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Hey Winnipeg, quit stalling on organic waste pickup

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Photo: Queen's University/flickr

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Most major Canadian cities have organic waste pickup, including: Vancouver, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Hamilton and Toronto. Calgary will start in 2017. If Winnipeg does not move soon on this issue, we will be one of the few large cities in the country not doing our part. At issue is an upcoming motion from Councillors Eadie and Wyatt to postpone the City's plans for organic waste pickup.

Green Action Centre knows a lot about green living, including promoting waste reduction and resource recovery. It agrees with many of Councillor Eadie and Wyatt's recommendations, including the need to develop commercial organic waste programs and to continue to foster backyard and neighbourhood composting. But these programs should not be implemented at the expense of a curbside pickup program. These are each an important piece of the waste management puzzle and should be further considered during the formal consultation process.

Councillor Eadie and Wyatt's upcoming motion to "immediately suspend the implementation plan for curbside Source Separated Organics (SSO or kitchen waste) collection, and cancel any and all plans to conduct public consultations on a curbside SSO program" is not the way to go. 

Why reject the motion

1. Don't let other legitimate needs divert attention from residential diversion goals

Organic material represents 40 per cent of residential waste; a successful curbside SSO program is key to assisting the City and Province in reaching their waste diversion goals. While commercial organic waste is an important issue and should be dealt with, we should not allow such concerns to divert attention and stall advancement on the current task of residential organic waste diversion.  

All levels of government, the international community, and many institutions and businesses are strengthening commitments to address climate change.

The province has proposed a landfill ban on organics by 2020 for both residential and commercial waste. Further, Manitoba currently has one of the lowest waste diversion rates in Canada while Winnipeg records that only 23 per cent of citizens are composting their kitchen waste. Most major Canadian cities have adopted an organics pick up program tailored to suit their precise needs. Winnipeg can do the same.

2. Public consultation is a priority for the City

Public consultations are an integral part of the process of change. Informed citizens and organizations can offer sound advice on best practices and practical solutions. While councillors were briefed, the public has so far been denied opportunity to review the consultant's information and analysis first hand, conduct their own analyses and provide comment. Stopping the public consultation and delaying the process is a move in the wrong direction.  

Other important points to consider:

1. Solutions for cost reduction and program execution

The Province's proposed waste reduction and recycling strategy rightly advises the public that once organics, recyclables and bulk goods (also largely recyclable) have been picked up, only 10 per cent of the waste stream is left -- things like furnace filters, styrofoam and the like. There's no need for weekly pickup of these small residuals. Similar to Toronto's strategy, organics pickup could be weekly and recyclables and garbage in alternate weeks.

The debate about costs then shifts to frequency of pickup service rather than whether we should move forward with the initiative. Further, the revenue from the finished compost could be used to offset the cost of the program. For example, the finished product could be used for City landscaping projects thereby allowing a cost savings on fertilizer materials and watering.

2. The flat rate waste diversion fee is not necessarily the right way to incorporate costs

In October 2011, Council adopted the City's Garbage and Recycling Master Plan, stating:

That the program costs be funded through a combination of property tax support and a user fee collected on the water bill, with property taxes supporting the diversion programs and the user fee funding the balance of garbage collection costs.

We believe Council made the right decision in 2011 and should return to it now.

1. The costs of building and operating City infrastructure for landfilling and composting, if funded from the property tax, would lessen the burden on lower-income constituents and, like other City costs, would be borne proportionately to property values.

2. On the other hand, collection costs could include a Pay as You Throw user fee component based in part on the volume and frequency of demand for collection services, as in Toronto and elsewhere, thus incentivizing waste reduction and home composting.

3. Organic waste collection benefits backyard composters too. Backyard composters could benefit from an organic waste collection program.  More accepted materials means greater waste diversion. Meat and meat bones, dairy and pet waste can't be composted in a backyard bin. In addition, not all backyard composters continue composting in winter and some only compost yard waste. An organic waste collection program would enable backyard composters to compost more waste and to compost year round.  

Winnipeggers are ready to take strong action against climate change and environmental damage -- and they expect their elected officials to do the same. They also expect to be included in important public policy debates, particularly because the mayor and councillors were elected on a promise to be more willing to consult with citizens.

It's time for them to keep that promise.

Written by the Green Action Centre

Photo: Queen's University/flickr

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