Sask. landfills breaking regulations, overflowing in province

Recent inspections show a majority of landfills in Saskatchewan are not making the grade.

73% of landfills found "non-compliant" in 2014-15

Mountains of waste visible at a landfill in Hoey (Nicole Lavergne-Smith)

Recent inspections show a majority of landfills in Saskatchewan are not making the grade. One hundred and thirty two landfill inspections were completed in 2014-15. Seventy three per cent were found to be non-compliant - a term that can range from failure to cover and compact waste to burning garbage. 

In addition, transfer stations, which serve as a holding area for garbage before being sent to a landfill, were found to be in an even worse state. Ninety eight per cent of these sites have been found to be non-compliant in the past year. 

What's left over at the Prince Albert landfill (Nicole Lavergne-Smith/Radio-Canada)

The ministry does not force a landfill to close due to non-compliance but says it works with the landfill owners and community to give them options. 

"They're always given a time frame to come into compliance in achieving those requirements," said Sarah Keith, the manager of the Landfill Section in the Environment Ministry. 

The options that are available to owners range from complying with regulations, converting into a transfer station or deciding to close their operation. 

Keith said many of the cases where rules have been broken come down to proper education on waste disposal; a task the ministry now faces at many landfill sites. 

Sheri Keith, manager of the Landfill Section of the Ministry of Environment concedes there is much work to do. (Nicole Lavergne-Smith/Radio-Canada)

"I think it was just, no one was out there, looking at them. So they continued to operate the way they've been operating for the last 30 to 40 years," Keith said. 
"And some may have just been unaware of what they needed to do."

Saskatchewan has more landfills than anywhere else in the country

The number of landfills in Saskatchewan ranks the highest of any province in Canada. 
There are over 500 waste-disposal sites in Saskatchewan, for a population of just over one million people. 

A chart showing the number of landfills in Saskatchewan, compared to other regions (Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council)

For perspective, in the United States there are 1800 landfills for its 320 million citizens. The province closest to Saskatchewan's number of waste disposal sites is Manitoba with 300. 

The ministry recognizes this is an issue and is working with the Waste Reduction Council and Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) to have fewer landfills. 

"There's been a mentality here that we have so much land, that you can really put a landfill anywhere," Keith said. 

Lack of resources

SWANA said the province faces an uphill battle due to resources. 

Sheri Praski, the director of SWANA, said there are only four inspectors in the entire province to inspect, educate and patrol landfills. 

Praski also says proper disposal is often taken for granted but that communities can pay a big price if it is not done properly, citing contaminated water cases in Walkerton, Ontario in 2000 and North Battleford in 2003. 

"All of a sudden [after incidents], there's a lot better processes and procedures. People realize the issues, the safety issues, if you don't manage that properly," said Praski.

With files from Radio-Canada's Nicole Lavergne-Smith


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