IC&I Waste Management Trends

The industrial, commercial and institutional (IC&I) sector generates more waste than the residential sector, but for some reason the latter gets all the attention. This year, Toronto’s garbage exports to Michigan, Vancouver’s search for a mega-landfill, Halifax’s attempt at flow control within its regional borders, and other municipal stories have been front page news. But about IC&I waste we read very little.

That may be about to change in Canada, particular Ontario where waste management companies are going public with their concerns. Public opposition to the siting or expansion of landfills and other waste management facilities (like organics processing or thermal treatment plants) in concert with growing hostility to waste export has affected the companies and their customers. Tired of government dithering and policy agendas set by activists, the waste management industry is getting the word out about what it actually does, how many wastes and recyclables are generated, and the decline in disposal options.

Leading the charge is the Ontario Waste Management Association (OWMA), which represents waste service companies. The OWMA has launched a public information outreach campaign built in part around a report that Maria Kelleher, principal at RIS International Ltd. (and contributing editor to this magazine), prepared for the OWMA and presented at the association’s annual meeting on February 24. Entitled The Private Sector Waste Management System in Ontario (February 2005), the report focuses on Ontario, but many of its findings are relevant in other parts of the country.

As background, it’s worth noting that managing waste is a big business in Canada. Nationally, the total operating expenditure for the waste management sector was $3.37 billion in 2002. The breakdown of expenditure by industry size was:

* $775 million for businesses with less than 20 employees;

* $573 million for businesses with 20-49 employees, and

* $2 billion for businesses with 50 employees or more.

MRFs and organics plants

Ontario has a lot of material recovery facilities (MRFs) — some say too many. (See John Mullinder’s article, page 22.) IC&I waste is processed for diversion through 76 MRFs, of which 56 are owned by private sector operators.

Organic IC&I waste is processed at some of the 74 composting operations in the province. The study identified 37 composting or anaerobic digestion facilities owned by the private sector. The remaining 37 organics facilities are publicly owned. Most are small; only nine have permitted capacities above 20,000 tonnes per year, and a huge portion of the available capacity is concentrated in just five facilities.

The plants can process about one million tonnes of organic material per year. Waste managers call this an “extreme shortage” and indeed some material is exported to Quebec for processing. A small amount of diversion occurs at processing/transfer facilities and as a “last chance harvest” at landfills.

Transfer stations

Transfer stations have become a more essential part of the IC&I waste management infrastructure since export to the U.S. became a significant component of the waste management system. IC&I waste is managed through a network of 112 transfer stations throughout Ontario, about two-thirds of which are in the Greater Toronto Area (29 are within Toronto itself). Eleven are municipally owned — the rest are private sector facilities.

Permitted operating conditions for transfer stations vary, but the most critical limitation is the “in-out” limit; this is 299 tonnes per day for many transfer stations. This limits their capacity and flexibility, particularly during slowdowns or closures at the US border.

Transport trailers haul the waste to landfills in Ontario and the U.S., and to EFW incinerators in both Ontario and the U.S. There is only one incinerator in Ontario (Algonquin Power in Peel) which accepts some IC&I waste. Some IC&I waste is also transported to an incinerator in New York State.

Landfill capacity

Current landfill capacity in Ontario is estimated at about 80 million tonnes. Slightly more than half (42 million tonnes) is in municipal landfills; the remainder is in private sector sites. Most Ontario IC&I waste disposal occurs at 11 of the private sector landfills, the majority of which most are in Southwestern Ontario; a few are located in Eastern Ontario.

Interestingly, the private landfills used for IC&I disposal in Ontario have a permitted maximum fill rate of about three million tonnes per year. This is significantly lower than the 6.2 million tonnes of IC&I and construction/demolition (C&D) waste that needs to be disposed annually. A number of these landfills will close by 2009, and a true crisis may ensue. Currently, the gap between need and capacity is filled by disposal in the United States, with most waste exports disposed in Michigan and to a lesser extent New York State.

Says the study: “Waste management professionals feel that September 11th was a ‘wake-up call’ to the vulnerability of the Ontario waste management system when access to the U.S. is constrained.” IC&I waste was been exported for years without any problems, but the Toronto municipal waste disposal contract with Republic Waste Services, and the large amount of traffic to one landfill, Carleton Farms, has galvanized resistance to Ontario waste export into Michigan, and ongoing attempts be legislators there to tighten the rules.

Even if the border remains open to Canadian waste exports, slow downs at the crossing points coupled with reduced hours of service for drivers south of the border have created operational challenges for Ontario waste haulers. These include driver retention, the need for additional trucks and containers, and the unpredictability of the border crossing times.

Experts agree that more permitted landfill capacity is needed in Ontario to meet current and future domestic needs, even if significant waste diversion occurs. To achieve this the current environmental assessment and regulatory approvals process needs to be amended “to allow for the efficient and timely approval of composting, transfer station and landfill capacity,” the study authors conclude.

The current permitted landfill capacity of 80 million tonnes is lower than previous estimates because of the elimination of the proposed Adams Mine landfill as a disposal option. Approvals are being sought for an additional 61 million tonnes of capacity, but there’s no firm date for approval or denial of these applications.

IC&I industry details

The Ontario waste management industry consists of 436 businesses that range in size from single truck “mom and pop” operations to large multi-national corporations. It employs 9,116 people. Operating revenues are $1.76 billion, with expenditures of about $1.52 billion. In 2002, approximately $161 million was spent on capital projects.

About 80 per cent of the industry’s collection business serves private accounts; the remainder involves municipal collection contracts.

Private sector businesses in the province generate 7.6 million tonnes of waste. Of this, just 1.4 million tonnes are diverted, leaving 6.2 million tonnes to be disposed.

About two million tonnes of IC&I and C&D materials are currently exported to the U.S. Over three million tonnes are disposed in private Ontario landfills; the remainder is disposed in municipal landfills. C&D waste generation is estimated at 1.1 million tonnes, with diversion of 145,000 tonnes and disposal of about one million tonnes.

The estimated diversion rate for IC&I waste is 20 per cent; the estimated diversion rate for C&D waste of 12 per cent. The Canadian Construction Association disputes this estimate and feels the value is closer to 26 per cent. (This dispute raises an interesting issue. Waste data
as defined by NAICS codes does not recognize what the generating industry diverts through reuse, recycling or recovery internally or what it recycles directly with an end user that is not in the waste industry. As generators find more ways to divert, the waste industry receives material that’s more and more difficult to recycle.)

3Rs undermined

In the early 1990s, various market and regulatory forces temporarily altered IC&I diversion practice in Ontario. When landfill tip fees increased to $150 per tonne in the GTA, many small recycling businesses were set up to divert various materials. However, IC&I waste started to move to the U.S. for cheaper disposal, mainly in Ohio, New York State and Pennsylvania as well as Michigan. A combination of state transportation regulations (e.g., axle weight restrictions) and disposal at shorter distances resulted in Michigan becoming the most economically attractive disposal destination. The cheap disposal caused demand for diversion services to collapse.

The situation was exacerbated by lack of enforcement of the so-called 3Rs regulation requirements on waste generators. Ontario Regulations 102, 103 and 104 require IC&I generators in certain categories to carry out waste audits and develop waste reduction plans. The regulations prescribe source-separation requirements for businesses of different sizes, mostly large generators. Owners of multi-family buildings are required to implement source separation programs.

After an initial flurry of activity to meet the perceived new needs of their customers, things quieted down. The 3Rs regulations were enforced for only a short period of time and eventually ceased because of a lack of environment ministry resources (something to which the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario drew attention to in the 2000-2001 Annual Report.)

IC&I waste generators stopped source separation, unless it saved them money. Some waste management companies offered to pick up unsorted waste and meet the recycling requirements by sorting it at mixed waste MRFs. But many new recycling or composting businesses set up in a temporarily high disposal price market either refocused on transfer or went out of business. So, it appears that if the government wants to drive diversion beyond that which is supported by economics, it will require a very significant and sustained commitment of resources.

Facilities and operations

Waste is deposited at transfer stations by front-end loader collection trucks (with a capacity of about 10 tonnes) or roll-off/compactor/lugger trucks. The waste is consolidated and compacted for loading into larger transport trailers. Ideally these transfer trailers need to be as close to 35 tonnes as possible under transportation regulations.

Many municipally-owned MRFs accept loads of IC&I material for a fee. Municipal MRFs which process blue box recyclables also processed over 100,000 tonnes of IC&I recyclables in 2002.

Fibre MRFs are specialized, mechanized facilities which sort and bale papers into different grades for sale to paper mills and brokers. The paper is source-separated by the generator (e.g., office tower) and collected in dedicated containers and/or collection routes. A number of companies such as Wasteco and Consolidated Fibres specialize in collecting paper from large generators and processing the paper in their own MRFs for sale to end markets.

The daily permitted tonnage is not available for most MRFs. Approval certificates sometimes stipulate the maximum residue from a MRF, with the value varying widely from 12 to 700 tonnes per day (with a typical value of 150 to 300 tonnes per day).

Composting is becoming a huge economic opportunity for waste service companies in Ontario. Toronto, York and Durham recently issued a joint tender for almost 300,000 tonnes per year of composting or biodegradable waste processing capacity to meet their joint needs.

Most aerobic composting operations in Ontario are open windrow sites, although there are a few in-vessel and enclosed facilities (Green Lane in London; Guelph; Ottawa Valley; Herhof at Caledon Landfill in Region of Peel, Wright in Meaford and the Ontario Science Centre). The design capacity is not available for all facilities, but for those where it was identified the combined capacity is over 900,000 tonnes per year. This capacity is concentrated in a few facilities such as All Treat Farms in Arthur (undergoing an expansion to 170,000 tonnes per year), Grow Rich, IMS (Integrated Municipal Services, a Walker Industries Holdings Ltd. company), Sweda Farms and HRL (Newmarket).

There are three anaerobic digestion facilities in the province, some of which have experienced problems but may provide interesting solutions in the future:

* Toronto’s Dufferin plant, which has a design capacity of about 25,000 tonnes per year, receives source-separated organics from the collection of commercial green bins and also from curbside residential programs in Etobicoke and Scarborough. (The facility is operating at capacity and sends other source-separated material to Guelph and Quebec.)

* The former CCI plant in Newmarket which was purchased by Halton Recycling Ltd. and is being refurbished. This facility is approved to accept 150,000 tonnes per year of biodegradable material, making it the second largest facility in the province.

* The SUBBOR plant in Guelph, currently in mothballs awaiting the outcome of litigation (See April/May 2004 edition of this magazine atwww.solidwastemag.com).

There are no mixed waste processing facilities for IC&I waste in Ontario at this time. Past efforts to process IC&I materials in mixed waste facilities have proven unsuccessful and the industry has concluded that material must be source-separated to generate value and allow diversion to increase.

Landfill capacity shortfall

The inventory of 81 landfills in Ontario is substantially lower than the 730 landfills in operation in 1989. Many of the landfills are smaller municipal landfills located in Northern Ontario.

Difficulties with the environmental assessment process, particularly for private sector proponents, has resulted in only a handful of landfills being approved in the last 10 to 15 years. This situation will persist until current annual disposal capacity meets disposal requirements on a 20-year rolling average basis.

The inventory developed for OWMA identified 79.5 million tonnes of available approved capacity as of January 2005. However, as mentioned, geographic and annual fill rate restrictions make this total number misleading.

The current disposal capacity for IC&I waste in Ontario is provided by 11 private sector landfills, and the Algonquin Power EFW plant in Peel (the only incinerator in the province which can accept IC&I waste, mostly from Pearson Airport). Municipal landfills such as Essex Windsor, Brantford, London, Waterloo, Hamilton-Glanbrook and Ottawa Trail Road accept some IC&I waste. Toronto transfer stations accept about 300,000 tonnes/year of IC&I waste and haul this material to Michigan.

Without any landfill expansions, current IC&I waste disposal capacity is slightly over three million tonnes per year and this will drop to 2.4 million tonnes around 2009 when Petrolia, WSI Navan and Walker close. This estimate assumes that 680,000 tonnes per year are disposed at the Ridge landfill near Chatham (formerly owned by Waste Management and now owned by BFI Canada as the result of a Competition Tribunal ruling). The estimate also assumes that the LaFleche landfill at Moose Creek disposes of 200,000 each year, which is its highest permitted annual fill rate amount. This figure also assumes that the Taro landfill in Hamilton continues to accept about 500,000 tonnes per year (its current fill rate) rather than its maximum permitted fill rate of 750,000 tonnes due to service area restrictions.

Expansions at four large lan

dfills in Ontario (Warwick, Richmond, Walker and Green Lane) are at various stages in the approvals process. The status of these expansions is uncertain because of the Richmond Sutcliffe decision regarding the current environmental assessment process in Ontario. The Walker expansion is just beginning while some of the other sites have been in the EA process for more that five years.

It’s worth noting that even if all the expansion applications were approved and implemented and these sites added approximately 1.6 million tonnes per year of additional capacity, this would still not be sufficient to meet Ontario’s IC&I disposal requirements of 6.2 million tonnes per year.

Something for government policymakers (and everyone!) to think about.

Guy Crittenden is editor of this magazine.