Two conveyer belts filled with garbage are seen sloping up toward the ceiling in an industrial setting. In the centre-right of the frame, a worker wearing a high-visibility orange suit, blue hard hat, and respirator mask operates the conveyer belt to the right.
A worker operates conveyer belts in the front end processor at Otter Lake in a photo in a slide deck included in a staff report to council last year. Photo: HRM

The provincial government has approved the municipality’s controversial proposed changes to the Otter Lake landfill, with a few conditions.

Halifax regional council voted in July 2021 to apply to the provincial Department of Environment and Climate Change to deactivate the Front End Processor (FEP) and Waste Stabilization Facility (WSF) at the landfill, where HRM dumps its residential garbage.

As the Halifax Examiner reported last year, the FEP and WSF are designed to work in tandem to keep compost and other unwanted materials out of the landfill. The process is supposed to keep birds, rodents, and smells at bay, and keep groundwater uncontaminated. But a string of consultants’ reports dating back to 2013 has found there’s little value in keeping that process running. According to municipal staff, HRM’s limits on garbage bags per household and its requirement for clear bags has further eliminated the need for the FEP and WSP because there’s less compost ending up in garbage.

Public opposition to the change remains strong, however, with public consultation completed last year indicating that of those who responded to surveys, “the majority had concerns overall with deactivating the FEP/WSF.”

On Tuesday, provincial Environment and Climate Change spokesperson Tracy Barron said in an email that the department has approved HRM’s application to amend its operating agreement, with some conditions.

The equipment can only be taken out of operation once a compliance plan to achieve the compostable waste performance target has been accepted by the Department, as well as a management plan for reducing household hazardous waste. White goods (fridges, stoves, freezers) and other bulky items that can be recycled must be removed,” Barron said.

The compostable waste target is 10%. That means that compost would make up a maximum of 10% of waste arriving at Otter Lake. HRM will be required to submit a compliance plan for approval detailing how the target will be met.

The target may already be met. According to the staff report last year, there was 4,100 tonnes of “putrescible organic materials,” meaning compost, among the approximately 46,000 tonnes of waste processed at Otter Lake in 2019 — about 9%. The municipality compares the figure to 30,000 tonnes of organic waste in 2004.

The municipality will also be required to “prepare and implement a household hazardous waste and special waste management plan with specified actions and timelines, including public education and improved public access to diversion depots.” HRM currently operates one full-time special waste depot, open one day a week in Bayers Lake. It typically operates a number of mobile events through the year as well.

“Once those plans are accepted by the Department, HRM can stop operating the Front-end Processor and Waste Stabilization Facility; however, the equipment must stay on site until the maximum 10 per cent performance target is met and the household hazardous waste plan is implemented. The target was set by the Department,” Barron said.

Barron added that, “The Department followed the normal process for applications of this nature. Staff did an extensive review based on science and best practice.”

During last summer’s election campaign, then-premier Iain Rankin said a re-elected Liberal government wouldn’t allow the change. Rankin’s father, former councillor Reg Rankin, is the executive director of the Community Monitoring Committee, which is opposed to the deactivation of the FEP and WSF.

The PCs made no real commitment either way during last summer’s campaign, and appear to have let the review run its course.


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Zane Woodford

Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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  1. The argument was always about money…the amount of money going to the Community Monitoring Committee. It was never about the science.