According to Census numbers released earlier this month, the population of Orillia and other Simcoe County communities is growing faster than expected.
That is likely to create many challenges for municipalities and the impact is already being felt in local landfills — and could impact taxpayers’ wallets.
For several years, the County of Simcoe has not been able to accommodate all of the waste heading to its landfill sites. The county exports garbage, primarily, to a landfill in Niagara, while exported recycled material is processed at Green for Life in Toronto; organics are sent to BioEn in Elmira.
Exporting doesn’t come cheap. According to 2021 County of Simcoe budget estimates, the county pays about $13 million annually for the export, processing, and disposal of waste. That figure does not include revenue gained through the provincial recycling program as it varies annually.
That cost will likely continue to climb as the population grows.
In 2021, County of Simcoe curbside waste-collection crews picked up approximately 98,027 tonnes of material (garbage, organics, recyclables, and seasonal collections).
Rob McCullough, the county’s director of solid waste management, said residents are doing a good job diverting waste from local landfills by using recycling and organics programs.
Diversion rates in Simcoe County increased in 2021 to 63.7 per cent from 62.5 per cent in 2020. The county ranked second in Ontario for diversion rates last year.
“We’re really impressed with our Simcoe County residents,” McCullough said. “We continue to be in a good spot.”
Since the start of biweekly collection in 2020, curbside organic tonnages have continued to increase, from 35.9 per cent prior to the change in 2020 to 61.4 per cent now. Despite the large increase in organics capture, the organics contamination rate decreased substantially, meaning the material is much cleaner.
Curbside organics increased by 2,685 tonnes (13.4 per cent) over 2020. Curbside garbage was similar to the previous year with only 49 more tonnes collected in 2021. Curbside recycling increased by 1,674 tonnes (6.6 per cent) in 2021 compared to 2020.
McCullough notes per-person production of waste went down in 2021. However, the increase in population has led to a net overall increase.
He said it was “a bit of a shock” seeing the 2021 census numbers that show an increase in populations across Simcoe County in 2021 over 2016.
Orillia saw a 7.2 per cent jump in its population to 33,411. The growth rate for Orillia and surrounding townships is above the provincial and national averages.
“Until we saw the census, we didn’t understand clearly where that was coming from. We had wondered if it was an increase in consumerism,” McCullough said. “It was an interesting development.”
He has concerns about capacity at the county’s landfill sites as landfills across the province shutter and municipalities across the board are having to explore more export options.
In January 2021, a report commissioned by the Ontario Waste Management Association found that based on the current landfill capacity depletion rate, Ontario’s available landfill capacity is expected to be exhausted by 2032. If the United States were to prohibit Ontario waste from crossing the border, the province’s landfill capacity would be exhausted by 2028.
Based on forecasted tonnages and population growth, three landfill sites in Simcoe County are slated to close within that time frame. The Collingwood landfill is expected to close next year, while the Nottawasaga landfill is expected to reach capacity in 2025.
The Oro-Medonte landfill has 247,329 cubic metres of capacity remaining and will reach capacity in 2029, county officials predict.
The county is in the midst of planning an update to its Solid Waste Management Strategy, which was originally approved by council in 2010 and mapped out plans for 20 years. The update is expected to be delivered with recommendations to county council this fall.
As part of that update, the county will roll out a public survey to gather input from residents on what they think about the direction the county should be taking when it comes to waste management.
McCullough said the update was planned to come earlier this year, but was delayed due to major changes within waste collection.
“We’ve had so many changes, which are partially due to the pandemic, but are also due to our new automated cart collection contract,” he said.
The survey is expected to be released to the public by June and will be open for six weeks.