Hitting 65 Percent Diversion With Recycling, Composting


Courtesy of BioCycle Magazine

The East Prince area of Canada’s smallest province, Prince Edward Island (PEI), took a bold step in 1992 when it opted for residential source separation of all MSW as a key component of its waste management strategy. A committee of local, municipal and provincial officials — the East Prince Waste Management Committee — was selecting a site for a waste management facility for their region. It decided a new way of thinking about how to deal with the garbage was needed. Very few waste diversion efforts were in place on PEI at the time.

The East Prince area has about 35,000 people. Summerside (pop. 14,500) is the largest municipality in the area. PEI’s total population is 137,000. The committee accepted a mandate to provide a waste management system that would reduce “landfillable” waste by approximately 70 percent. It decided not to accept compostable organics or marketable recyclables at the landfill. Through the work of this committee, the waste management program known as Waste Watch was born.

Waste Watch started as a small pilot project of 100 households in the fall of 1992. The residents volunteering were asked to sort their refuse into three streams: recyclables, compostables and waste. In only 26 weeks, 31 tons were diverted from the landfill, representing a 62.8 percent diversion rate. A survey showed that 94 percent of the participants would recommend the program to their neighbors, and a decision was made to expand it further.

A small group of survey technicians was hired to conduct waste audits on the commercial sector in East Prince to determine the volume and types of waste generated in the area. The program then was expanded to serve 1,000 households, approximately 12 commercial and industrial establishments, and three institutions. This expanded program diverted 67.5 percent of the participants’ refuse from the landfill.


The success of the pilots led the committee to issue a tender for a comprehensive waste management facility that would include composting and a new landfill. In December, 1994, the East Prince Waste Management Facility (EPWMF) officially was opened. To coincide with the opening, Waste Watch was expanded to include over 10,000 households, 1,000 businesses and 1,000 cottages, which represented about 25 percent of the province’s population.


Under the residential program, recyclables are placed into two separate blue bags, one for paper products and the other for glass, metals and plastics (#2 and #4 originally). Compostable materials are placed into a green 240-liter (63-gallon) wheeled, aerated SSI Schaefer cart. These include food waste (vegetative plus meat, bones and fish), nonrecyclable paper, boxboard and yard trimmings. Any remaining waste is placed into a similar nonventilated black cart. The carts eliminate the need for garbage bags and allow collectors to observe what is being thrown into each cart. This provides a means of enforcement. If the refuse isn’t sorted properly, the collectors submit a report. Initially, the reports provided valuable information about the progress of the program, from which public education materials were created and distributed as required.

The East Prince Waste Management Commission (the successor to the East Prince Waste Management Committee) administers the program. The commission is made up of government appointed volunteers. The commission and the program are funded through monies collected from the residential tax bill.

Green cart collection is biweekly, with waste collection on the alternate week. Recyclables are collected once/month. Collection was tendered to private companies. Several contracts were awarded to collect waste and organics. Another contract was awarded for recyclables collection, processing and marketing. That contractor owns the recyclables and sorts them further at its facility before marketing them.

To implement the program, a team of employees was hired and trained to go door to door with the carts and educational material. A group of ten employees spent ten to 12 weeks delivering the carts and informing residents of the upcoming program. In addition to the two carts, each household in the collection area received a five-liter (one-gallon) mini-bin (for temporary storage of food residuals in the kitchen), a package of blue bags, an information package (sorting guide) and a collection calendar.

All materials (excepting collected recyclables) are brought to the provincially owned East Prince Waste Management Facility (EPWMF). The facility is comprised of a composting section, landfill cells and a scrap metal pile. There also is a drop-off area for tires, a bin for recyclables residents can bring to the site, a place that sells reusable goods and a household hazardous waste building (for residential drop-off). Similar to Nova Scotia’s landfill bans (see “Nova Scotia’s Organics Disposal Ban Takes Effect,” November, 1998), the site’s environmental impact assessment dictates that mixed waste will not be accepted at the facility. All refuse entering the EPWMF must be sorted.


The EPWMF has a windrow composting operation. Green cart contents are taken to a compost building where loads are emptied on the tip floor and inspected for contaminants. Objects that will damage composting equipment are removed by hand. Contaminants such as plastic go through the composting process and are screened out at the end. The main control to minimize contaminants is educating residents and businesses about proper source separation.

A skid-steer loader feeds organics into a Jenz shredder, which reduces material to a size ranging from one inch to eight inches. A water spray bar moistens the material as it is blown from the shredder into a three-sided bunker. Excess moisture is collected through a drain in the bunker floor and stored in an underground holding tank. The liquid can be pumped out to moisten windrows in the compost building.

The shredded, moistened organics are taken from the bunker by a front-end loader to a three-sided roofed compost building and placed into windrows. The facility also receives about 20 wet tons/ week of biosolids from the primary sewage treatment plant in Summerside. The biosolids are added to the windrows with the front-end loader, then turned using Scat equipment. Each windrow measures nine feet high, 20 feet wide, and 275 feet long. If the carbon ratio is high, animal manures (cow, pig or chicken) are added to the windrows as well. Potato processing and occasionally fish processing residuals also are composted.

Piles are turned three to four times/week. After 40 or more days, the windrows are moved outside to an asphalt curing pad. After an additional 12 weeks, the material is screened through a Powerscreen trommel with half-inch holes, then put into curing piles for two to three more months. After six months, a grade “A” quality compost (under the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment guidelines) is produced. The nutritional and heavy metal analysis is shown in Table 1. The finished product is sold as a soil amendment, with many farmers and gardeners using it on their crops/plants. Approximately 11,000 tons of organics are processed at the facility annually (an average of 33 tons/day) and all of the final product is sold to local patrons. Depending upon the volume purchased, the compost is sold for $6 to $15/cubic yard.

The remaining waste is taken to a second generation landfill cell. The total footprint of the landfill cell is 8.1 hectares. The cell is being developed in six phases (each approximately 1.2 hectares in size). The lifespan of each phase is expected to be three to five years.

Household hazardous waste brought to the site is stored in a specialized building. The materials are then sent off the island for proper disposal. Hazardous wastes from the ICI (industrial, commercial and institutional) sector are not accepted at the facility.
 The site also has a drop-off location for tires, metals/white goods, and silage wrap. There also is a “reusable goodies” building on-site where items recovered in usable condition are sold at a nominal cost. All proceeds made from the sales are donated to children’s charitable organizations.

Businesses and institutions in the ICI sector also must participate in Waste Watch. Unlike the residential program, they are responsible for their own collection method. Options include transporting sorted materials to the site themselves or hiring a sanitation company. There are no regulations for what type of collection container to use.


Since 1994, when the program began, there have been a few additions to the program. Waste Watch now accepts plastics #1 to #5 and household batteries (collected with the recyclables). The batteries are sent off the island for proper disposal. More types of paper also are being accepted than at the beginning of the program (e.g., glossy paper). In addition, about 1,500 more households and 60 commercial businesses were added.

Waste Watch also has a presence in Charlottetown, the province’s capital. About 1,200 households have been voluntarily participating for several years. Provincial offices in Charlottetown also are beginning to participate in the program.

Diversion rates have remained around 65 percent since the program’s inception. Total diversion (residential and commercial) was 60.5 percent in 1995, 64.8 percent in 1996 and 65.5 percent in 1997. Total facility throughput in 1997 was about 29,000 tons, of which 15,600 were recycled and composted, and another 3,500 tons diverted (white goods, household hazardous waste, etc.). Similar figures are expected for 1998. Figure 1 displays the difference in waste diversion/composition from 1994 to 1997 (before and after Waste Watch). Within East Prince, the ICI sector accounts for 65.5 percent of the total waste stream, with the residential sector making up the rest at 34.5 percent.


The Waste Watch system is working very well and producing some of the best waste diversion figures in North America. Since the start of the program, many lessons have been learned. Mandatory source separation by the user is one of the main reasons the program is a success. Every resident and commercial business must separate their refuse. Although this met with some resistance early in the program, it has paid off in the long run. Without a mandatory program, diversion rates as high as 65 percent would not have occurred.

Source separation is the most cost-effective and precise way to separate different waste streams. This source separation model also saves greatly on site capital costs. The initial capital cost of the disposal facility in East Prince was about $4 million Canadian, and included the composting facility, landfill cell section, the household hazardous waste building and all of the equipment. Source separation also has the added benefit that the population becomes very environmentally conscious. They see what they are recycling, composting and throwing into the landfill firsthand. An example of this occurred when a resident entered a local grocery store and bought some apples, but told the cashier that he only wanted to buy the apples, not the nonrecyclable Styrofoam and plastic packaging. After paying for the apples, he proceeded to unwrap the apples and leave the garbage at the store!

With Waste Watch, everyone must participate and pay for the program. Currently, residents pay $109.97/year (all dollar amounts here are Canadian) for the collection service and a five-year lease cost of $19.99/year for the waste and compost carts. After the five years, the carts are paid for and the residents own them. The total charge is added as a line item to the resident’s property tax bill. Participants in the ICI sector pay for the program through tip fees when they unload sorted materials at the site. The tip fee for sorted refuse is currently $36/metric ton for organics and waste. Metals/white goods, recyclables, tires, silage wrap and household hazardous waste are accepted free of charge from residents.

There are also many seasonal residences on PEI (cottages). A blended rate policy was adopted to make the system equitable for seasonal residence owners. They currently pay $62.29/year for collection services (June through September) and $19.99/year for cart lease costs. This policy was seen as the best way to accommodate most owners, as occupancy rates fluctuate with each residence.

While the program has been very successful, there are still challenges. With over one million tourists per year, it can be difficult to make sure people who don’t know about the program participate. A good public relations and education program has been valuable. Many operators of tourist-related enterprises are more than willing to explain the program. Our experience has been that many tourists are familiar with recycling programs and find it easy to adapt.

Another challenge to the implementation of Waste Watch was the business sector. Despite an advisory service, many businesses originally were not willing to participate to the program’s standards. Education and enforcement have contributed greatly to the current success. One of the best policies was to apply surcharges. When a mixed load enters the site (either commercial or residential) that person has two choices — resort the material correctly or pay 2.5 times the normal tip fee. Hitting businesses in the pocketbook seemed to be the best way to ensure compliance.

As with many waste management systems, there are various challenges with “other” materials such as household hazardous wastes, paint, silage wrap, and diapers. The commission continually works on improving disposal options for these materials. Pilot programs such as paint recovery days help encourage proper disposal. Another ongoing pilot involves various collection areas composting disposable baby diapers, instead of landfilling them.

As Waste Watch is implemented across PEI (see sidebar), challenges such as these will force the program to evolve to fit the needs of the citizens. The residents of East Prince have proven that the goal to reduce waste going to landfills by 50 percent by the year 2000 set by the federal government can be achieved, as they were the first jurisdiction in Canada to achieve this feat. By Sean Ledgerwood.

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