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Money and the Environment

Spending wisely on waste?

In 2004, Ontario committed to divert 60% of waste from landfill by 2008. I can’t find any evidence that we achieved this target; now we may be going backwards.
Attempts to divert organics from landfill, for example, have been plagued with odour problems. Many municipal and private composters have been prosecuted, and in some cases shut down, for odour discharges.  Now, Ontario’s proposed new rules for composting and compost use will make organic diversion even more difficult and expensive. Which suggests that more wastes will end up in landfills.Lots of new requirements will increase costs. For example, most composting will have to take place indoors, in buildings expensively outfitted with positive air controls and odour removing technologies. Any rainwater that touches compost will be deemed to be landfill “leachate”, which must be collected, treated, and tested before discharge. Existing exemptions for retail sales of compost will be eliminated. Tolerance for foreign matter and trace elements in the compost will be even more limited than before, even though contamination of organic feedstocks is high.

This is an illustration of a larger problem.  Ontario brags proudly about its municipal collection methods and how much waste they are diverting from landfill.  But all they measure is how much goes into the blue, gray and green boxes. Unfortunately, the resulting waste streams can be so contaminated that they overwhelm the sorting capabilities of municipal processing sites. In turn, these sites ship contaminated feedstocks to recycling plants or composters, which must then landfill part of what they receive. It is yet another powerful example that measuring the wrong thing can produce counterproductive results.

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