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"Ever wonder if City Council is as contentious and chaotic as it is sometimes portrayed? Here you can get a progressive perspective on some of the issues from someone who spent four years in the trenches. Totally unbiased, though! Feel free to comment but keep it respectful, just like they do at council."

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

It's not bin easy being green

Back on Council’s agenda on Monday will be the Green Bin Pilot Program which at the moment doesn’t look likely to take off.

Although the proposal was overwhelmingly supported by Council a little over a year ago, there have since been a number of hiccups which put it on ice.

London is one of the few municipalities which still puts its organic waste into the landfill. Since we are fortunate enough to have a landfill site that has another 12 to 13 years of capacity, we haven’t felt any particular urgency in dealing with this issue.

The strong support for the project on council resulted in staff doing the groundwork, working with the participating community, purchasing the needed bins and tendering the processing of the materials. Unfortunately, the only local contender for the contract, Orgaworld, had closed down in response to serious complaints from neighbouring residents about odour problems. That meant using the services of an out of town facility. 

Some members of council, who had previously supported the pilot project, worried about the optics of transporting “garbage” at a time when we were criticizing Toronto for shipping its garbage down the 401. My own take on this was that some councillors were actually more concerned about an anti-environmental backlash fuelled by some councillors not standing for re-election and whose support for the program had been weak from the outset. (A fuller account of that debate can be found at Cold Feet and the one prior at A win for the green bin.)

The upshot was that the Pilot Project was put on hold until April 2011 in the hopes that a local receiver would be up and running, either Orgaworld or another local business, such as Try Recycling. Additionally, we asked staff to report any new information on industry funding for waste diversion initiatives, to provide more information on opportunities for backyard composting, and to investigate alternative local options for managing green bin materials.

There was another hitch as well.  Although the pilot project is inexpensive, full implementation of a green bin program is not cheap. We had hoped that implementation of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), that is, making those who produce the wasteful packaging that we put in our blue boxes actually pay for the full cost of recycling, would free up enough taxpayers’ dollars to cover the cost of the green bins. Unfortunately, the provincial bungling of the Eco-tax has delayed that prospect.

Staff brought an update to the Community and Neighbourhoods Committee (CNC) at its most recent meeting, recommending starting the pilot project in May 2011 with the materials to be composted at Orgaworld.

At the meeting, I ran into a former colleague from Fanshawe College. She lives in the Brockley community which has had the complaints about Orgaworld. She was not thrilled about the prospects of more material being shipped to Orgaworld which reopened in October last year.  Although the odour complaints have been reduced, they have not been eliminated. The concern is that once the higher temperatures of summer arrive, these complaints may become more numerous and the odour more pronounced. 

These concerns certainly resonated with the committee which decided to defer implementation until there are no more complaints. At least one member of the committee, Paul VanMeerbergen, has no interest in any green bin program, now or later. Similarly, the Mayor was clear that he doesn’t want one, arguing that there is much happening in waste diversion and processing.  As chairman of the management team of an Energy from Waste company (which is discussed at greater length in Something smells), Fontana probably knows whereof he speaks.  “Is this just a learning exercise?” he wanted to know. “I won’t support a green bin.”

There were also discussions about weekly garbage pickup, an issue that candidates for election heard about on the campaign trail. This had been anticipated as part of the green bin program, allowing for a same day of the week pickup with more frequent green bin pickup than dry garbage pickup and adjusting schedules for winter and summer.

The other related issue that was examined was backyard composting. It’s clear that members of council and probably residents in general have mixed feelings on the issue. Ward 2 Councillor Bill Armstrong felt that the diligence required for backyard composting meant it would be reserved for serious gardeners. 

My own experience, and that of many people on my neighbourhood, is that it’s no big deal, that the complexities have been overstated. However, his view is likely to be shared by a significant number of Londoners. At present, it is estimated that composting makes up only 3 to 5 per cent of all waste diverted. As well, composting is more difficult in winter, especially for an aging population, and on small lots and in multiunit dwellings.

There are other possibilities. Edmonton, for example, manages organics in the regular garbage pickup while achieving what is touted as a 90% diversion rate compared to London's 40% and the provincial target of 60%. Whether or not that is affordable is yet to be determined. 

In the meantime, London continues to send its compostables to W12A, the landfill. Many residents wonder why they can’t be among the 2 million Ontario households that have a collective composting program.

1 comment:

Menno Meijer said...

It is my understanding of waste dumps that there is a tipping fee. Organic material is heavy and we are paying by the tonne to dump material mostly made of water.

If there is no private enterprise willing to do the job of collecting and composting, then perhaps the City can get back to its roots of providing services to the citizens of London. Hire municipal workers to collect and compost on a City-owned site on a not-for-profit basis. The resulting compost could be redistributed to Londoners free of charge for their gardens - bring your own bags. Businesses requiring compost for their profitable ventures could purchase compost from this site. We solves our organic waste problem at less cost than paying outside contractors to do the same work and create jobs in the process. Citizens in multi-unit dwellings, citizens with no yards to speak of, and seniors would be able to participate in this long past-due service.
If we can't find someone to do it more expensively on a for-profit basis benefitting a few, then perhaps it is time to do it ourselves at less cost benefitting us all.