2000 Waste — Co-winner 1
Halifax, Nova Scotia
A Community-Based Waste Resource Management Strategy
The Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM), along with public and private partners, has implemented an innovative strategy for the on-site separation of wet, dry and recyclable waste at both residential and business sources. Operational since January 1999, the Halifax approach demonstrates an environmentally sound alternative to incineration or raw waste land-filling and continues to generate national and international interest.
Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM), Nova Scotia, consists of four communities: Halifax, Dartmouth, Bedford and Halifax County. Its population of 350,000 is spread over an area of 2,224 square miles and ranges from high-density urban settings to rural communities. The search for a new solid waste strategy began in the early 1990s, when the local raw waste landfill was reaching capacity and began causing odour and other problems. The nuisance was such as to force the municipality to buy some houses and award compensation to other nearby residents. This left residents suspicious of traditional waste solutions and distrustful of municipal staff and politicians developing sustainable alternatives. In 1994, after much controversy, the Provincial Minister of Environment rejected a proposal for a new incinerator to replace the landfill. At the same time, the province introduced new legislation requiring source separation of waste and diversion.
HRM therefore invited the public to join a new Community Stakeholder Committee (CSC) to develop an alternative approach through a year-long consensus-based process. Residents were receptive to the public meetings. A core group of approximately 300 people attended every meeting, eventually forming the CSC.
When the CSC proposed a new Integrated Solid Waste Resource Management Strategy in March 1995, the four communities and eventually the HRM, used key elements of the strategy as the basis for the new solid waste system. Timing was crucial for co-ordination of all aspects of the strategy, which included awareness, building, contract negotiations and requests for proposals for the various facilities.
HRM had made a commitment to the community to close the old landfill and had contracted with Cumberland County to haul all waste to its facility for one year, with an option to extend this period by six months or an additional full year. During this time, HRM succeeded in launching its new waste strategy. Final implementation followed the construction of two new composting plants and a new waste stabilization and disposal facility.
The whole process was a massive undertaking due to the sheer size of the region. There were no comparable projects in North America.
HRM achieved its short-term key objectives in the first year of operation and is well on the way to achieving its long-term goals.
1. Maximize the 3 Rs (reduction, reuse and recycling).
In 1999/00, HRM residents and businesses diverted 43 per cent of the waste that would normally have gone to landfill, totalling 36,000 tonnes of organics and 22,000 tonnes of recyclable materials, including white goods (metal appliances such as stoves, refrigerators, washers and dryers).
2. Maximize environmental sustainability and minimize costs.
The new system proved environmentally sound and HRM closed its only raw waste landfill. The strategy reduced annual greenhouse gas emissions (mostly methane) by approximately 1.4 tonnes per resident based on the volume of organic materials diverted from the landfill to two new compost plants and by the use of a waste stabilization facility (a type of composting plant) for non-inert material. The output from that facility is similar to the material collected in central vacuums, making leaching of toxic liquids a non-issue.
The system was also economical. HRM introduced the new system without the need for a related property tax increase or even a dramatic increase in tipping fees. Overall costs were comparable to earlier incineration cost estimates for a similar scale operation. The new system also resulted in 125 new permanent jobs in a broad range of occupations at the various facilities (e.g., sorters of waste, administrative staff in the scale houses, equipment operators and lab workers at the landfill site).
3. Foster stewardship and conserver-society values.
Participation rates were approximately 90 per cent after the first year and the vast majority of people were proud to be part of such a large and successful initiative. A growing number of businesses and institutions also adopted the organic waste and recyclables separation concept. What was once a major environmental and political problem for the community was transformed into a significant source of community pride.
What worked and why
Through the dedication and co-operation of the volunteer community stakeholder committee, HRM learned that it is possible to develop a new municipal service with significant levels of community participation and to harness that same participation to deliver and monitor the new system.
What did not work
While most elements of the new system worked well, HRM encountered problems with the design capacity of the Otter Lake front end processing facility, which was not able to process as much waste as was produced in the city. This inability was mainly due to daily and seasonal variations and a buoyant local economy. While it was necessary to export some waste to another municipal landfill in the first year of operation, a $2 million expansion eventually resolved this capacity problem. HRM expected to reduce the first summer's nuisance issues associated with using the Green Carts (mostly fruit flies) through further experience and public awareness.
An awareness initiative that did not serve its intended purpose was the informal neighbourhood workshops. In a region the size of HRM, spreading the word from neighbour to neighbour proved ineffective.
What would be done differently
In hindsight, it would have been preferable to have had operational compost plants long before completing the new front end processing facility and related residuals disposal facilities. This would have allowed more time to get residents and businesses separating organic materials before starting up the organic-free landfill processing and stabilization facility.
This would have reduced the first year's capacity problems and would have developed participation levels more fully, particularly among businesses and institutions.
It would also have been advantageous to invest more time and money up front educating residents about the types of facilities, choice of sites and concerns such as odours from the composting plants.
What lessons can be transferred
Judging from the number of visits and inquiries from other Canadian and international communities, there is much to learn from the Halifax experience. HRM has proven that a community-based, four-stream waste diversion system can work in an urban setting and has demonstrated a new approach to achieving an organics-free landfill. Their system is a significant advance over previous raw waste landfill or waste incineration technologies and was accomplished within reasonable financial limits for a city of 350,000 people.