Resource management – not waste management

In the 21st century, we should be viewing waste as a resource and not a liability.


On October 13, I released my follow-up report on the Waste-to-Energy Tour I took in Sweden in May to the City’s Planning and Environment Committee.


For far too long, the City of Ottawa has approached municipal services as independent entities; in Sweden, under the framework of the ‘SymbioCity,’ the approach is to find links between municipal services and invest in them to maximize results. The by-product is an integrated approach that can be adapted to different developable areas, be it urban or suburban, yielding substantial environmental and financial rewards.


Two messages derived from the Waste-to-Energy tour are how best to dispose of waste and how to collect waste more efficiently. In Sweden, landfilling has decreased and material recovery, biological treatment and incineration for energy recovery have increased as a result of more sorting of waste at source and changes in waste treatment. The quantity of energy and materials recovered has risen dramatically as a result. These measures have also reduced the environmental impact of waste management. To contextualize, landfilling of household waste fell from 1,380,000 tonnes in 1994 to 380,000 tonnes in 2004, with just nine per cent of household waste being disposed of in a landfill.


With the Terms of Reference (TORs) for the expansion of landfills forthcoming, landfilling should be viewed as the smallest component of the TORs, with considerable emphasis placed on the development and implementation of other technologies, like Plasco and incineration.


From a waste collection standpoint, there are a number of key initiatives aimed at increasing the efficiency of traditional curbside pick-up by replacing it with more advanced collection systems, specifically Envac and Optibag. As the cost of energy increases, coupled with the rise in greenhouse gas emissions, we need to investigate better methods of collection in order to better our carbon footprint.


Envac’s underground waste system blurs the line between commercial and domestic garbage. The collection system is facilitated by the efficient separation of waste into dedicated streams through a vacuum technology that utilizes pipes to move waste from deposit portals to sorting stations. This technology would be ideal in dense urban areas, such as a block of new condominiums or office towers.


Optibag, on the other hand, continues the delivery of curbside waste collection, but places considerable emphasis on source-separation. Household waste is sorted at source into colour-coded bags and stored in one standard bin and collected by one service truck. The waste is then transported to a plant and all bags are tipped into one receiving pit. Using a videosystem that recognizes the colour of the bag passing a sensor, the bags are sorted and treated accordingly. This technology would be ideal in older apartment buildings or in the IC&I waste sector. Apartment buildings have a low recycling participation rate and the City is still trying to determine how to integrate the organics program into multi-floor complexes with single chutes. The Optibag concept could alleviate some of the issues the City is facing, and encourage active recycling participation.


My report recommendations are: The City of Ottawa, in conjunction with the City of Gatineau and with the cooperation of the Swedish Trade Council, establish a Task Force to investigate the waste handling practice of incineration and its suitability in the National Capital Region; and, the Task Force work cooperatively with the Ministry of the Environment to ensure the investigation of incineration proceeds and is included in any Terms of Reference for future landfill opening or expansion applications. Finally, I have requested that Planning and Growth Management staff work jointly with the developers of the Fernbank lands to explore state of the art technologies and principles relating to waste. All of these recommendations are supported by Staff.


I had a representative from Envac and Optibag on hand to give presentations on how these programs could be implemented in Ottawa. Rough cost and operational estimates were prepared for Committee and Council concerning the implementation of the Envac system in a dense urban area, such as a block of condominums, as well as for the future Fernbank Lands, a community projected to house 31,000 people. In addition, similar estimates were prepared for the Optibag system implemented in multi-floor resident and commercial buildings.


If you would like to discuss this report or ways to improve the City’s environmental sustainability efforts and waste practices, please do not hesitate to contact me. I would really enjoy discussing this further with residents. It is time Ottawa takes the necessary steps and actions to revolutionize our approach to sustainability.


For your own edification, the report is available at: