Group discussion interpreted by Duncan Bury and Brian Tansey
Priority action: Require waste reduction through a combination of disincentives for creating waste, incentives for good behaviour, and redistributing some parts of the waste management system. Operate the existing municipal disposal facility with a view to long-term sustainability rather than replacement.
Justification: Waste is a significant contributor to our city’s green house gas (GHG) footprint, and the City’s current waste management practices are not doing enough to reduce this impact. Municipal solid waste, recycling and green bin programs, which primarily serve the residential sector, produce approximately 20% of the City of Ottawa’s corporate GHG emissions according to the most recent available City data. While green bin wastes are composted using an aerobic process that does not emit methane gas, large amounts of residential organic wastes continue to end up in the garbage. They are disposed of at the City’s Trail Road landfill where they become a major source of methane gas (a powerful GHG). Unfortunately, the City’s methane gas capture system at the Trail Road landfill site is not able to capture about 30% of the methane produced.
Reducing waste quantities, diverting wastes into the recycling program and increasing the reuse of organic wastes by composting can significantly reduce the City’s waste management GHG footprint. It can also support the development of a circular economy and reduce the need for, and reliance on, mining minerals and fossil fuels to produce materials such as aluminum and single use plastic products. It would also extend the life of the Trail Road landfill site, which is currently scheduled to close in 2042. Matching waste reduction and waste diversion rates from the current 42% to 65% achieved by other municipal programs in Ontario would extend the life of the existing landfill facility to the mid 2060’s. Redirecting the existing landfill facility into a permanent and sustainable asset would sidestep the politically and environmental challenging option of finding a replace and avoid a capital investment in the order of $300m.
- Develop a user pay system for garbage. Currently, there is poor public participation in the green bin program and very limited access to the program in multi-residential buildings. A full or partial user pay system for garbage would create an incentive for residents and owners of multi-residential buildings to reduce reliance on garbage collection and encourage use of both the recycling and green bin programs. This would mean that garbage collection would be funded in a way similar to a utility where the amount of service used – i.e. the amount of garbage put out for collection – would be paid for directly, by the container or by the bag, rather than as a general “free” service funded through property taxes. The blue and black box and green bin could remain at no direct cost to residents. User pay systems for garbage have been implemented and proven successful in both small and large municipalities in Ontario. Implementation of any user pay system needs to be carefully managed and enforcement action taken to prevent some residents – a small minority based on experience elsewhere – trying to avoid user pay fees by illegally dumping their waste in rural areas.
- Develop a system of local waste depots. Transforming the current centralized waste management and waste diversion system by adding local waste depots would allow residents to go relatively short distances to recycle their waste and otherwise manage problematic wastes like household hazardous wastes, clothing and textiles and electronics not currently managed effectively by the City of Ottawa. A local network of depots would enable drop off for recycling and discourage the all too easy option of disposing of such waste in household garbage.
- Improve waste management by small and medium sized businesses. The City has almost exclusively focused its waste management services on the residential sector. More effort needs to be put into participation in the recycling and organics programs by small and medium sized businesses located in the midst of dense residential areas such as the Downtown core. The City’s Yellow Bag program, which is a user pay garbage program for small businesses along with recycling and green bin pick up, needs to be more carefully monitored, enforced and expanded in scope.
- Invest more in education and promotion of waste reduction and divertion. The City of Ottawa currently spends considerably less per household on waste education and promotion of its programs than almost all large Ontario municipalities. This under spending is likely one reason why waste diversion performance is weak in Ottawa compared to other comparable Ontario municipalities. Consistent, imaginative and well-funded education and promotion to support current diversion programs and discourage waste generation is a key element in any successful waste management program.
- Improve waste management at multi-residential properties. More effort by the City is needed to promote recycling and organics collection from multi-residential buildings such as apartment buildings, townhouse complexes and condominiums. The City provides garbage collection service to many of these buildings and supports recycling and some green bin service. Working closely with residents, building owners and managers and condominium associations, as the City is starting to do, and stronger promotion of recycling and organics collection would improve overall environmental performance. The City should also require green bin organics programs in multi-residential buildings as a condition of the City’s garbage collection service.
- Apply a GHG lens to the development of the Solid Waste Master Plan. The City has embarked on a 3 phase Solid Waste Master Plan that is due for presentation to City Council in the last quarter of 2021. The plan is designed to provide an overall framework, direction, and goals for solid waste management, diversion and waste reduction policy over the short, medium and a long term horizon of 2052. Phase 1 of the plan is underway and is focusing on documenting the current waste management situation in Ottawa. Phase 2 will identify, review and identify options for future systems and programs. Phase 3 will recommend options for implementation and include a 5 year implementation plan. The development of the Plan is a strategic opportunity to apply a GHG lens to the current waste management system and to carefully assess the GHG impacts of any future proposed waste management options such as the ones outlined above, compared to less desirable options such as incineration or large landfills and centralized facilities. Given the City’s decision to allow plastic bags in the green bin program, regular progress reports on the impact of this decision on participation, tonnages collected and compost quality is essential.
Immediate Steps: Revise the mandate of the current plan for development of the Solid Waste Master Plan to apply a GHG lens to the options under consideration. In the meantime, take steps to immediately invest in education and promotion of current programs.
Linkages with other priorities:The need for implementation and accountability by the City applies to all priorities raised during the workshop, including the need for transparent and regular reporting on the performance of existing waste management and waste diversion programs. Redirecting organic wastes into local and household level composting can also contribute directly to making local food production more viable, and should be built into plans for intensification, redevelopment and new builds in already designated growth areas.
Inadequate waste management is a significant contributor to Ottawa’s GHG footprint. Reducing waste quantities and diverting more materials into the recycling and green bin organics programs would reduce GHG’s, support a more sustainable circular economy and significantly extend the life expectancy of the City’s Trail Road landfill site. A user pay system for waste, local waste depots, a focus on multi-residential dwellings and increased promotion and education are priorities for improving the City’s waste management environmental footprint. The planned development of the City’s solid waste master plan is a major opportunity to examine, debate and collectively decide which options are best suited to managing waste while also reducing GHG emissions.