Nova Scotia

Report finds Nova Scotia has too many landfills, inefficient waste system

Nova Scotia has too many landfills, recycling and compost sites, according to a new report.

Document calls for more provincial co-ordination, extended producer responsibility

A new report says municipalities could save up to $17 million a year if they turned responsibility for recycling programs over to industry. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

Nova Scotia has too many landfills, recycling and compost sites, according to a new report.

The report, which was ordered by the provincial government and produced by AECOM Canada, points to a patchwork quilt of collection guidelines and a generally inefficient waste management system.

It says that right now there is little incentive for municipalities to plan and act regionally or provincially.

Part of that, according to the report, is caused by a lack of leadership from the province for a system that's more than 20 years old.

It says that most of those interviewed "pointed to the fact that Nova Scotia Environment has extensively studied and consulted on proposed opportunities to update and improve Nova Scotia's waste-resource system over the past decade, but has not implemented new actions despite widespread support for proposed changes."

Among those proposed changes, the one municipalities have called for most recently is extended producer responsibility.

Under EPR, private industry would become responsible for the recycling of packaging and paper products it creates, taking those duties — and costs — away from municipalities.

Andrew Garrett says the report identifies many challenges the province's solid waste-resource management regional chairs committee has observed. (CBC)

The report estimates the change could save municipalities up to $17 million a year.

The provincial government has held off on considering the change thus far, with Environment Minister Gordon Wilson saying he wanted to first have the efficiency study so he could consider them in tandem.

Most expensive system in the country

Although Nova Scotia leads the country in reducing the amount of waste that goes to landfills, the report notes the province has the most expensive system in the country.

There is a wide range of per tonne costs across the province. Nova Scotia has yet to reach the goal of getting down to 300 kilograms of waste per person entering dumps.

There are 63 publicly owned waste management facilities, including for recycling, organics and solid waste, in Nova Scotia.

Without changes to the system, the report forecasts costs increasing from a current total of about $140 million to more than $200 million by 2040. The report notes that most of the existing landfills in the province are too small to be considered efficient.

Andrew Garrett, spokesperson for the Nova Scotia solid waste resource management regional chairs committee, said the report gets to the heart of many issues facing the committee. Most notably, he said, is the fact municipalities often make decisions without thinking of the broader implications and there is no provincial mechanism to prevent it.

An old mattress at a landfill in Cumberland County, N.S. (Submitted by Stephen Rayworth)

Garrett acknowledged the biggest challenge will be getting all municipalities on board when it comes to reducing the number of waste management sites, because some will lose infrastructure in a more co-ordinated system.

"No one wants to give up what they own," he said.

A call for consistency

Business-case scenarios, along with leadership from the province, could help, said Garrett, but he also thinks bringing in EPR for recycling might be a way to begin working toward similar changes with solid waste and organics.

"Solid waste is all about economies of scale, it's all about management of materials and, really, it's about partnerships," he said.

"If the industry is going to fund [EPR], they're going to look for the most efficient way. So if they're legislated to do so, they will decide where recycling facilities should be placed and the flow of materials."

The report also finds a need for better data collection and consistency in terms of sorting and collection guidelines, rather than a system than can vary from municipality to municipality. That's another area the province, through legislation, could help, according to the report.

Environment Minister Gordon Wilson says he's still reviewing the report. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Wilson, who's scheduled to have a meeting with the regional chairs this week, said on Friday he was still reviewing the report.

Wilson said he would work with municipalities to find ways to do things better.

"My job as minister of environment is to act on behalf of Nova Scotians in what I feel is the best interest of Nova Scotians and find the balance where we can move forward," he said at Province House.


About the Author

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at


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