This article is part of a regular series highlighting the innovative ways Scotiabank clients are doing their part to cut carbon emissions.
As a full-service provider of treatment and recycling of organic waste, Convertus Group has sustainability and environmental awareness at its core. Still, the company acknowledges it has more to do to make its process carbon neutral and 100% closed loop, meaning no waste from its operations goes to landfills.
“I think there’s a lot of re-education needed across the country for Convertus and others to attain such lofty targets,” Michael Leopold, CEO of Convertus, says. “It’s a bit of the chicken and the egg. We need more diversion, but we also need more privatized or even public facilities to handle the recycling.”
A study by the Environmental Research and Education Foundation of Canada suggests that as provinces and territories set more aggressive organics diversion and waste reduction goals, additional infrastructure will be needed.
While Canada has committed to reducing 30% of organic waste (or 490 kg per person) — uneaten and discarded food, as well as inedible scraps, agricultural waste, biosolids recycled from sewage, and leaf and yard waste, including grass clippings — by 2030, goals vary by province. Ontario, for example is shooting for 50% to 70% by 2025, depending on the sector, while Quebec says it will divert 70% of organic waste and British Columbia 95%, the report noted.
It points to a shortfall across the country of about 1.1 million tonnes of capacity a year for the quantity of food and yard and garden waste generated and a potential 3.72 million tonne shortfall of capacity at in-vessel compost and anaerobic digestion facilities needed for processing more complex organic wastes.
With a mission to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by sustainably converting organic waste into a beneficial reuse product — currently renewable natural gas, fertilizer and compost — Convertus sees itself more as part of the circular economy than waste management. “We don’t dabble in trucking or landfills like some of our competitors,” Leopold said.
In 2019, when Renewi Canada, a division of British waste-to-product company Renewi, and Waste Treatment Technologies (WTT) North America, an engineering firm for the treatment of organic waste, merged to form Convertus, the new company became a client of Scotiabank.
It’s a bit of the chicken and the egg. We need more diversion, but we also need more privatized or even public facilities to handle the recycling.
“It was a logical partnership,” Leopold said. “We were looking for investment to grow and do things more sustainably. That goes hand in hand with Scotiabank’s commitment to greening their portfolios.
As well, Scotiabank recently participated in a round of financing and maintained its position in our syndicate of senior lenders. That shows its belief in Convertus and our commitment to the environment,” he said.
Through its climate commitments and net-zero approach, Scotiabank is taking action to manage climate-related risks, accelerate climate solutions and promote sustainable economic growth across the Americas. The Bank’s Climate Commitments include mobilizing $350 billion in climate-related finance by 2030 and to become a net-zero bank by 2050.
“It’s a great partnership. Convertus and Scotiabank are fully aligned and committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and managing climate change,” Mike Dunnigan, Director & Head, National Accounts, BC & Yukon Regions.
“It’s great to see this green-tech business continue to grow and to divert more and more organic waste from our limited landfills and convert it into usable farming soil and natural gas. Canadians still have a long way to go in terms of reducing and diverting organic waste, but Convertus is playing an important role in our progress.”
Moving the needle
Methane (CH4) has a global warming potential 80 times greater than carbon dioxide (CO2) over 20 years. Oil and gas production, livestock and landfill sites (the third largest at 4% of emissions) are the primary sources of methane gas. The world could reduce human-caused methane emissions within a decade, diverting nearly 0.3°C of global warming by 2045, limiting global temperature rise to 1.5˚C, a report from the United Nations Environment Programme notes. In Canada, methane is responsible for about 13% of total GHG emissions, with about 40% of that coming from oil and gas production, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada.
“Organic waste is one of the big needle movers,” Leopold said. “Canada is part way down the path to organic waste diversion, but we’re not all the way. We need to get every municipality and industrial, commercial and institutional body participating in recycling, and not just paper, glass and metal. We need to make sure that organics are staying out of the landfill,” he said.
Breaking it down
Convertus partners with municipalities to design, build, operate and service organic waste treatment facilities. It currently operates organic waste treatment facilities across the country. In London, Ont., Ottawa and Surrey and Nanaimo, B.C., organic waste is converted to fertilizer or compost for farmers and municipalities using in-vessel composting. In November, Convertus closed a deal to acquire Envirem Organics, which has facilities in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Maine that specialize in organic bio-products including mulches, soils and fertilizers. Currently, residuals from the process are transported to landfills, and leachate — a concentrated soup that comes from landfill waste — goes to a licensed liquid waste disposal company.
Its Surrey, B.C. facility uses in-vessel composting, as well as wet and dry anaerobic digestion (AD), a process in which microorganisms break down biodegradable material of varying dryness in the absence of oxygen to convert waste to biogas for natural gas injection or electricity generation. The AD process off-gases a mixture of CH4, CO2, and trace gases that is converted to renewable natural gas for a local gas utility, and CO2, which is captured and reused for purging AD vessels.
“A lot of facilities would then just exhaust the CO2, which doesn’t set a good example for a carbon footprint. Our patented technology strips it out to be reused to blanket the waste and push the oxygen out,” Leopold noted.
Throughout its process of converting waste to a usable resource, Convertus uses little energy — mainly diesel for its loaders and electricity to run blowers in the tunnels. That, however, has not stopped it from looking to strengthen its circular proposition.
Photo: Michael Leopold
Convertus plans to make its operations carbon neutral by 2035. To do that it will need to find a low-carbon alternative to diesel fuel and go off-grid for electricity. It also wants to be water neutral, meaning it will eliminate leachate and using raw water, such as that from rain or rivers and lakes. When it comes to odour abatement, Leopold said, Convertus is ahead of its competitors. Waste management companies often locate facilities several hours outside of urban areas to minimize the number of people affected by odours. “That doesn’t do anything for their carbon footprint,” he said. Using technology to minimize odours, Convertus can be located within city boundaries, which allows municipalities to pick up its organic waste in the morning and by evening have the material sorted, shredded and in a tunnel composting.
The most important goal, however, is to have 0% of residual waste going to landfills by 2035, one Leopold said can be reached if Canadians sort their waste correctly. “Today, the amount we send varies depending on how clean the program is. It ranges from 3% to 5% in B.C. to 5% to 25% in Ontario. B.C. tends to have stricter guidelines as to what is allowable within green bin programs. Although our technology can process complex waste streams, we work with our municipal partners to promote cleaner programs through education,” he said.
One other lofty goal Convertus has is to double in size by 2026. It’s looking at a couple of options to do that. For starters, it will look to fill unused capacity at its existing sites, given its Ontario facilities operate at about 80% of capacity. It is also in talks for a handful of strategic acquisitions.
“Our recent acquisition of Envirem Organics put us in multiple provinces, making us the largest organic processor in Canada, and definitely in the top two or three in North America,” Leopold said.