Landfill problems piling up
Aging landfills and poor diversion rates contributing to challenges
|By Alex Coop - Staff Writer | July 13, 2017|
Minden Hills was slapped with a Provincial Officer’s Order June 19 due to growing leachate concerns at the Scotch Line landfill, but it’s not the only waste disposal site in the county facing challenges.
The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change’s (MOECC) Peterborough district office monitors 30 sites. Seven sites have known leachate impact to off-site groundwater. Three are in Haliburton County. The MOECC says leachate from the Hawk Lake, Kennisis Lake and Haliburton landfills are impacting off-site groundwater.
Leachate is the decomposition of waste material mixing with rainwater.
“We take these issues seriously andcontinue to inspect and assess these sites to ensure appropriate actions are being taken to protect human health and the natural environment,” David Bradley, district manager of the Peterborough district, recently told The Highlander.
“When seepage occurs, we expect the owner to address the underlying cause as soon as possible.”
Off-site leachate impacts to groundwater at the Haliburton site have been observed since 2009, says Aaron Gordon, the Peterborough district's senior environmental officer.
“Not drinking water” signs can be found next to taps at five businesses on Industrial Park Road in Haliburton.
Anyone standing next to the running water will quickly catch a whiff of metal.
In a small area of land outside of the site, the metal content in the groundwater is higher than ministry standards, says Mallory Bishop, Dysart’s environmental coordinator. The landfill has only five years of capacity left, but Dysart is working to ensure it gets environmental compliance approvals to allow it to become a transfer station.
These stations are often created when a landfill reaches the end of its life. That waste is then trucked out of the county. Most transfer stations in the county send their waste to Progressive Waste Solutions’ Bracebridge site.
The MOECC told Dysart to supply the Industrial Road businesses with bottled water, and warning signs, beginning in March 2012. Five years later, little has been done to mitigate the problem.
A bedrock background monitoring well northwest of the landfill was installed as an additional monitoring site, but beyond that, there’s been no direction from the ministry, says Bishop.
“This is a huge problem that is not going away. Our landfill capacity is dwindling,” said Bishop.
- Ontario’s overall diversion rate has been stuck at 25 per cent for the past ten years
- The waste sector accounts for approximately six per cent of Ontario’s
total greenhouse gas emissions - ninety per cent is from landfills.
- The gas generated by landfills is primarily methane, which comes from decomposing organic waste, and has a global warming potential 25 times greater than carbon dioxide.
Because of the potential for adverse impact to groundwater near the landfill, the municipality has, for decades, ensured that no residential development occur near the site, says Reeve Murray Fearrey.
“From first-hand knowledge, those five sites have had a lot of industrial uses … they never intended to drink the water,” Fearrey said, adding steps to mitigate the issues at Kennisis are also underway.
“We’ve changed the drainage pattern and are talking with the adjoining owner to create an attenuation zone.”
Leachate attenuation zones are natural buffers around a landfill that protect against contamination of groundwater.
Off-site leachate impacts to groundwater at Kennisis have been observed since 2015, according to the ministry.
Mike Thomas, public works director for Algonquin Highlands, says the township is unaware of any off-site groundwater issues due to leachate from the Hawk Lake landfill.
The township’s recent annual monitoring report for 2016, submitted by Cambium Inc., which consults to the township, says the groundwater at the site is not “interpreted to indicate significant adverse effects due to landfilling operations.”
The report, however, does refer to groundwater quality data that shows aluminum levels regularly exceeding MOECC guidelines at one of its monitoring wells. But according to Cambium, it’s been determined that the well is not impacted by the landfill.
Finding a solution
Forty-four per cent of active landfills in Ontario are municipally-owned, according to the Ontario Waste Management Association’s (OWMA) 2016 annual report.
Many, like Haliburton County's, don’t have curbside pickup.
Therefore, efforts to raise awareness about hazardous waste days and recycling have been a focus of environmental departments nationwide.
In some instances, it’s paid off.
“Residents are very receptive to the recycling program in Algonquin Highlands,” Thomas said, citing a diversion rate of 34.4 per cent, compared to a provincial average of 30.6 per cent for the rural depot – south category.
Waste disposal sites in the province are defined under specific categories based on size and location.
But in the summer, when the county’s population triples and traffic at the Haliburton landfill doubles, recycling takes a small hit.
“It’s the occasional weekend cottage renter that basically throws everything into one or two bags and just expects to throw it over the bank at a landfill,” said Rob Camelon, Dysart’s interim public works director.
In addition, landfill exit strategies or expansion options are difficult to achieve due to location and a lack of appropriate space, says Peter Hargreave, OWMA’s former director of policy. But it’s going to take more than successful landfill exit strategies to curb poor diversion rates, he adds. Encouraging businesses and the general public to practice sustainable consumption will be crucial.
“Let’s draw more resources out of that waste material and divert more into resource markets,” Hargreave said.
Statistics Canada says local government spending on waste management in Canada increased from $1.8 billion in 2004 to $3.2 billion in 2012, reflecting the disturbing fact that Canadians produce more garbage per capita than any other country on earth.
The MOECC predicts that by 2050, 40 per cent more waste will be generated than in 2016.
A new piece of legislation aims to tackle the problem by asking producers in Ontario to take responsibility for the end-of-life management of their products and packaging, ultimately creating a “circular economy.”
“The government’s new legislation is pushing in the right direction. But there is concern in the interim as to what to do with the waste we have right now,” Hargreave said.
ALEX COOP is a reporter for The Highlander.