Ontario is running out of places to dump garbage, here's one company's solution

Repurposing waste is an example of how circular business models can be both financially lucrative while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and pollution.

Nearly 15 million people live in Ontario, which is roughly 38 per cent of the entire Canadian population. With this comes a growing appetite for resource consumption, even though the province is running out of space to dump its waste.

Based on population growth projections and economic trends, the provincial government estimates that 16 new or expanded landfills will be needed by 2050 without improvements in waste reduction and resource recovery.

Stormfisher, a company that turns food waste into energy, says that they have the solution for diverting more waste from landfills. The company operates the largest private organic waste-to-energy biogas facility in North America with locations currently operating in both the U.S. and Canada.

“Ontario is a leader in regards to anaerobic digestion. There are about 30 plants that are working on farms as well as industrial facilities like ours,” Brandon Moffatt, StormFisher’s Vice President of Development, told The Weather Network.

“We need a lot more of these in Ontario, we figure maybe 100 more of varying sizes and scales and so we think that municipalities and industrial facilities, as well as farms, can play a role in the production of renewable natural gas from organic waste,” Moffatt said.

a woman putting food into the food garbage (Vesnaandjic/ E+/ Getty Images)

Decomposing organic waste in landfills contributes to the staggering methane emissions. (Vesnaandjic/ E+/ Getty Images)

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Energy is created when discarded organic waste is placed in a digester that is absent of oxygen and filled with bacteria. The bacteria release methane as they consume the organic matter, which can be used as-is or can be upgraded to a quality equivalent to natural gas that is extracted from the earth.

“We can make a pipeline-quality gas that is renewable in nature that we can then sell to natural gas utilities, corporations, institutions, and municipalities,” explained Moffatt. The prospective biogas applications include anything that currently uses natural gas, such as home furnaces and heavy-duty trucks.

When methane is burned as a fuel it turns into water and carbon dioxide. This differs from the methane emissions that are released directly into the atmosphere without being burned, which occurs from conventional landfills, fossil fuel usage, and livestock farming.

Methane emissions are a notorious pollutant because they capture significantly more heat than carbon dioxide on multi-decadal timescales, and a growing number of scientists and policymakers are calling for drastic reductions of this greenhouse gas.

Although biogas is not a carbon-free energy source, it is regarded as a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels, which release staggering levels of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. According to IEA Bioenergy, the turnover time between carbon in plants and in the atmosphere is only a few hundred years, whereas the turnover time between carbon and fossil fuels is over 10,000 years.

In addition to the sustainable impacts, Moffatt commented that the economic development and employment perspectives are some of the perks of what StormFisher does.

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“The circularity of what we do is really great from the environmental side but there is also the economic side. We provide good-paying jobs for the staff that work in our facilities but also the indirect jobs for the trucking groups, mill rights, and electricians that support our type of infrastructure,” Moffatt said.

“Just because it's circular people always think it costs more, when in fact we’re lower cost than most landfills in terms of our processing fees and we are able to put those fees back into the community in terms of the operating expenses to run our facilities day in and day out.”

Thumbnail credit: ugurhan/ E+/ Getty Images