The city’s environment and climate change committee has approved a draft 30-year solid waste master plan, including asking staff to go ahead with a feasibility study and a business case for alternative technologies to manage Ottawa’s growing stream of garbage.
Those technologies include incinerating garbage in a waste-to-energy facility producing more energy than it uses and mixed waste processing in which materials that can be diverted are mechanically separated from collected garbage.
The draft plan, which took four years to develop, identifies 50 recommended actions to stretch the lifespan of the Trail Waste Facility Landfill, which opened in 1980. A report to the city estimated the landfill would be full between 2034 and 2035 and wouldn’t meet the city’s long-term needs unless immediate changes were made. The city has not identified any potential sites for a new landfill.
It would cost between $350 million and $400 million for a new landfill, which is not included in the city’s 10-year financial plan, the environment committee heard Tuesday.
“We are at a key juncture where the city must decide how waste will be managed in the future and decisions must be made within the short term to ensure we’re set up for success,” said Shelley McDonald, the city’s director of solid waste services.
Ottawa’s population is forecast to reach 1.5 million people by 2053 and the municipal waste stream is projected to increase by 30 per cent over the next three decades. Fulfilling the need for waste disposal is also a moving target. The draft plan acknowledges there have been policy and legislative updates from both the federal and Ontario governments in recent years, such as a potential ban on food and organic waste disposal at landfills.
The draft master plan includes numerous measures ranging from reducing consumption to exploring new technologies. Mixed waste processing could extend the landfill’s life by 18 years. A waste-to-energy incinerator could give it 30-plus additional years.
An estimated 185,000 tonnes a year of waste could be eligible for incineration. Mixed-waste processing has the potential to divert about 30,000 tonnes of organics from the landfill each year, the draft plan says. However, the plan does not go into great detail on incineration and mixed waste processing.
At the top of the “waste hierarchy” is reducing the amount of waste. That will mean supporting and persuading the community to change their lifestyles and influence industry and the wider community to reduce, reuse and divert waste.
Brian Tansey, one of the founders of Waste Watch Ottawa, urged the city to prioritize reducing waste. User pay is the best way to encourage that, he argued.
“We have to get people to reduce, and that includes not buying stuff,” he said. “If we had user pay, individuals and ordinary members of the public would have to think about this.”
Kate Reekie, an environmental consultant speaking for Community Associations for Environmental Sustainability (CAFES), told the committee that Ottawa continued to lag behind other Ontario municipalities in waste reduction and diversion. The draft plan also lacked a sense of urgency and ambition, she said.
Reekie was also concerned that incineration remained on the table. Incinerators require at least some waste in order to operate, and the resulting ash must still be removed to a landfill, she said.
“With an incinerator, there is every incentive for residents to continue wasteful consumption patterns given that there’s built-in need to keep feeding the incinerator at a certain level,” Reekie said.
The costs of an incinerator will be $450 million to $500 million, Reekie added. “It’s the most expensive solution.”
Rideau-Jock Coun. David Brown, who introduced the motion for a feasibility study and whose ward includes the Trail Road landfill, said he could understand that some people might not want to move to a waste-to-energy solution, but he said he understood that the landfill would fill up regardless.
“I’m just wondering if CAFES could tell me where the next landfill in Ottawa could go. Because I can assure you my ward doesn’t want the next one,” Brown said.
Kanata South Coun. Allan Hubley argued residents wanted garbage to be kept out of the ground by reducing, recycling or converting it to energy. A decision about an incinerator has to be based on evidence, he said, and technology is moving forward rapidly and will make it possible to “mine” landfills.
“By the time this things operating, we should be able to take what’s in existing landfills and run it through the incinerators,” Hubley said.
MRC Pontiac in west Quebec recently approved funding for a business plan to build a mega incinerator in Litchfield, near Shawville. Questions were also raised at the environment committee on Tuesday about whether Ottawa had considered sending its garbage there.
The committee heard that the city held preliminary discussions about 18 months ago. There are concerns that Quebec regulations do not allow for the interprovincial transport of waste. There are also questions about the cost of transporting waste to Quebec, the committee heard.
If council passes the draft master plan, the process will move on with a third round of community engagement before a finalized plan is presented to council in the second quarter of 2024. After that, city staff would seek council’s approval on various initiatives and strategies.
Meanwhile, the environment committee also gave city staff the go-ahead to begin the process of optimizing the Trail Road landfill. This includes maximizing waste storage in “valleys” between portions of the landfill that have already been filled. Permission must be obtained from the Ontario Ministry of the Environment.
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