Every day an awful lot of trucks head down the 401 towards Windsor to dump Ontario waste in private landfills in Michigan But it’s increasingly unclear how long that situation will last. If the United States federal government allows states to close the border to Canadian waste, a lot of Ontario municipalities will be scrambling to find places to put their garbage. The politics around waste export is serious.
Whatever posturing may be going on at the political level about who is responsible for waste management, many municipalities, particularly those in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), have recognized that if they are to come close to reaching the provincial 60 per cent diversion target, then organics will need to be part of the equation. After years of relative inertia on the waste diversion front, an increasing number of GTA communities are adding organics collection to their curbside programs. And they aren’t waiting for a crisis to determine their future or to see if funding support is available.
One by one, all the larger municipalities have added (or plan to add) organics to their curbside pick-up. Toronto’s Green Bin program was expanded to include North York this fall and now includes all single-family households in the city. Toronto is now looking at how the program can be expanded to its huge multi-residential sector. After some delays, the Region of Peel is scheduled to start curbside organics collection in the spring of 2007. Halton Region launched a 5,000-household organics demonstration program in October, with plans to expand the program region-wide. In the Region of Durham, organics are being picked up in Clarington, Brock, Scugog, and Uxbridge, and there are plans to expand to all households in the region. The City of Hamilton is planning to expand its organics collection program to all households next year after two successful pilots involving about 4,500 households. Niagara Region is collecting organics at the curb from all its single-family households.
In York Region, where waste collection is still at the local level, the Town of Markham is already beyond 60 per cent since it added organics and is now pushing for 70 per cent diversion.
Pilot program crucial
When it comes to getting the big numbers, Markham’s new Mission Green expanded recycling and organics collection program leads the pack. The town is getting the kind of numbers previously enjoyed only by smaller communities with aggressive waste reduction programs combined with user pay for garbage. The new program was built on the success of previous pilot projects and the community’s support of the town’s waste diversion plans. Markham used focus groups to test acceptance of its previous recycling pilots and it used them for Mission Green.
“We feel it is absolutely key to obtain community input from the very beginning,” says Claudia Marsales, Markham’s manager of waste management.
“Focus group participants told us they wanted Markham to be a leader and set higher diversion targets than the 60 per cent goal from the province,” she says.
In 2004, town council approved a 70 per cent diversion target by 2006, and a new three-stream waste management system was designed to achieve this goal. Mission Green was born.
For the organics part of the mission, Markham decided to use the same formula as Toronto’s Green Bin program. Sharing its southern border with Toronto, Markham residents get most of their media messages from Toronto; they read Toronto newspapers; they watch Toronto television. Many of them commute to the city to work.
Thus, Mission Green accepts the same organic materials — in plastic bags — as the Green Bin program in Toronto, helping to avoid resident confusion. Unlike Toronto, and most other co-collection programs, Markham picks up its organics with a single-stream of recyclables, not waste. (The town doesn’t get those calls from residents thinking the compostables are going into the garbage.)
Phase One of Mission Green started with 12,500 households in east Markham in September 2004. The second phase was rolled out to the remaining 55,000 households in July 2005. Under the three-stream program, waste is sorted by the householder into organics, recyclables and residue. As a further incentive to reduce waste, there is a three-bag limit for garbage, which is now only collected every other week.
Three months after the full roll-out of Mission Green, 28 per cent of material placed at the curb is taken to York Region’s new material recovery facility in East Gwillumbury, 26 per cent is going to the GSI Environmental composting plant in Lachute, Quebec and just 34 per cent is headed for disposal. The balance is made up of yard waste, appliances and other diversion programs. In September, the town’s diversion rate was 66 per cent and the number of trucks of Markham waste on the 401 since Mission Green was introduced has been reduced from 117 per month to 80 – a reduction of 32 per cent.
Markham’s success seems to be inspiring its neighbours. The City of Vaughan’s just-announced “Greening Vaughan” program starts organics collection next fall.
Ben Bennett is a writer and publisher based in Guelph, Ontario.