Montreal Round Table: What to Do with Organics?

A Montreal round table discussion in February 2014 began the discussion of co-management of biosolids and other organics....

In February, a round table convened by the Regional Environmental Council of Montreal (CRE) and the Center for Sustainable Development advanced the conversation on how best to manage organic residuals from Quebec's largest city.  For the first time in this kind of public forum, the discussion of organic residuals management included biosolids in the same conversation with food waste.  Currently, Montreal biosolids are incinerated; they constitute about 1/3 of the total of organic residuals generated in the metropolitan area.

The round table panel included five experts, including the head of Montreal's environmental infrastructure, experts in organic residuals technology and management , and the director of wastewater management for Montreal, Richard Fontaine.

According Coralie Deny, Director of CRE, "each year, 230,000 tons of organic waste are landfilled more than 50 km outside of Montreal.  Once current plans are implemented, more than 81% of this material will be recycled."  Currently, some organics are composted and used for horticulture, parks, etc. - and the volumes used will increase in the future.  In addition, the wastewater treatment plant produces 267,200 tonnes of solids (2013 data).  After incineration, that volume is reduced to 44,350 tons - 5 truckloads per day.

According to a follow-on Journal Metro article, "Montreal is reticent about using wastewater solids as fertilizer," even though some 50 Quebec municipalities use biosolids as fertilizer on agricultural land.  In the article, Fontaine expresses concerns about land application: "'I do not want to end up with an environmental problem in future years.'"  Fontaine explains that recent energy recovery from  incineration [of 34% dry solids cake] is saving $3 million a year (out of a total of $10 million), and pilot projects are underway for using the ash as fertilizer.  Currently it is landfilled.  The energy recovered is used for pumps and space heating and cooling.  But the article goes on to argue how the environment ministry and others strongly defend land application as safe, when done properly.  They note that Quebec City has decided to close its incinerator and manage solids through anaerobic digestion and land application. 

Montreal is being pushed to do more beneficial use - at least of energy recovered and the ash (as fertilizer, in cement, etc.).  A 2013 provincial policy will require beneficial use in the coming years.  Fontaine noted that they are looking at anaerobic digestion as a way to reduce solids volumes and allow for storage for land application.  "The four existing incinerators are nearing their end of life in the next 10 years," he said.  "Do not look only at one solution."

Simon Naylor of Viridis, another member of the round table, noted that the recycling rate for biosolids in Quebec is near 30%.  "If Montreal solids were used, that would rise to 70%."

The Quebec environment ministry has organized a one-day workshop that will be presented June 17th in Quebec City and June 18th in Longueuil regarding environmental safety and health of municipal biosolids land application.

Meanwhile, Quebec is providing funding for new organics management infrastructure.  Details on expected volumes of organics to be processed and grants to be given include:
Quebec City 85,000 t/y
Ste. Hyacinthe - 215,200 t/y – AD & composting; phase 1   $47.3 million grant
RAEV Richelieu –  biosolids only, 26,000 t/y; grant of $11.9 million
SEMECS – AD, composting: 40,000 tons
Longueuil – AD/Composting – 70,000 tons – in planning
RIVMO – AD/Composting combined, community project – 30,000 t/y
RAEBL  - AD – biosolids only, 110,500 t/y, grant being given
Montreal –
    Est – AD, 60,000 t/y
    Sud – AD, 60,000 t/y
    Ouest – Composting, 50,000 t/y
    Nord – location under revision, 29,000 t/y – this has received a lot of media attention
Laval – AD planned, 92,000 t/y
Tonnages will vary a lot; don’t rely on these estimates.

As in New England, there are significant challenges being faced in setting up organics recycling programs:
•    Competition between recovery processes is significant: animal feeding vs. land application vs. AD vs. composting
•    Cheap landfill fees, especially in the Montreal region, despite the Province's $20/tonne tax on disposal
•    Economic viability of AD projects
•    Most projects are public, but have to harmonize with private sector too
•    Applying the new Provincial bans on disposal over the coming years and controling organics
•    Assuring coherence between regulation, policy, programs and waste plans.