As we continue to shift towards a circular economy we need to keep asking more of ourselves in terms of how we manage the organic waste we all produce so that we may maximize the recovery and reuse of these potentially beneficial resources. This includes organic materials from food, yard, biosolids, and wood wastes among others. Diverting organics from landfills is a major step in achieving this goal.
In many jurisdictions the diversion of organic materials from landfills has been strongly encouraged, but largely voluntary. While this has been marginally effective overall, it has been said that we have reached the peak impact of voluntary diversion. Therefore, to achieve further increases in diversion rates, regulatory change is necessary. The lack of regulatory mandate for organic waste has not only stalled many resource-limited, small rural communities from making decisions on residential organic waste collection, but also much larger centers[i].
States, provinces and municipalities across North America are increasingly taking regulatory action to either prohibit organic materials from being disposed of in landfills or they are ushering in mandatory waste recycling regulations. Jurisdictions who have implemented these policies in the U.S. include the states of California, New York, Connecticut and Vermont, and cities such as New York and Austin, among others. In Canada, the movement is being spearheaded in places such as Vancouver, British Columbia and Nova Scotia. These jurisdictions have the highest diversion rates for organics. For example, Nova Scotia implemented a Solid Waste Management Strategy in 1995, which included the ban of organic materials in landfills. By 2011, 94% of households were composting food and yard waste, compared with less than 20% diversion in 1994[ii]. These bans have also been drivers for the development of innovative technologies. Other states, provinces and municipalities are actively considering similar waste bans, mandated recycling or resource recovery programs.
While an obvious motivator for the ban on organic materials in landfills is to extend the already limited lifespan of many of them, increasing diversion has many environmental and economic benefits as well. In landfills’ anoxic environments, organic material breaks down to produce methane, a dominant greenhouse gas. The good news, however, is that there are technologies and approaches available today that allow us to capture, clean and make use of methane as an alternative source of energy. Reducing, and ideally eliminating, the volume of organic materials that are disposed of in landfills in favor of higher and better uses will reduce negative environmental impacts.
Nutrient loss is another notable environmental impact of discarding high levels of organic matter into landfills. The production, processing and transportation of organic materials requires inputs of water, energy, and fuel. Discarding organic ‘wastes’ in landfills is a linear, end-of-life waste of valuable resources that should instead be recovered and reused in a circular manner. Recovered organic amendments can be safely processed and utilized to promote soil health and enhance crop growth and carbon storage. These materials can also play a role in site reclamation and soil remediation.
Disposal bans can help to create new opportunities for waste reduction and incentivize new approaches to resource recovery by propelling investment, stimulating job creation, and fueling innovation. When striving to divert organics from landfills, the priority should be to reduce the volumes of organic ‘wastes’ produced upstream, however absolute elimination is unattainable. Thus, alternative processes are needed to handle the increasing quantities of diverted organics. With many jurisdictional organic landfill bans already mandated or in the proposal stage, sufficient infrastructure capacity and innovative technologies will be required to manage the diverted organic materials in a sustainable and beneficial manner.
As organic landfill bans increasingly become the norm, organizations like Lystek International (https://www.lystek.com/) are well positioned to provide generators with the necessary technology and expertise required to increase diversion of these organic ‘wastes’. For example, by using its patented and proven, low temperature, thermal hydrolysis process (Lystek THP®) to produce a range of alternative products, Lystek has helped North American generators divert over 1.6 million pounds of organics from landfills contributing to the circular economy. These products and processes include the LysteGro® biofertilizer product, the LysteMize® digester optimization process and LysteCarb®, an alternative source of carbon for use in Biological Nutrient Removal (BNR) systems.
- LysteGro® is a biofertilizer product that helps to divert organic materials from landfills by processing biosolids and other organics, such as from food processing or agriculture, into a valuable nutrient resource that can be applied to land in a circular, sustainable manner. This helps to return organic matter, micro and macro nutrients back to the soil to improve soil health (previous blog post, “Biosolids and Soil Health”, can be found here), all while keeping these valuable nutrients out of landfills.
- LysteMize® offers an alternative reuse option for diverted organic material by recycling the hydrolysed biosolids product back into the anaerobic digestion process to provide readily available organics. This solution further enhances organic matter diversion by reducing organic solid output volumes from wastewater treatment plants by a minimum of 25%, while also increasing biogas yields for subsequent conversion and use as green energy.
- LysteCarb® offers an alternative reuse option for diverted organic material by utilizing the hydrolysed product as an alternative carbon source in BNR systems. This replaces conventional products like methanol and glycerol. LysteCarb is a cost-effective material much higher in concentrations of readily biodegradable COD (rbCOD) with a much higher COD: N: P ratio than raw wastewater. The use of this naturally occurring, organically-based product enhances denitrification and biological phosphorus removal while improving the overall performance of the BNR system.
With this technology, Lystek is helping its growing list of North American customers to successfully divert organic matter from landfills by converting traditional wastewater treatment plants into Wastewater Resource Recovery Centers that can receive and process organic food ‘wastes’ and wastewater biosolids.
With strides towards a circular economy and bans on organic matter in landfills increasingly becoming the norm across North America, there is a heightened need for innovative processing technologies and capacity. While we must all do our part by reducing the organic wastes we produce, sustainable innovations will be at the forefront of the recovery and beneficial reuse of these organic materials.
Authored by Sarah Mason-Renton, PhD, Business Development Coordinator, Lystek International Inc.
[i] CEC. 2017. Characterization and Management of Organic Waste in North America—Foundational Report. Montreal, Canada: Commission for Environmental Cooperation. 260 pp.
[ii] Statistics Canada (2013). https://www.iwmc.pe.ca/pdfs/CompostingbyHouseholdsinCanada.pdf