Winnipeg claims methane sales could lower emissions

Lack of citywide composting still a major greenhouse-gas contributor

The City of Winnipeg may start harvesting and reselling methane at the Brady Road Landfill.

Mike Thiessen

The City of Winnipeg claims a proposed plan to start selling methane produced at the Brady Road Landfill could help lower the city’s greenhouse-gas emissions.

Announced in February following the latest assessment from the water and waste department, Coun. Brian Mayes wants to see the project up and running by 2026.

“It’s a good thing to do, because it means there’s less (landfill gas emitting) out of the ground,” Mayes says. “At the end of the day, that’s the goal.”

For the past decade or so, the city has been flaring the landfill’s methane – a gas 80 times more damaging to Earth’s climate than carbon dioxide, created by rotting organic matter in the landfill. Flaring is the process by which methane is burned, converting it into carbon dioxide to reduce the output of emissions – but not by the amount the city would like.

Selling the gas instead of continuing to flare it could lower the landfill’s emissions by 40 per cent, according to the city.

In 2021, greenhouse-gas emissions from landfills, flaring landfill gas, treatment of liquid waste and waste incineration accounted for six per cent of Man- itoba’s total emissions. That’s 50 per cent higher than in 1990, according to data from Climate Change Connection.

Winnipeg could earn $10 million from methane sales over 20 years, according to a previous report.

Mayes says the methane would be put into the marketplace to be used elsewhere. He was unsure of where or to whom the gas would be sold, saying it would be up to the contracted company, Integrated Gas Recovery Services.

“I think, to the city, who the ultimate consumer is doesn’t really matter,” Mayes says. “If we can reduce the amount (of gas) coming out of the ground, then I think that’s good environmentalism.”

He acknowledges the criticism that companies and organizations should reduce their reliance on natural gas as a source of energy, but he says there are many structures in Winnipeg that will use natural gas for years to come.

Mayes believes this could be the “big thing” that Winnipeg accomplishes in the 2022-2026 term. He also hopes to see more movement on definite compost plans, which would also reduce how much gas Brady Road Landfill generates by having less organic matter thrown away.

“I don’t know how quickly we can get (a composting system) to the curb and up and running,” Mayes says. “(Selling methane is) not as big as certain other steps like a compost plan, but I think it’s still important, and it’s something I really do think we can get done in this term.”

Winnipeg has tested composting plans multiple times. The latest test ran from October 2020 until September 2022 and received positive feedback from participants. This pilot program involved roughly 4,000 homes in the Mission Gardens, Inkster Gardens, Linden Woods, St. George and Daniel McIntyre neighbourhoods.

In October 2023, the city’s executive policy committee (EPC) approved a proposal to start curbside compost pickup by 2030. Some, including Mayes and Mayor Scott Gillingham, expressed concerns about the long timeline and associated waste-collection fee increases.

The proposal approved by the EPC differed from the report on the 2020-2022 pilot program, which had recommended the city start charging households $8 in 2024 to fund the program, with further fee increases down the road.

In February, the city’s 2024 preliminary budget included a $10.54 increase to waste-collection fees, but that money won’t go toward a composting program.

Mayes says money raised from the methane sales will go into a climate-change reserve fund, which will be used to fund future climate-change initiatives. What exactly those initiatives are has yet to be determined. The money could theoretically go toward a composting program, but there’s no guarantee.

The best solution to reducing Winnipeg’s carbon footprint could be a combination of both projects sooner, Peter Denton, a University of Winnipeg contract instructor for the history of technology, says.

“The problem remains that (excess methane) shouldn’t be there in the first place,” he says. “To see this as somehow a win for the environment is kind of missing the point, because the City of Winni- peg has consistently refused to implement a wide-scale composting collection system for decades.”

Denton thinks the city should act now with the information they’ve collected, adding Winnipeg could potentially subsidize a compost system with some of the money generated from selling Brady Road Landfill’s methane.

If organic materials were disposed of properly, there would be no methane gas to sell, he adds.

Denton argues that by delaying action to avoid raising fees, the city is placing a heavy environmental burden on Winnipeggers instead.

“Brady is going to produce methane probably longer than I will be alive, so the capturing is a good idea,” Denton says. “But it would be much better to stop putting organics in the landfill and reduce the problem that way.”

Mayes acknowledges the potential contradiction presented by the methane sales: by turning Brady’s methane emissions into a revenue stream, it disincentivizes the city from reducing those emissions via composting in the future.

“It’s still more efficient to compost (to reduce emissions),” he says. He points to “legacy methane” as a potential approach, whereby new organic waste could be composted, while methane from preexisting landfill waste is harvested.

While he admits that methane sales could theoretically produce enough money to discourage composting, “I think there are nine votes for us to do some version of (a city composting program). What version that is? Stand by. We’ll probably decide that in June or July.”

Individuals and the City of Winnipeg both have a responsibility to reduce emissions or lower their carbon footprint when possible, Denton says.

He recommends Winnipeggers start composting their own organic materials like fruit and vegetable scraps, grass clippings and coffee grounds.

Each year, 1.3 billion tonnes of food is lost or wasted globally according to the United Nations Environmental Programme Food Waste Index. Composting can reduce greenhouse gases by 40 to 50 per cent.

Another option for Winnipeggers looking to reduce their carbon footprint is Compost Winnipeg. The program started in 2014 by the non-profit Green Action Centre (GAC) with a single pickup truck collecting compost. Their goals are to limit waste and address the impacts of climate change.

GAC noticed a large amount of organic waste was being thrown into Winnipeg dumps compared to other North American cities. There were also limited composting options in the city at the time.

Now, Compost Winnipeg serves most neighbourhoods in Winnipeg with five trucks. Every month, they divert more than 70,000 kilograms of organic waste from landfills. To date, they’ve kept more than 4,906,000 kilograms out of landfills.

Compost Winnipeg charges $40 per month or $420 annually for compost pickup in residential areas. They are the only service that offers compost pickup in Winnipeg.

While Denton says selling the methane is the “obvious thing to do,” he hopes to see the city take more concrete action on composting plans sooner rather than later.

For him, the answer to the problem is simple. “We collect garbage,” he says. “Why wouldn’t we collect compost?”

Published in Volume 78, Number 20 of The Uniter (March 7, 2024)

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