Guy Malboeuf (left) and Daniel Desforges (right) at the landfill in Limoges. (Photo: Francis Tessier-Burns).

The key to the future of waste management? Organics

You’ve just woken up. It’s a sunny Sunday morning and you’re in the mood for pancakes. You whip up the batter—from scratch, of course—flour, sugar, vanilla, eggs (banana if you’re vegan). You clean as you go, wiping counter tops and not thinking twice about throwing away the eggshells (or banana peels) into the garbage.

For lunch, you make a salad and throw away the bottom of the your head of lettuce and other veggies. For supper, your steak is accompanied by mashed potatoes, the potato skins ending up in the garbage as well.

Before you know it, the garbage bag is full, and almost half of what’s in there is food waste. Imagine if there was somewhere else to throw those peels, shells and skins. Your garbage would last longer, and the food waste would go to a dedicated facility to be processed.

That is called diversion and according to Brian King it’s the key to the future of waste management.

Doesn’t it just degrade?

King is the director of operations for GFL Environmental in Eastern Ontario. Its head office is in Moose Creek at the Lacflèche Environmental landfill. King is also a member of the Compost Council of Canada.

He says waste management will have to become much more preventive and discerning; gone are the days of the single garbage bag with everything in it.

King says in this area, the average garbage bag is made up of about 40 per cent of food waste.

Large piles of organics in a landfill emit methane. While carbon dioxide makes up the majority of greenhouse gas emissions, methane is estimated to be 20 to 30 times worse for trapping heat.

To help combat that, GFL installed pipes under the landfill in 2013 to catch the methane and send it to a gas-to-energy plant.

According to King, the energy generated through the plant powers about 4,000 homes in the Moose Creek area.

While it’s a helpful initiative, it’s at the end of the waste chain. King says there has to be more work done to prevent the food from getting there in the first place.

Food waste across the board

Earlier this year, the province published Strategy for a Waste-Free Ontario. The document cites a study by the province’s Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, and says about one-third of all the waste in Ontario is food and organic.

Households are responsible for about 47 per cent, while the other 53 per cent happens along the food supply chain. That includes production, transportation, processing, etc.

In Canada, it’s estimated $31 billion of food is wasted every year.

Esthetics, the consumer mentality and even plain carelessness all play a role in how food ends up in a landfill.

When it comes to local diversion, King says a large part of that can come from changing the way waste is collected, meaning different bins for different types of waste.

“Municipalities may have to get into separate forms of collection,” he says. “For the organics, having the green bins for residents as opposed to just having garbage bags.”

But mention that to most people and they see dollars flying away.

Municipalities getting ready

Guy Malboeuf is the landfill sites coordinator for The Nation. He and his partner, Daniel Desforges, make up the municipality’s entire landfill managerial team.

At the municipality’s most recent council meeting on July 10, Malboeuf presented the five-year waste management plan.

Two things stood out for this story: the first, Malboeuf mentioned the province putting a ban on all organic waste in landfill by 2020; the second, the municipality’s contract with GFL for all of its household waste will be up in 2021.

In doing research, The Review couldn’t confirm there would be an all out ban on organics in three years. The province is working to develop a Food and Organic Waste Action Plan. Next year, it intends to begin implementing the first policies out of that plan, but there are not solid guidelines yet.

In a later email, Malboeuf confirmed he hasn’t seen any official deadlines yet, only information he’s gleaned through different meetings.

For now, Malboeuf says he isn’t looking to come up with a specific plan for handling food waste until the province comes out with proper guidelines.

Both he and Desforges say they aren’t opposed to the idea of having separate collection, but it’ll almost certainly incur extra costs.

“It’s another truck, another cost,” says Desforges. “It may bring down the cost of garbage collection since we’ll have less of it, but it’s still an additional cost for compost.”

Teaming up

“The whole opportunity if you’re talking organics is volume,” says King.

And that’s exactly of what most municipalities don’t have enough of to make a separate organics program viable, according to Malboeuf.

And King agrees, “They shouldn’t be in that business because it’s such a low volume. Cost per ton to operate would be right through the roof.”

In that case, he suggests municipality’s band together to get that volume and all funnel it towards a single facility.

“Municipalities are going to have to work more together and maybe take their hat off of ‘I have to have my own’ and look at what is good for a certain area or region,” he says.

While it may be a good idea, to Malboeuf, it’s just that—an idea.

“The municipalities could all sit down together, but not one is managed the same way,” he says. He wonders if that was to happen if it would be something taken on by the United Counties of Prescott and Russell or a new separate organization.

Both Malboeuf and Desforges are weary of the idea of getting more people involved.

“The more people around a table, the slower it goes,” says Desforges.

Education and enforcement

Both Malboeuf and King say education is still one of the most important efforts in the near future.

“Just the whole idea of why we should be doing it. It’s not a difficult one, but you’re really challenging people,” says King. “To be honest, most people know it goes out Thursday morning and it’s gone by Thursday night, and they don’t care.”

Malboeuf adds that reinforcing the upcoming changes will also be a big challenge.

Harking back to an argument used in the early days of recycling, he asks, “Are we going to have to start scouring through garbage? And if we do, will we start giving out fines?”

Many regulations regarding organics—and waste overall—are still up in the air.

Municipalities will likely still be on the front line for waste collection, but King says they can also share the overall waste burden.

“(They’re) in the boat and we want to go from point A to point B, maybe they don’t need to do the rowing,” he says. “Leave the rowing to the people that are good rowers, but you should be managing where we want to go and making sure people are rowing properly.”

But, that point B may not be the same for everybody.

Malboeuf says residents can expect changes when it comes to waste sorting and collection. He speculates it’ll likely be multiple types of bins for different waste: one for garbage, one for organics, two or three for different types of recycling.

“It’ll be a bit more work for residents,” he says.

And once those changes are in place?

“I think we’d build our own recycling centre,” he says, “that’s the only thing left to be self-sufficient.”

That’s exactly the kind of thought King is afraid of.

“My scare is everyone is going to try and do their own thing.”

While the province pushing for more sustainable waste practices, it’s left municipalities somewhat flailing. But, the question is no longer if regulations are coming, rather when and how. Long term waste management is an issue that affects everybody and is worthy of foresight rather than passive observation and reaction.