill. And you can't just say, I'm going to divert certain municipalities from participating in it and others can still put their organics into into the landfill," said McNamara. "We can't be looking like we're really serious about climate change and about preserving the landfill if we're actually not going to do it."

McNamara references an Essex County Council vote last month where the majority agreed to a regional organic waste program, setting into motion what he believes is a plan that includes all municipalities.

Jason Viau/CBC
Jason Viau/CBC

Still, both Essex Mayor Richard Meloche and Kingsville Mayor Nelson Santos tell CBC News they don't plan on participating in the regional strategy, at least not right away.

"It is also expected that the province will ban all organics from landfills in the future," according to an Essex County Council report in March.

"So, to implement a system that wasn't necessary due to the life of the landfill nor legislated, to add that cost on to taxpayers was a difficult pill, I think, for most politicians to swallow," - Anne-Marie Albidone, City of Windsor manager of environmental services

Starting an organic waste program from scratch likely won't come cheap. McNamara said he saw early estimates of up to $300 million and an additional $6 to $8 million annually to operate.

The cost all depends on which approach the region selects.

An anaerobic digestion system — which is the most expensive option — takes the organic waste and turns it into a renewable gas. A cheaper option would be to simply turn residents' kitchen scraps into compost.

Private or public facility?

Politicians are also considering whether taxpayers need to shoulder the cost of building a facility to process organic waste or if the private sector is a better option.

Seacliff Energy Corp has operated in Leamington for the last 11 years. The Toronto-based company takes organic waste and turns it into electricity, thermal energy and renewable natural gas.

"Private industry, we can process most efficiently and much cheaper than a municipality can," said Jason Moretto, president and CEO of Envest Corp, which owns Seacliff Energy. "It also removes the risk of these very complex processing and recycling systems from the taxpayer.

Jason Viau/CBC
Jason Viau/CBC

Some municipalities seem to have a desire to own their own assets," said Moretto.

The company said it has capacity to process organic waste from Windsor-Essex in addition to what it collects from other municipalities, including the City of Toronto.

Toronto has operated a residential organic waste program for the last 20 years and 90 per cent of people there use it.

The high success rate is attributed to a weekly organic waste pickup, while trash is collected biweekly. Plastic bags can also be used to place organic waste at the curb, rather than just compostable ones.

"Our facilities have been designed to effectively remove them," said Annette Synowiec, director of policy, planning and outreach with the solid waste management services at the City of Toronto. "So in the one facility it's kind of like a blender. So we blend it and open those bags and the lights or those bags will float to the top."

Jason Viau/CBC
Jason Viau/CBC

Once Windsor's organic waste collection program is set up, the city will likely turn to a private company to process its organic waste in the short term.

"That will help us get the actual data for our area on how much organics we're actually going to collect," said Anne-Marie Albidone, environmental services manager for the City of Windsor.

Why didn't Windsor-Essex act sooner?

Windsor-Essex is one of the few regions in Ontario that doesn't already have an organic waste program in place.

Others voluntarily took the initiative, well before the province dangled a deadline.

Jason Viau/CBC
Jason Viau/CBC

The city said it didn't pursue an organic waste program sooner because there wasn't a pressing need.

"There's nothing cheaper than putting garbage in the hole in the ground," said Albidone. "So, to implement a system that wasn't necessary due to the life of the landfill nor legislated, to add that cost on to taxpayers was a difficult pill, I think, for most politicians to swallow."

The region is conducting an online survey until the end of May to see what's most important for residents when considering a new organic waste program in the coming years.

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