With a provincial government mandate to divert 60 per cent of its waste from landfills, Greater Montreal is looking to adopt more intensive recycling programs. Other Canadian cities, such as Halifax and Toronto, already have such systems in place.

Nova Scotia was the trailblazer in greener living programs, banning organic waste from regular garbage pick-up back in 1998. The Atlantic province not only sells its organic waste compost to support the program, they also have programs in place to recycle beverage containers of all varieties, used tires, paint, vehicles, computers, hazardous household waste, among others. In 2001, Nova Scotia met a province-wide goal to divert 50 per cent of its waste from its landfills.

Toronto, on the other hand, incorporated composting in its recycling program out of necessity after the state of Michigan closed its doors to the Ontario capital’s landfill waste. Toronto’s organic waste diversion targets were 60 per cent by 2006, 80 per cent for 2009, with an ultimate goal of 100 per cent by 2010.

Montreal has just announced its own plans to step up its recycling programs to meet the provincial 60 per cent waste diversion program though it’s still waiting on approval from the province to fund the infrastructure that will require.

The first step came into effect recently as recycling services were extended to the entire island of Montreal. Previously, tenants of apartment buildings with nine units or more were not eligible. Now the entire island has the service.

“We were just awarded a contract a week ago that is going to double the amount of recycling tonnage on the island,” said Montreal Executive Committee member Alan De Souza. “The recycling capacity will go from 105,000 to 230,000 tons. It’s a 10-year contract that will cost us nothing.”

With the profits recouped from selling off the recyclables, the plan is expected to pay for itself.

Keeping in line with the province’s plan to also reduce greenhouse gasses, the Montreal Metropolitan Community, which includes 82 cities and almost half the population of Quebec, has submitted a billion-dollar proposal to put in place composting and ultimate waste disposal infrastructure.

“We estimate 337,000 tons of compost or compostable materials to be able to be generated on the MMC, not just the island of Montreal but the broad region of the MMC,” said De Souza.

The composting plan would include organic yard waste and possibly a table scraps pick up plan should it be accepted. In the meantime the city has been running pilot projects in various neighbourhoods as a means of troubleshooting should the plan come into effect. The plan, however, would not be like what exists in Nova Scotia, where all organic materials are banned from regular garbage disposal and transgressions are punished with fines. In Montreal, recycling of all materials would remain optional.

Though there is a margin of profitability when it comes to composting organic materials and many communities across North America have managed turn a profit of their waste materials, the CMM is not focusing on that at the present time.

“At this point it is premature to say, but I think what we want to do is to maximize the returns. In our waste management plan we are trying to take a life-cycle approach. Whether it’s organics, composting, recycling or other, we can maximise this value at every level,” said De Souza.

The CMM is still waiting for approval from the provincial government. But should they get the green light, De Souza wants to put the wheels in motion as early as January 2008.

In June, the Quebec government awarded Wemindji the prestigious Prix Phénix de l’Environnement for being the first Cree community to initiate curbside recycling. Wemindji Environmental Administrator Johnny Mark said the program won’t generate profits because of the size of the community.

“If all of the communities chipped in we might be able to officially meet our costs and break even,” Mark said. “If we could achieve that we would be accomplishing a lot.”

Profiting from recycling programs depends on volume. In Wemindji, materials are transported to a recycling facility in

Chibougamau every few months.

Despite their early recognition, Mark insists that Wemindji’s recycling program is still in its preliminary phase. “We will also be implementing a household hazardous waste program for things like batteries, paint, light bulbs, fluorescent light bulbs and this hazardous waste program will handle aerosol cans,” he said. “This program also diverts hazardous waste from the incinerator.”

The focus is thus on preventing further damage to the environment. Mistissini has expressed interest in setting up a similar program, Mark noted.

Profitability on recycled and composted materials has a decent margin, depending on the market value of the materials at the time. One very innovative community — Wilton, New Hampshire — started up its own full-on recycling program with great success a decade ago.

Chris Covel, who lives in neighbouring Lyndeborough but whose waste is processed in Wilton, said the community program

does turn a profit. Their recycling include various forms of organic materials, paper and cardboard, metals, glass, appliances and many other materials, allowing the county to reduce its landfill waste by 80 per cent.

“If you have to get rid of something like a TV or something that has mercury or Freon like refrigerators, you have to pay a certain fee, $3 or $5, for them to drain the Freon or the mercury and they are sent to a hazardous waste recycling facility,” said Covel.

Though different communities and provinces may have come to the schoolhouse ethic of reduce, reuse and recycle for different reasons, in the end what is important is that there is an effort in place to preserve our world and its resources.