Nova Scotia Leads Waste Diversion

The citizens of Nova Scotia, Canada, have put a new twist on an old schoolhouse adage. Their three new Rs are reduce, reuse and recycle. Nova Scotia recently met a province-wide goal to divert 50 percent of its waste from landfills through widespread community support and a disposal ban on certain materials.

Working with the nonprofit Resource Recovery Fund Board (RRFB), Debert, Nova Scotia, the Department of Environment and Labour of Nova Scotia, Halifax, took dramatic steps to involve the public, retailers, schools, workplaces and even tourists in its waste diversion program while creating jobs. Central to the program is its emphasis on diverting both solid and organic waste most importantly food waste.

The program focuses on five key components: source reduction, achieved through eliminating excess packaging and producing more durable goods; material reuse, as in refillable beverage containers; recycling of post-industrial and post-consumer materials; composting; and business development, including new technologies that promote waste diversion.

The Department of Environment and Labour has estimated that the recycling program will cost each Nova Scotian only 50 cents per week. Residents are encouraged to recycle through education, sensitization and awareness, says Bob M. Kenney, Nova Scotia Department of Environment and Labour solid waste-resource analyst.

Unlike in the United States, the citizens of Nova Scotia also are required to participate in the environmental process. The Nova Scotian government has placed the following mandates into law:

  • A province-wide ban on the disposal of leaf and yard waste, beverage containers, newsprint, used tires, corrugated cardboard, waste paint, steel/tin food containers, glass food containers, select plastics, car batteries, antifreeze and, to ensure the achievement of their diversion goal, food waste. Furthermore, refillable or recyclable containers must be used for all beverages sold in Nova Scotia;

  • Expansion of the current deposit/refund system covering liquor, wine and beer containers to include all ready-to-serve beverage containers, except milk containers (which already were accepted as recyclables);

  • Household hazardous waste initiatives from the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, Winnipeg, Manitoba; and

  • A requirement for operators of convenience stores, vending and fast food outlets, as well as organizers of public and private events, to provide receptacles for both litter and recyclables.

  • Importantly, composting centers have been set up to handle food and organic waste, which has been banned from the disposal system since 1998. Meat, fish, bones, dairy products, coffee grinds, fruit and vegetable wastes, dinner packaging, and soiled and nonrecyclable paper products are decomposed into humus. Standard leaf, tree and yard waste is made into mulch. Other organic materials, such as sawdust, also are composted.

    The compost then is used as a soil amendment, as cover material on disturbed lands and as a saleable product. Organic material is collected from most Nova Scotian households and composted at central composting facilities. Farmers and fish processing plants also take part in the program. Farmers recycle dead chickens, and plants recycle fish-processing waste.

    Nova Scotia provides food compost to many industries. Aside from compost, feed providers use the food waste to manufacture animal feed additives. For example, L&M Feed Services in Bridgetown, uses waste chocolates to make a feed additive. A handful of companies also are making animal feed out of cooking oil and grease.

    As in the United States, many of Nova Scotia's larger communities and metropolitan areas provide curbside recycling. Ninety-eight percent of the residents have access to curbside recycling, with more than 70 percent of them using green carts to recycle organics.

    Kenney points out that green carts are virtually animal-proof. Perhaps a bear is big enough to knock one over, but a bear also can tear open a garbage bag, he says. Residents are asked to wrap their meat and other protein food waste in newspaper before placing it in the cart. This greatly reduces any nuisances, including odor. Businesses have more frequent collection in the summer, when fruit flies become an issue.

    Organic material is collected from most Nova Scotian households and composted at central composting facilities. Farmers and fish processing plants also take part in the [waste diversion] program. Farmers recycle dead chickens, and plants recycle fish-processing waste.

    Nova Scotians also have centralized, one-stop drop-offs, known as Enviro-Depots, to redeem their beverage containers and return materials such as newsprint, cardboard and automotive batteries. Community charitable groups often benefit from donated returns. Backyard or curbside composting, combined with a trip to Enviro-Depot, can divert more than 75 percent of homeowner waste.

    Workplaces, too, have been increasingly involved in Nova Scotia's waste diversion effort. Employers are networked into a system of haulers, recyclers, equipment suppliers and other waste contacts.

    Many businesses subscribe to a service whereby the filled organic cart is collected and a new, clean one is left, Kenney says. Workplaces place an organic container in the lunchroom for collection. The material then is transferred to a larger container in the building. Grocery stores produce so much organic material that they simply can convert their compactors to collect organic material and place the remaining waste in smaller containers.

    The province's strategy has created opportunities for business owners and operators. The work force has expanded to handle and process the banned materials, and to create valuable new products. Thousands of jobs in Nova Scotia now are directly related to waste-resource management.

    With regional cooperation among bordering municipalities, the number of landfills in Nova Scotia should be reduced from 40 in 1995 to less than 10 in 2005. All new disposal sites must meet strict environmental regulations, and the Department of Environment and Labour plans to have all landfills lined and equipped with leachate collection systems by 2005.

    The government also will practice what it preaches. The city of Halifax in Nova Scotia not only has source-separation of compostable organic material, but all of the remaining garbage is processed to remove most of the remaining organic material, Kenney says. Remaining material is biostabilized so that it is as benign as possible before entering the landfill. As Kenney says, You have to see it to believe it!

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