The Nova Scotia government has approved Halifax’s plan to deactivate a machine at Otter Lake that blocks compost and recyclables from heading to the landfill.
The decision means the processing machine can be turned off — but not removed from the site.
Some in the community worry that allowing any amount of compost into a landfill could attract rats and birds. It’s a decision the MLA for the area, Iain Rankin, calls a betrayal.
“All three parties — for nine years — have said that they would never remove this sorting line to ensure that we have removal of the hazardous materials, organics. But now they’re looking at reneging on that commitment that they made,” Rankin said .
The Department of Environment and Climate Change agreed to it, but added conditions, including:
Otter Lake must guarantee that only 10 per cent of the total landfilled waste is compostable waste.
It must create an approved compliance plan for how that target will be met, with periodic audits to ensure compliance.
A household hazardous waste and special waste management plan must be implemented with specified actions and timelines, including public education and improved public access to diversion depots.
Andrew Philopoulos, the municipality’s manager of solid waste resources, was unavailable for an interview. But communications staff issued a statement, saying HRM is working on next steps, including developing a compliance plan.
“The municipality is a leader among Canadian communities in source-separated waste diversion programs,” the statement said.
“Due in part to this success, it is anticipated that Otter Lake will continue to operate in an environmentally sound manner with the [front-end processor/waste stabilization facility] deactivated, with no expected off-site impacts to public health or the environment.”
Deactivating the front-end processor and waste stabilization facility, which neutralizes hazardous waste, will save the municipality $2 million.
A 2021 consultant’s report prepared for the municipality stated the processor, which breaks open bags and sorts material, is no longer needed thanks to a dramatic drop in the amount of waste being sent to the landfill, from 134,000 tonnes a year down to 44,000 tonnes.
That’s partly due to the 2015 decision to have homeowners put their garbage in clear bags. It’s also because waste generated by the industrial, commercial and institutional sectors can now go to landfill sites in other municipalities.
Scott Guthrie, chairperson of the Halifax Waste Resource Society, is critical of both the municipality and the province for taking what he calls “a giant leap backwards in environmental protection.”
“I understand that we have sorting processes at the curbside that minimizes or tries to reduce banned material from entering the landfill. But I don’t think there is anyone out there who can say that they’re 100 per cent in their sorting,” said Guthrie, whose group represents the interests of residents with respect to the Otter Lake landfill.
Rankin said his constituents believe the decision to deactivate the compost sorter was a political one.
“They’re hearing that they are being [punished] because there’s not a PC member in that community, that as soon as the PC government got in there, they made a political decision and they’re being punished for voting Liberal,” he said.