Community upset by decision to shut down Otter Lake compost sorter
Residents cite environmental concerns and say allowing compost at landfill could attract birds, rats
Residents who live near the Otter Lake landfill are blasting a decision to deactivate equipment that blocks compost and recyclables from entering the landfill, but Nova Scotia's environment minister supports the plan.
The front-end processor and waste stabilization facility neutralizes hazardous waste. The shutdown will save the Halifax Regional Municipality $2 million annually.
But residents cite environmental concerns and are worried that allowing any amount of compost into a landfill could attract rats and birds.
"Climate change is a big issue, and untreated waste that's biodegradable creates methane — methane being a greenhouse gas," said John Cascadden, a former chair of the Halifax Waste Resource Society.
"Nothing about removing the front-end processor or the waste stabilization facility increases the environmental protection. It does just the opposite. It allows for a greater production of greenhouse gases."
The society represents the interests of residents in relation to the landfill. Its current chair, Scott Guthrie, says he can't understand why the province approved Halifax's plan to deactivate the equipment.
"The only true outcome of any science experiment is observable outcomes," he said. "The observable outcomes from Otter Lake for the last 23 years has been that there's been very little to no issues dealing with odour, vermin, rodents and environmental issues."
Environment Minister Tim Halman said the approval was made using science.
"My mandate, first and foremost, is to always protect the environment and human health as a regulator, as a steward of that process," he said.
"I'll never compromise that."
Coun. Iona Stoddard represents the area where the landfill is located. She said community members are disappointed.
"Because the [facility] will not be opening the bags and checking what's in the bags, you have the opportunity for a lot of things that shouldn't be in the landfill," she said.
A 2021 consultant's report prepared for the municipality stated the processor, which breaks open bags and sorts material, is no longer needed thanks to a dramatic drop in the amount of waste being sent to the landfill, from 134,000 tonnes a year down to 44,000 tonnes.
That's partly due to a 2015 decision to have homeowners put their garbage in clear bags. It's also because waste generated by the industrial, commercial and institutional sectors can now go to landfill sites in other municipalities.
Conditions for approval
The Department of Environment and Climate Change approved the plan to shut down the processor, but added conditions, including:
Otter Lake must guarantee that only 10 per cent of the total waste entering the landfill is compostable.
It must create an approved compliance plan for how that target will be met, with periodic audits.
A household hazardous waste and special waste management plan must be implemented with specified actions and timelines, including public education and improved public access to diversion depots.
With files from Jean Laroche and Michael Gorman