Ottawa is looking at two costly options to lengthen the life of its soon-to-be-full landfill: burning waste to create energy, or mechanically sorting trash to remove organics and recyclables.
Both mean a hike in what households pay — but even if councillors opt against the technologies, staff say the rates will likely double within the decade.
"In 2023, Ottawa residents paid on average $185 for the year for solid waste services," said project manager Nichole Hoover-Bienasz, noting that the projections are not definitive.
"By the time we're at 2050, you're looking at a cost per household of just under $500."
That increase will be slightly higher if Ottawa introduces an incinerator, but that cost could rise to nearly $600 per year if it opts for technology to better separate waste.
Hoover-Bienasz emphasized that no cheaper alternative is available, as the city runs out of time before its landfill reaches capacity.
City staff provided estimated how much the cost for garbage collection per household will rise over the next 30 years, based on three scenarios: anaerobic digestion (orange), waste-to-energy incineration and anaerobic digestion (blue) or mixed waste procession and anaerobic digestion (green). (City of Ottawa)
For years, city staff have warned the Trail Road landfill is running out of space. If nothing's done, the city has just eight years, so staff have created plans to provide what they call "more runway."
But finding and building a new landfill will take well over a decade.
Staff have come up with dozens of recommendations they said will ensure the site is viable for 14 years, including:
Building new trash piles on land adjacent to the Trail Road site.
Piloting a program to close apartment garbage chutes.
Switching to a system where garbage trucks pick up bins with mechanical arms.
Adding organics bins in public parks.
And no longer accepting commercial waste at the city's landfill.
The plan incorporates some recent moves from council, including the heavily debated decision to limit curbside trash pickup to three bags or bins — a compromise from the more ambitious proposal from staff.
"Waste touches everyone," said Coun. Shawn Menard, chair of the environment committee. "Now we know we have to go further based on the decision that council took just a few months ago."
Councillors more recently voted to send some of Ottawa's trash to private landfills, which will also help ensure garbage trucks don't waste gas driving all the way out to Trail Road.
Incineration one of several options
Of all the options open to council, only waste-to-energy incineration ensures the city can continue to use its current landfill for the next 30 years.
That option will reduce the volume of waste by more than 70 per cent, and create energy through captured steam.
"This could be used for housing. It could be used for an industrial development," explained Hoover-Bienasz, adding that the added energy would help avoid the creation of nearly 33,000 tonnes of CO2.
Nichole Hoover-Bienasz, Ottawa's program manager of long-term planning for Solid Waste Services, said the city's current plans do not provide enough funding to pay for waste management. (Jean Delisle/CBC)
Another possibility is a technology known as mixed waste processing, which mechanically sorts garbage to remove material that can be recycled or composted.
Staff reported that this option will extend the landfill's life by four years, while diverting 30,000 tonnes of organic material.
That organic material could itself be used for energy production through anaerobic digestion, a process that introduces bacteria to speed up organic decomposition and capture the natural gas emitted.
Staff propose using anaerobic digestion regardless of the other technology councillors decide to adopt.
The bottom line
Hoover-Bienasz's presentation included only high-level estimates meant to "highlight the magnitude of the investment required."
While landfills have "traditionally been the cheapest solution," she said that won't prove true over time.
Simply maintaining the status quo will require $200 million in capital funding over the next decade. Right now, the solid waste capital reserve is in a deficit position.
The do-nothing option also means building a new landfill within a decade, at a cost of $350 to $400 million.
But staff hope councillors will adopt the solid waste master plan and one of the new technologies.
Hoover-Bienasz added that while Ottawa households should expect to pay more for services over time, it will take decades to get close to the amount residents of Toronto or Edmonton are currently paying.
Households in Ottawa pay far less for solid waste management than other municipalities in Canada, city staff say. (City of Ottawa)
This final iteration of the overarching plan for solid waste will go to committee next month and city council in December. From there, staff will engage in a final round of public consultation.
Councillors will also have the option to direct staff to explore the feasibility of new technologies — a process that will take about 18 months.
Menard said he's confident in council's ability to choose the solution that provides the "most bang for our buck."