Halifax officials want to end organics, recyclables sorting at Otter Lake landfill

·3 min read
The conveyors for the front-end processor at the Otter Lake landfill are shown. (Halifax Regional Municipality - image credit)
The conveyors for the front-end processor at the Otter Lake landfill are shown. (Halifax Regional Municipality - image credit)

Halifax municipal waste officials want to get rid of the process that sorts and separates organics and recyclables from the garbage bags sent to the Otter Lake landfill.

But a community monitoring committee opposes the move and has started a petition urging the municipality to "keep its 1999 promise" to the surrounding communities when they agreed to host the landfill.

"The environmental impact is first and foremost above all else," said Scott Guthrie, the chairman of the committee. "And the system now in place is our last protection to make sure food waste is removed before garbage is put in the landfill."

Guthrie worries if that material is not removed the landfill will attract rats and birds.

A new report from city officials suggests the front-end processor (FEP), which breaks open bags and sorts material, and the waste-stabilization facility (WSF), which biostabilizes organics, are no longer needed.

Significant drop

It points out that two policy changes have led to a dramatic drop in the amount of waste being sent to the landfill, from 134,000 tonnes a year down to 44,000 tonnes.

One change was the requirement, starting in 2015, for homeowners to put their garbage in clear bags when placing it curbside for pickup, an effort meant to cut down the recyclable and compostable material heading to the landfill.

The second was the decision to allow waste generated by the industrial, commercial and institutional sector to go to landfill sites in other municipalities.

A consultant's report done in November 2020 states "there does not appear to be any significant benefit to the continued operation of the FEP and WSF."

But Guthrie said there are no guarantees the industrial, commercial and institutional sector (ICI) will continue to send its waste to sites outside the municipality.

"The ICI sector is absolutely the worst waste to deal with," said Guthrie.

Guthrie also points out the Halifax region's population continues to grow.

'Standby' mode

The report states the FEP and WSF would not be completely removed, but "deactivated" and put in "standby" mode. Guthrie said the community monitoring community does not think that's a feasible option.

"When something sits idle for years the reactivation is not sustainable," said Guthrie.

The staff proposal was supposed to be debated by regional council on June 29. But the councillor for District 12, where the Otter Lake landfill is located, had the item put off to a future meeting.

Coun. Iona Stoddard said the committee only had three days to review the 125-page report. "They would like to do a presentation," she said.

The community monitoring committee believes the report will now be discussed on July 20.

According to Halifax waste officials, if the sorting and separation process is not removed the company operating the landfill site, Mirror Group, will probably implement an early termination of its contract and increase tipping fees to $170 a tonne from $125 a tonne, which could result in annual cost increase of just over $2 million a year.

But even if councillors vote in favour of the idea, the municipality would need approval from the provincial Department of the Environment.

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