Number of landfills shrinking in Sask.

The days of the small rural garbage dump are long gone but waste disposal remains an issue in Saskatchewan.

Stringent regulations have made it difficult for municipalities to operate landfills but the cost of closing them is also a problem.

Premier Scott Moe had promised a review of landfills during the recent Saskatchewan Party leadership campaign.

He told the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities convention earlier this month that the province has the highest number of landfills per capita. He thinks there should be fewer.

According to the environment ministry, 500 Saskatchewan municipal landfills were operating in 2015-16. There are 256 now and that is projected to drop again this fiscal year.

There is no set number the province is trying to reach, but transfer stations and regional models are replacing small sites because they offer more economical and efficient ways to manage waste.

The provincial government has been consulting for about a year on solid waste management and expects to release a draft strategy later this spring. The environment ministry noted that Saskatchewan has the second highest waste disposal rate in Canada at 897 kilograms per person and the lowest waste diversion rate from landfills at 13 percent.

Craig Abernethy, a manager in the ministry, told the SARM convention that the consultations found a need for modern and fair regulations and enforcement.

He said there are arguments for and against regionalization of landfills, the need for more education and awareness, and a need to look at opportunities in waste diversion and reduction as well as where waste could be used as a resource, such as in energy production.

“We heard loud and clear that upgrading or closing landfills is a costly endeavour and some municipalities just simply do not have the resources to make that happen,” he said.

The choice to keep operating or close is up to the permittee, Abernethy said, noting that the average landfill closure cost is about $200,000.

Once the draft strategy is released, further consultation is planned before it will be finalized.

Moe said affordability must be top of mind when it comes to any change.

While the review is underway, the government is putting enforcement on hold for existing landfills except where public health is at risk, he added.

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