Solid Waste & Recycling


Composting Matters: Organic Diversion

The environmental impacts and cost of landfilling organic waste -- which accounts for approximately 40 per cent of the waste stream -- makes organics the logical next step in waste diversion.On Novemb...

The environmental impacts and cost of landfilling organic waste — which accounts for approximately 40 per cent of the waste stream — makes organics the logical next step in waste diversion.

On November 21, 2002 about 100 people, including representatives from 25 municipalities, met in the Council Chambers of the City of Markham in Ontario. They had come, in the words of Vivian De Giovanni, executive director of the Association of Municipal Recycling Coordinators (AMRC), to learn “what was and was not working” in those centres which are “taking the first steps towards food scrap diversion.”

Presentations at the conference included the results of 10 organics programs. In addition, Jeff Johnson of Joe Johnson Equipment presented a variety of hauling compartment configurations. The day concluded with a presentation by Alfred Von Mirbach of REIC Consulting.

Overall there was a positive impression that despite limited educational and promotional support, many programs experience participation levels of 60 per cent or more. This is evidence that, given the tools, many residents will gladly do more to divert waste.

A sterling example of this is the City of Toronto, which, with an aggressive education and advertising program utilizing the themes “Take the Next Step” and “Simply Separate Organics” touted a 90 per cent participation rate 10 weeks after its September 17, 2002 launch in 65,000 households. Furthermore the capture rate of organic material from each home is reported to be 20 per cent above the initial goal.

Many readers have no doubt heard of the difficulties with the program initially. This was due in large part to the provision of outdated maps.

Bags, carts and containers

As a container option the bag appears to be fading from the scene. Several presenters discussed the various problems with a bag-based system for food scraps, citing pests as the primary concern.

In addition, several presenters said they found higher participation rates when a hard wall container is provided. For example, participation in Markham was 33 per cent with bags versus 87 per cent with a cart. Other municipalities, including Peel and Peterborough, have also tested bags versus hard wall containers and found residents prefer containers.

As a result, several municipalities are talking about forgoing bags all together and only test various hard-wall containers.

Another trend is the increasing popularity of smaller bins rather than large carts. The Region of Durham, the County of Simcoe, and Toronto recently awarded tenders for small bins (manufactured by Norseman). Hamilton, Peel and Ottawa are all testing smaller bins. Finally, Peterborough recently found that residents prefer to use smaller bins.

Collection: frequency and vehicles

Rob Sinclair of the City of Ottawa announced recent conclusions based on the results of Ottawa’s latest pilot project. First, that there should be weekly collection of organics. This finding is contrary to the biweekly collection of food scraps that occurs with most of the existing programs in the Maritimes. Secondly, that a biweekly collection of residual material (waste other than recycables and organics) encourages food scrap separation. Ottawa concludes that residents seek to have odorous material removed weekly.

Similarly, Toronto’s program involves weekly food scrap and biweekly residual collection. The Region of Peel is also testing this scenario.

Waste Diversion Ontario

Alfred Von Mirbach provided an excellent primer for those about to take the next step and institute a food scrap diversion program. Mr. Von Mirbach spoke about the challenges of implementing such programs, which are mainly costs and resident participation. But he also explained that funding opportunities are increasing. For example, Ontario recently passed the Waste Diversion Act and launched Waste Diversion Ontario.

One of the nine waste categories designated in the Act is organics. It’s interesting to note that while blue box material carries a 50 per cent funding responsibility from industry, the sky’s the limit for the other eight, including organics. That is to say 100 per cent funding of organics diversion is possible. The primary condition is the determination of the “brand owner or first importer” in order to facilitate the creation of the appropriate Industry Funding Organization (IFO).

Along with funding, Mr. Von Mirbach stressed that it’s also important to provide the right tools. He recommends an in-house container and 40- to 50-litre curbside bins to encourage separation of food from leaf and yard material. One of the main reasons for this separation is that there are wild fluctuations in leaf and yard volume — ranging from zero approximately six months a year to boatloads for six weeks of the year — which in turn impacts the ability to produce consistent compost at the lowest possible cost.

The sessions were invigorating but one critical question was left unanswered. What is the best way to process this material once it has been collected? Perhaps the AMRC could make this issue the focus of a future event.

Rod Muir is a waste diversion advocate with Waste Diversion Toronto, based in Toronto, Ontario. E-mail Rod at


Greenlane wins Guelph’s hauling/disposal contract

The City of Guelph will now start sending its waste to the Greenlane Environmental Landfill in St. Thomas. After 40 years of operation, the Eastview Landfill in Guelph is approaching its capacity and is set to close in the next two years. Greenlane’s was one of four bids received by the city. Its cost of $43.90 per tonne was preferred over Canadian Waste ($46.24), Onyx Arbor Hills, Michigan ($48.73), and Republic Services ($50.02). The contract — which runs for five years commencing in January 2003 — is for approximately 25,000-95,000 tonnes of waste from a transfer station adjacent to the Guelph Wet-Dry plant.

Contact Cathy Smith at 519-767-0598, ext. 222

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