Rethinking the Landfill

Ecowaste Industries has become a source of regional pride by not only acting responsibly but by spreading the green word

As the only privately owned landfill disposal option in the region, the Ecowaste Landfill offers a public drop-off area for smaller contractors and private citizens.

Conventional thought about landfills and their effect on the environment has nearly always centred on the idea that less is more. The recent conversations have been about diverting as much waste as possible and how to limit the size and number of landfills that are required. One landfill located in Richmond, British Columbia, however, has found ways to not only benefit the environment but also engage the community. Ecowaste Industries Ltd. owns and operates a landfill that has a strong focus on recycling, soil remediation, and land development. Ecowaste also successfully hosted its first community open house in September, in an effort to inform the citizens of Richmond how the landfill is working to improve the local environment and the community.

“Anyone running a landfill operation is aware of the impact they can have on the environment and the steps you need to take to manage the facilities responsibly,” says Tom Land, vice president of Ecowaste Industries and general manager of operations at the Ecowaste Landfill and recycling centre. “You have to be a good community member.”

Being a conscious part of the region and the community is an idea that has been at Ecowaste’s core since its inception. The company is ultimately in the property creation business. In the mid-1980s, it bought 160 hectares of very-poor-quality land with the intent of redeveloping it and turning it something of value for the community. “We’ve been in the process of reclaiming this land, and we’ve bought other land around the landfill site with the thought of rehabilitating that land, as well: some of it will be for farming, and some of it will be for industrial use to extend the industrial base in the City of Richmond,” says Land.

The Word on Green

Tom Land’s thoughts on some vital factors affecting sustainability.

Communication: “Getting the word out about what you do and the services you offer is huge. People have lots of choices today, with social media and communication technology taking off. It has become such a big part of our lives; if you don’t embrace that concept, you’re going to be left behind.”

Tracking efficiencies: “We now have more-robust tools. It’s important to see trends on products, and track what kind of waste is being brought to us and how we should adjust our models and strategies to try to capitalize on that.”

Greenwashing:  “Any time something new comes along, there is a marketing aspect to it. I think we’re at the point where a lot of it has become background noise. As these things catch on and become popular, they become expectations more than selling points.”

The land reclamation has been a long process and one that will continue to be a large part of Ecowaste’s ambition for the future while the daily operations have always provided a service to the region by dealing with the solid-waste stream and recycling as much waste material as possible.

The Ecowaste Landfill deals mainly in inert waste from demolition and construction companies, and as the only privately owned landfill disposal option in the region, it also offers a public drop-off area for smaller contractors and private citizens. “We feel an obligation to provide a disposal option for the residents and the smaller contractors in the area as well as our larger commercial customers,” Land says. “It’s a complete service that’s offered because it makes sense and it is good for the community.”

The site benefits the local environment as well as the local population. Like all landfill sites, the Ecowaste landfill uses soil for cover and structure. It obtains this soil, in part, from larger soil-remediation companies in the region, some of which have facilities on-site. Once these contaminated soils have been remediated, they can be used for cover and structural components within the landfill. In addition, final cover soils and growing medium is provided by the use of custom soils manufactured from biosolids digested through a wastewater treatment plant.

This soil has been put down on the agricultural portion of the reclaimed land and is being utilized to grow a willow crop, which is being harvested for biomass. Many are aware that landfills generate a liquid called leachate, which is water that has dissolved or entrained mineral and organic substances from the landfill. Through an on-site treatment process, Ecowaste has been able to clean and manage this leachate and use it to irrigate the aforementioned crops. Last year, 100 percent of leachate generated on-site was used for irrigation, eliminating the need to discharge treated leachate to the environment.

With the responsible operations and progress in land reclamation, Tom Land figured it was time to let the broader public know about the operation and put together Ecowaste’s first community open house.

“It’s something that we’ve been talking and thinking about for some time now,” he says. “This year we got it organized and held our first annual open house. We’ve always been quiet about our operation, and that’s worked fine in the past, but we have some pretty interesting stories to tell, and we are now on the next chapter. We’ve been looking to create more industrial land in Richmond, and we’re on the cusp of doing that.”