Bio-Solids

Biosolids are nutrient-rich materials that result from the treatment of waste water (sewage). At Ladysmith's Waste Water Treatment Plant, we process waste water from kitchens, bathrooms and laundries. The treatment process removes the solid waste from the waste water, resulting in bio-solids. As part of our Waste Water Treatment System, Ladysmith is required to dispose of these bio-solids. Composting is a beneficial and viable option for the responsible management of bio-solids. 

Check back often to see updates and other information about the Town of Ladysmith bio-solids composting program, and check out our FAQs below.

Frequently Asked Questions about Our Composting
(Bio-Solids) Operation

Scroll down to see the answers to the following questions, plus some links to research and other information:
What are bio-solids, and why is Ladysmith composting them? (updated February 3, 2017)
Where is the new land for the future composting facility located? (updated February 9, 2017)
Are we just moving the smell from one location to another? (updated February 3, 2017)
What kind of facility will be built at the new site? (updated February 3, 2017)
Why does the material have to be processed  Ladysmith at all?  Can't it be handled elsewhere? (updated February 3, 2017)
Will the work and smell continue at Public Works until the new building is built at the Thicke Road site?
The Comox Valley Regional District will only take our bio-solids for 3 to 5 weeks.  What happens after that?  (updated February 3, 2017)
How often does Ladysmith test its bio-solids, and what does it test for? (added February 3, 2017)
Why don't you test for pharmaceuticals in your bio-solids? (added February 3, 2017)

Added February 16, 2016:
Does the proposed facility fit in the South Ladysmith Area Plan?
Does the property need to be rezoned for a compost facility? 
Will the composting facility be expanded as the Town grows?  
At what stages is there the greatest potential for odor and/or water contamination?  What will be done to mitigate the risk at each of these stages?
Technology regarding the treatment of bio-solids is progressing extremely rapidly.  Is composting still the best method for dealing with the bio-solids?  Is there potential for energy generation from the waste at the same time? Have other options been considered?
If the new plant will not be an odor issue, why move it at all?  The Town could leave it where it is and save the $850,000.
In terms of GHG emissions, are there better ways of dealing with the bio-solids?
How does the plant tie into Ladysmith’s “Sustainability Vision”?
How much noise will be generated by the facility?
How does the plant fit into the Vancouver Island Plan for Biosolids? 
What licensing will the facility need? Who will inspect it and report out?
How does this facility compare with other operations, both in the Cowichan Region (Fisher Road and Coast Environmental) and further afield? (added February 16, 2016)
Where does the product from this plant go?
Does the Ministry of Environment have to review the plans for the new composting facility?  



What are bio-solids, and why is Ladysmith composting them? (updated February 3, 2017)
Every time a resident flushes a toilet, runs a load of laundry or dishes, or empties a sink, everything that goes down the drain ends up going through Ladysmith’s Waste Water Treatment Plant.  There, any non-compostable items are screened out.  Then, the remaining waste water is treated to what is known as Stage 2 and the remaining solids separated out.  The remaining water (known as effluent) is discharged into Ladysmith Harbour. Under provincial regulations (Organic Matter Recycling Regulation) operators of a Waste Water Treatment Plant are required to dispose of the plant’s by-products (the bio-solids). 

Composting is currently accepted world-wide as the most effective, responsible and sustainable way to dispose of bio-solids.  The process results in a useful new product, effectively and safely returning bio-solids to the land..

Ladysmith has been composting bio-solids at the Public Works Yard since the 1990s.  However, the nature of the bio-solids has changed since our new, Stage 2 Waste Water Treatment Plant came on stream in the summer of 2016.  The water being discharged from the plant is cleaner, but the bio-solids smell stronger than when we were treating our waste water to Stage 1.  We do not mix household compostables in with the bio-solids.  The final product of our bio-solids composting is a high-quality top soil amendment (fertilizer) that meets Class A standards and is regularly tested to ensure it is safe to use as a fertilizer.

Where is the new land for the future composting facility located?
The Town has an accepted offer on a new site for the Town of Ladysmith Bio-Solids Composting Facility at 4142 Thicke Road.  The existing zoning for the property is Industrial I-2 which is suitable for the municipal composting facility.  Public Utility Use is permitted in all zones which includes “the composting of municipal generated bio-solids”. Other associated uses (e.g. storage and sales of resulting soil) are supported by the I-2 zoning.

South Ladysmith Industrial Park_ed with bio solids

Are we just moving the smell from one location to another? (updated February 16, 2017)
No.  It was always the intention of Council to house the composting operation in a building designed for that purpose, complete with aeration, negative air pressure and bio-filtration to control odour.  The company we are working with, Transform Compost, is a BC company with 10 years of bio-solids composting experience.

The composting operation at the Public Works Yard has historically being carried out in the open.  Originally, the Town was going to build an enclosed composting facility at the yard.  However, when Council realized that the Public Works Yard was not the place to compost the bio-solids from the Town’s new, secondary stage Waste Water Treatment Plant, plans to build a composting facility at that location were put on hold while we looked for a new, more appropriate property.  This meant that we had to keep composting in the open.

The facility itself will be designed to control odour throughout the composting process and will be built to odour control standards required by the Province of Ontario (there are currently no such standards in BC).  The Town has engaged the services of a bio-solids composting professional with extensive experience in the design of such facilities in a variety of sites and conditions.  We are in the process of completing the facility design to suit the site.  Once we have possession of the property (in late March), we will begin construction of the new building to house the composting process. The building is expected to be completed in 2017.

Will the work and smell continue at Public Works until the new building is built at the Thicke Road site? (Updated January 25, 2017)
No.  We are very thankful that on Tuesday, January 17, the Comox Valley Sewerage Commission unanimously agreed to process our bio-solids on a temporary basis for up to five weeks.  We started trucking our bio-solids to the facility in Cumberland in the week of January 16th.  We continue to seek partners who can process the town’s bio-solids until our new facility is up and running. Discussions with other potential partners continue and further announcements are expected in the coming days.  It is our most urgent priority to find a partner who will take Ladysmith’s bio-solids for us until our own facility is up and running.  If the negotiations are successful, we will be able to ship our bio-solids from the Waste Water Treatment Plant away for processing until our own facility is built.  We are finishing the process of composting the piles that are already on the site, but have not shipped any new biosolids there since the middle of January.

The Comox Valley Regional District will only take our bio-solids for 3 to 5 weeks.  What happens after that? (Updated February 3, 2017)
Town officials are continuing discussions with other viable partners.  We are confident that we will have an arrangement in the next few days with a partner who will manage our bio-solids until our own facility is up and running.

Can the Town store bio-solids at the Thicke Road site while the full composting facility is being developed and built?
Over the past several months, we have looked at this option and many others in our search to find an alternative to composting at the Public Works Yard.  There are several reasons why this is not the most appealing or feasible option.  First, we would need authorization from the Ministry of Environment to store our bio-solids at that location.  This could take up to three months to receive.  Second, eventually we would need to treat the stored bio-solids, and after they have sat for several weeks or longer, they become much more challenging (and smellier) to deal with. 

How is the new composting facility funded and how will that affect my taxes?
The Town is eligible for a grant of $570,000 in regional Gas Tax Funding to help pay for the new building.  Estimated costs to build the new building are $1.8 million.  The remainder of the funds for purchasing the land and building the composting facility will come from the Sewer Reserve (which we maintain to help pay for upgrades to the Town’s Waste Water Treatment System (sewage operations).

What kind of facility will be built at the new site? (Updated February 3, 2017)
The design of the new facility is not complete, but current plans include:

  • Enclosed processing area on a concrete floor
  • Air handling system complete with a bio-filtration system
  • Aeration system to ensure the process remains aerobic
  • Leachate collection system
  • Automated compost turner/mixer system

Full details of the building design will be available soon.

Although BC does not currently have odour control regulations, the new facility will be built to conform to Ontario’s regulations, and will be patterned after the permit requirements from the Ontario Ministry of Environment.  

Why does the material have to be processed in Ladysmith at all?  Can’t it be handled elsewhere? (Updated February 3, 2017)
The bio-solids are the byproduct of our Waste Water Treatment process (sewage plant), and the Town is legally responsible for managing them.  Composting is a responsible  and sustainable option for responsible bio-solids management. The Town must comply with regulations laid out in the Organic Material Recycling Regulation and these activities are authorized by the Ministry of Environment.  We do not mix household compostables in with the bio-solids.  The final product is a high-quality top soil that meets Class A standards.

Transporting the bio-solids to a different location requires Ministry of Environment approval, and both trucking and tipping fees are high.  In addition, there are very few facilities that are able to take this type of waste from other communities, as the Town has learned in our research.

Composting of Waste Water Treatment Plant bio-solids has been carried out at the Town of Ladysmith Public Works Yard since the 1990s.  However, the secondary sludge produced by our new Waste Water Treatment Plant, which came on-stream last summer, is significantly more odorous than the primary sludge produced by our old facility.  Council therefore voted last year not to construct a new composting building at the Public Works site, and put a priority on moving the operation completely.  

Our new facility will be designed to control odour throughout the composting process and will be built to odour control standards required by the province of Ontario (there are currently no such standards in British Columbia).  The Town has engaged the services of a bio-solids composting professional with extensive experience in the design of such facilities.  We are in the process of completing the facility design to suit the site.  Once we have possession of the property,  we will begin construction of the new building to house the composting process.  The building is expected to be complete in 2017.

How much did the Thicke Road Property cost?
The accepted offer price for the property is $840,000. Regrettably, the Town was outbid on this Thicke Road property last September, delaying the move by several months.

How long was the Town looking for property to move the location away from Public Works?
Council determined in the summer of 2016 that the composting operation had to be moved urgently from the Public Works Yard and so directed staff to prioritize securing an alternative site. It is a condition of our compost building grant that we own the property for the facility. Staff looked at many different locations in the search.  Some were not suitable, while in other cases we could not come to terms with the property owner.  

When will the new composting facility be up and running?
We have already started the process of getting regulatory approvals for the new Thicke Road site, and design of the new facility is underway.  The facility should be completed in 2017.

How often does Ladysmith test its bio-solids, and what does it test for? (Added February 3, 2017))
The Town is required to test the bio-solids during the composting process, and to test the finished product to ensure it meets Class A compost standards as defined in the Organic Matter Recycling Regulation. 

On the finished product, we must submit 7 independent  samples for fecal coliform, and  a composite sample for trace elements  At this time, because our facility is very small, these tests are carried out on a representative sample of a year’s worth of our product.  The acceptable standards and testing requirements are laid out in the Organic Matter Recycling Regulation.

We follow a strict protocol for taking samples.  The samples are analyzed by an independent and qualified laboratory. The tests meet internationally accepted standards.

Why don’t you test for pharmaceuticals? (Added February 3, 2017)
The Organic Matter Recycling Regulation, which governs all aspects of Ladysmith’s bio-solids composting system, does not require testing for pharmaceuticals.  Research worldwide has shown that the heat and time involved in the composting process results in significant degradation of pharmaceuticals as well as other compounds degrade many of these types of materials.  The most important thing to bear in mind with respect to pharmaceuticals is that left-over prescriptions and other pharmaceuticals should never be flushed or poured down the drain. 

Ladysmith is proud to be taking responsibility for its own biosolids, and processing them in a manner that is accepted worldwide as a sustainable way to recycle the organic matter and nutrients. 

Does the proposed facility fit in the South Ladysmith Area Plan? (added February 16, 2016)
The South Ladysmith Area Plan is summarized as follows (page  6):

“Commercial uses along the highway and oriented toward the entrance of the industrial park, as well as agricultural uses in the southern portion of the Plan Area, would complement the industrial park. Residential uses located in the northeast part of the Plan Area would represent an extension to the currently developing residential neighbourhood south of Davis Road. A business park (together with protected watercourse and topographic natural features) located between the industrial park and the residential neighbourhood offers a transition between these land uses. A recreation trail system is proposed along the riparian corridors of Stocking Creek and the hydro/gas corridor. “

The South Ladysmith Area Plan further states the following policies with respect to industrial Development (page 9):

“2.2.1 Permit industrial development in the area designated Industrial and light industrial/office development in the area designated Business Park on Map 2 – Land Use &Transportation. 2.2.2 Industrial uses are intended to permit the range of uses anticipated for an industrial park, including land-extensive heavy industry associated with the forest sector, primary processing, manufacturing, warehousing, wholesaling and storage, product assembly and service, transportation and distribution uses. The maximum floor space ratio for Industrial development is 0.4 f.s.r. and buildings are not to exceed a maximum height of three storeys.”

The existing zoning for the property is Industrial I-2 which is suitable for the municipal composting facility.  Other associated uses (e.g. storage and sales of resulting soil) are supported by the I-2 zoning.  The use is similar to the current Peerless Road waste and recycling facility in the same area. The site was zoned Industrial prior to the south end boundary extension.

Does the property need to be rezoned for a compost facility? (added February 16, 2016)
Public Utility Use, which includes “the composting of municipal generated bio-solids” is permitted in all zones in Ladysmith, which means that it is permitted in the I-2 Zone.  The existing zoning for the Thicke Road property is Industrial I-2 which is suitable for the municipal composting facility.  Other associated uses (e.g. storage and sales of resulting soil) are supported by the I-2 zoning.

Will the composting facility be expanded as the Town grows?  Will the Town take bio-solids from other areas? (added February 16, 2016)

All local governments are responsible for disposing of their own bio-solids.  Expansion or offering composting services to neighbouring local governments would be up to Council to decide.  If demand from our own community meant that we would need to expand the plant, we would continue to carry out the work indoors, and to employ odour control technology that is appropriate for the size of the operation.

If Ladysmith’s facility had excess capacity to assist another local government with composting, and it made economic sense, it could be something Council may consider.  

At what stages is there the greatest potential for odor and/or water contamination?  What will be done to mitigate the risk at each of these stages? (added February 16, 2016)
The whole operation is designed to control odour.  The greatest potential for odor comes in the earliest stages of the operation.  The Town is carefully designing an enclosed operation that will minimize the odor when trucks dump the material into the facility (which will be done indoors) and throughout the composting process.  Although plans are not yet finalized, this will include negative air and other odour control measures. 

As stated above, the facility will be built on concrete, and includes a leachate collection system to prevent runoff.  The Town will have protocols and procedures to deal with operational issues at the facility, including odour. This could involve temporarily taking the bio-solids to a different location similar to our current, temporary arrangement with the Comox Valley Regional District..

Technology regarding the treatment of bio-solids is progressing rapidly.  Is composting still the best method for dealing with the bio-solids?  Is there potential for energy generation from the waste at the same time? Have other options been considered? (added February 16, 2016)
Council has considered many different options for disposing of the bio-solids produced by our Waste Water Treatment Plant.  Composting is currently accepted world-wide as the most effective, responsible and sustainable way to dispose of bio-solids.  The process results in a useful product, effectively and safely returning bio-solids to the land.  We do not produce sufficient bio-solids to justify the investment in energy generation.  Of course we will continue to stay abreast of developments in the bio-solids management field.

If the new plant will not be an odor issue, why move it at all.  The Town could leave it where it is and save the $850,000. (added February 16, 2016)
The Public Works Yard is not big enough for this type of operation.  Council made the decision early last year that it needed to move the composting operation from the Public Works location.  The new site is in an industrial area and so is much more suitable for this type of operation.  

In terms of Greenhouse Gas emissions, are there better ways of dealing with the bio-solids? (added February 16, 2016)
Composting is currently accepted world-wide as the most effective, responsible and sustainable way to dispose of bio-solids. Trucking the bio-solids to facilities outside our region contributes to greenhouse gases through the transportation process.

How does the composting facility tie into Ladysmith’s “Sustainability Vision”? (added February 16, 2016)
Our operation is socially responsible, economically viable, and sustainable.

Ladysmith is legally responsible to dispose of the bio-solids from our new, secondary Waste Water Treatment Plant.  Composting is currently accepted world-wide as the most effective, responsible and sustainable way to dispose of bio-solids.  The process is sustainable as it results in a Class A topsoil amendment/fertilizer, thus returning our bio-solids back to the ground.

One of the pillars of our Sustainability Vision is ‘innovative infrastructure’.  The new facility will use the best technology available for this type of operation.  We continue to be leaders in dealing with the bio-solids disposal issue in a responsible sustainable matter.

Sending our bio-solids to a facility outside our community is not consistent with our Sustainability Vision as it will result in production of more greenhouse gases through transportation.

Finally, composting our own bio-solids ensures that we are self-reliant and need not rely on others for our bio-solids disposal, and will manage our own operations over the long term.  You may have heard that Vancouver Island University has recently decided that it will no longer accept bio-solids for land application at its woodlot.  This has created a significant issue for other local governments who have been relying on this means of disposing their bio-solids, who must now find other solutions with little lead time.

How much noise will be generated by the facility? (added February 16, 2016)
We don’t anticipate any noticeable noise unless you are right next to the biofilters and trucks going in and out of the facility.  Composting operations will be enclosed and automated.

How does the plant fit into the Vancouver Island Plan for Bio-solids? (added February 16, 2016)
We are not aware of any such plan in place at this time.  Ladysmith will continue to explore any and all opportunities for partnerships and we will take part in discussions about strategies to deal with bio-solids.  We believe an island-wide solution could be ideal.  However, a Vancouver Island plan could take years to develop and implement, and we must deal responsibly with our bio-solids now and every day, as long as people flush toilets and drain sinks. 

What licensing does the composting facility need? Who will inspect it and report out? (added February 16, 2016)
The Town’s composting facility is governed by the Organic Matter Recycling Regulation, and overseen by the Ministry of Environment.  Because of the relatively low volume of bio-solids we produce, the Town doesn’t need a licence.   We do require authorization from the Ministry to operate.  We have that authorization now at the Public Works site, and are applying for it at the new site.  The regulation lays out the types and frequency of tests we must do during composting and on the finished product and we follow those guidelines.  Our testing follows strict protocols and is analyzed by an independent laboratory. 

How does this facility compare with other operations, both in the Cowichan Region (Fisher Road and Coast Environmental) and further afield? (added February 16, 2016)
Staff have been been visiting facilities such as the one in Cumberland, and others in BC, to investigate odour control operations and make sure we employ the best technology.  We will be able to provide feedback from our investigation shortly.

Between the size of our operations and the make-up of our bio-solids, comparing Ladysmith’s operation the nearby facilities on Fisher Road in Cobble Hill, and Coast Environmental in Chemainus is a bit like comparing a pumpkin to a strawberry.  Ladysmith’s composting facility takes only a single source of bio-solids (remains from our waste water treatment plant), unlike the facilities you mention.  We do not mix household waste in our composting process.  Our volumes are significantly lower than those facilities; in fact, we aren’t even in the same ballpark.  We understand that the Fisher Road facility has the capacity to process up to 18,000 tons annually.  We further understand that the composting facility at Chemainus processes about 12,000 tons annually.  Ladysmith will process about 1,500 tons a year.

Where does the product from this plant go? (added February 16, 2016)
The final product is a Class A topsoil amendment/fertilizer as defined under the Organic Matter Recycling Regulation of BC.  The Town currently utilizes all the topsoil for our own landscaping.  This saves considerable money we would otherwise have to spend on purchasing the topsoil.  If we don’t use it all on our own landscaping, we would consider selling it. Again, that would be up to Council to decide.

Does the Ministry of Environment have to review the plans for the Town's new composting facility?  (added February 16, 2016)
We are hoping the plans will be ready in March.  The Ministry does not need to review the plans.  Our qualified professional consultant will recommend the best options based on our needs, Council’s direction regarding odour control and enclosed operations, and public input.  Council intends to hold a neighbourhood meeting to demonstrate the site and building plans when they are complete.

Below are some links to research, reports and regulations relating to bio-solids composting.

Two European perspectives:

  1. http://www.phosphorusplatform.eu/scope-in-print/news/1363-outcomes-onoutcomes-online-espp-workshop-pharmaceuticals-in-sewage-biosolidsline-espp-workshop-pharmaceuticals
  2. http://www.phosphorusplatform.eu/images/download/Malmo-pharmaceuticals-workshop/Rye-Ottosen-Malm%C3%B6-27-10-16.pdf

Canadian research suggesting that composting is an effective treatment of bio-solids in terms of reducing potential risk to humans and the environment
http://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/environment/waste-management/recycling/organics/biosolids/lit-review-biosolids-nicola-valley.pdf

General background on bio-solids use in agriculture in Canada:
http://www.cwn-rce.ca/assets/resources/pdf/McCarthy-Risks-Biosolids-2015.pdf

Results of a 2009 Canadian study on the use of bio-solids:
http://www.ccme.ca/files/Resources/waste/biosolids/pn_1440_contam_invt_rvw.pdf

BC Organic Matter Recycling Regulation (OMRR)

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