How do rural communities comply with Quebec's Organic Strategy?

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by: 

Kevin Brady

Current Situation:

The Québec residual materials management strategy includes a progressive reduction and an eventual a 'ban' of organic material from municipal landfills by 2020. Municipalities that comply with the policy are eligible for funding to help offset the costs. As with the Municipality of Pontiac, many municipalities have chosen to pass resolutions to initiate door-to-door collection, with costs paid for by the residents.

Through communications with Philippe Coulombe at the Ministère du Développement durable, de l'Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques, it is understood that at present the 2019 target is 70% coverage to qualify for available funding. He also indicated the ministry is aware that a 100% target will pose challenges for rural communities. There will be further consultations on the strategy, so semi-rural municipalities still have the ability to propose better solutions to the province.
If better solutions are not proposed and accepted, it is possible that many semi-rural municipalities will end up with a costly system that may not actually benefit the environment but will penalize and annoy residents who currently compost at home. It will also mean that these residents will be subsidizing residents who choose not to compost at home.

Main Challenges:
1. Door-to-door collection makes sense in urban environments. However, in regions like the MRC des Collines where we have many homes, farms and equine operations spread across large land areas, it does not. In fact, the environmental and economic impact of sending trucks for door-to-door collection may very well outweigh any benefit. This would have to be verified by life cycle assessment and total cost analysis, but previous studies have noted organics collection in rural areas pose challenges. The current provincial strategy recognizes this by giving communities with a population of under 5,000 people more flexibility on their target.
2. Many people in the municipality already undertake composting at home, so they will have to pay for a service they do not need. This is also not in keeping with the "polluter-pay" principle in the provincial legislation. Door-to-door collection of organics will result in people who are doing the right thing (i.e. composting at home) paying for people who do not.
3. The new system does not address handling difficult components of the organic waste stream, such as animal meats and bones, food-contaminated cardboard and animal and human feces (such as soiled diapers).

Desired outcomes for mainly rural communities above 5,000 in population:
1. Optimize diversion of organic material from landfill at the lowest cost for ratepayers. The best program will reward diversion from landfill at source (the best option in the provincial policy) while putting costs on those who do not want to compost at home. This is in keeping with the "polluter-pays" principle.
2. Raising awareness of the impacts of waste and nudging residents toward great participation in creating a circular economy. A linear economy is a take-make-waste economy; a circular economy is one that ensures that valuable materials and products are recovered from the waste
system and organic materials are returned to the earth. Energy from waste is a possibility but not considered a primary strategy.

Approach with province:
• Ensure targets for collection properly include recognition of already-established home composting (i.e.: to not include collection targets based only on mere number of households covered).
• Ask for adjustments to provincial targets to make them based on population density, not absolute population.
• Recommend the province facilitates collaboration among semi-rural regions to optimize composting contracts and operations.
• Recommend the province support research and approaches for problematic components of the organics waste stream.

Approach in the Municipality and MRC:
• Provide an opt-out option for farmers and people composting: if you do not use the system, you do not pay.
• Conduct an education campaign to encourage home composting. Experience indicates that behaviour change regarding waste diversion requires investments to raise awareness on the importance and benefits of diversion and to provide strategies to optimize results.
• Focus any door-to-door collection on denser neighbourhoods and investigate innovative approaches to community composting.
• Institute penalties for non-compliance but, more importantly, emphasize the financial benefit of those already composting at home.
• Ensure that contracts with organic collection companies are not structured in ways that lock in the number of households or a set volume of waste.

Questions or comments?

Contact Kevin Brady and Sheila McCrindle

Phone:

Kevin: (613) 447 3451 or Sheila: (819) 319 9633

Email:
Brady@sustainableenterpriseconsulting.com
Sheila@demetercatering.ca?

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