Monday, 6 October 2014

What a waste


Garbage collection is one of the city’s most basic and necessary services. It is also a service with enormous room for innovation and improvement.

On the pickup end, garbage service helps people keep their home safe and clean. On the other end, how we dispose of that material makes a big difference to our city’s future and our planet’s future.

Containers ascend the conveyor system at the city Material Recovery Facility (MRF).

The provincial target for waste diversion is 60%. That refers to the percentage of garbage that ends up somewhere other than the landfill. Anything that is recycled, composted, or re-purposed fits into this category.

How is London doing on waste diversion? Not great. Our current rate is 44%. Why is that a problem? London’s landfill site, W12A, is only expected to meet the city’s needs for another 15 years. It’s already the size of 190 football fields. Improving waste diversion will help that space to last longer, which would cost over $100 million to expand. It’s time to lay out a plan to meet or exceed the provincial waste diversion target in a cost-effective way.

That plan must include a strategy for organic waste. We do well with recycling, for the most part, and the new items being collected in blue boxes will help. London’s progress on organic waste has stalled in recent years. A Green Bin pilot project was completed in 2012, but we haven’t seen any move since then to roll the program out to all Londoners.

Many festivals (including Sunfest) did not have an organics composting stream this year.

City festivals also began separating organic waste at EcoStations in 2007. It was a great way to make our festivals greener while getting Londoners ready to sort food waste at home. Unfortunately, that step forward disappeared this year as well. London no longer requires big festivals to separate compost at EcoStations, and Home County was the only festival to do it in 2014.

Door-to-door green-bin collection isn't the only possible way for the city to deal with food waste. The city could also look at providing people who live in houses with composters and educate residents on how to use them. Of course, that wouldn't be a solution for people who live in apartments, but it would be a start. 

We can also look at the causes of food waste in the first place, and work to reduce it: the average Canadian throws away one pound (0.45 kg) of food each and every day.  That adds up to nearly 6 million tonnes of waste nationwide that could otherwise feed the hungry or be diverted from the dump. The bottom line is that we can't divert more of our waste away from the landfill unless we deal with compostable food waste.

I've been asked at the door and at all-candidates meetings whether I would support moving London to same-day, once-a-week garbage pickup. Some are passionate about making this change, while others see our rotating system as an innovative way to cut costs and still provide efficient service. I think our system works well for the most part. In addition to the collection calendars delivered each Fall, there are electronic tools available for those who have trouble keeping track of garbage day: the My Waste app and LondonTrash.ca.

If we were to go to same-day pickup, I would prefer to see a waste collection system where recyclable and compostable material is picked up the same day every week, while garbage is collected every other week. Most of the complaints I hear about the rotating schedule are about garbage getting messy and stinky after eight days, especially in the summer. Food waste is the messy and stinky part of garbage. With that removed every week, what remains for bi-weekly pickup should not present those issues.

Along with organics, we can do a better job of dealing with the household waste left behind when people move out. A drive through Ward 6 at the end of Western’s term makes that obvious. There are some great ideas out there to improve this situation, but it needs to be a co-ordinated effort, included in London’s waste strategy.

On council, I will push for a comprehensive waste program that deals with organics and household waste, and increases out diversion rate.

On a final note, some of these subjects are covered in Road Map 2.0, a report city staff have prepared on waste diversion. It recommends that a decision on green bins be deferred until a new review is completed this year. It doesn't propose a strategy for move-out waste.

You can viewthe report and provide your feedback on the city’s Web site. If you are sending in comments to city staff, I’d love to hear your thoughts as well. Comment below, or e-mail me any time at mike@bloxam.ca.