Green light for green bins

Green light for green bins

On Tuesday, the Civic Works Committee voted to move ahead with an environmental action plan that includes curbside organic waste pickup – essentially, paving the way for green bins. It’s wonderful to see the city finally move forward on organic waste diversion after more than a decade of stalling and even moving backwards on the issue.

London is the only major city in Ontario without a green bin program, and as a result we are still mired in the mid-40s for percentage of waste diverted from the garbage dump. We can’t meet the provincial target of 60% waste diversion from landfills without addressing organic trash. There is another reason for urgency.  London’s landfill site, W12A, is only expected to meet the city’s needs for a little more than 10 years. It’s already the size of 190 football fields. Improving waste diversion will help that space last longer and reduce (or potentially avoid) the cost of land expansion.

It’s difficult to understand the delay. The City began requiring big festivals in Victoria Park (such as SunFest and Rib Fest) to also separate 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, the City stopped that requirement in 2014 and Home County was the only festival to continue with EcoStations that year. Green Bin pilot project was also completed in 2012, but hasn’t progressed to citywide policy until now.

I am glad to see the current council moving forward with green bins and I looking forward to supporting them when the next stage of this implementation plan comes before the next council; however, we need to make sure we aren’t continuing to miss opportunities for effectively dealing with waste in London.

So far, the 60% Residential Waste Diversion plan only includes a firm commitment for what it calls a “Curbside Green Bin Program”. For the most part, that means single-family dwellings only. While the plan does call for a pilot for multi-residential homes (mainly apartment buildings), we’ve seen how long it can take for waste diversion pilots in London to result in real action after wallowing in the “pilot” phase.

Pick-up from apartments should be built into the plan from the beginning. It’s simpler that many might think. While many buildings, especially older ones, only have a single-stream garbage chute, residents have adapted to carrying recyclables down to a central location for sorting and pickup. Chutes could be easily converted to organic waste only. If all of the messy, smelly garbage is going in the green bins (including food waste, pet waste, diapers), what’s left is dry, non-messy garbage that could be carried out like the recycling with very little additional effort. Once we have collection of residential organic waste set up, then the city needs to expand the program to cover commercial and institutional disposal.  Our long-term vision as a city must be set to zero waste, with a stated goal: 2050 is certainly achievable in my estimation.

Another necessary part of making organic pickup work is enforcing the required sorting. London must make clear garbage bags mandatory for the remaining dry garbage, so any organic material that doesn’t belong can easily be seen. Cities like Markham and Guelph have had success with this strategy, that makes it clear to residents sorting is not optional. It also lets collectors spot refuse such as hazardous household waste, construction waste, and electronic waste that need to be taking to proper disposal facilities and not disposed of for curbside collection.

Finally, we need a definitive plan for where London’s organic waste will be sorted. Those who live near the private processing facilities in the region have reasonably expressed concerns about odour pollution. We either need a commitment from one of these facilities to make upgrades that reduce contamination and escaping odours before being awarded a contract for London’s organic waste, or we need a plan to build a top-grade municipally owned facility that could also take in waste from other municipalities.

The actions in the 60% Residential Waste Diversion plan are to be phased in between 2019 and 2022. Let’s begin working on these implementation issues now, and ensure that this program can hit the ground running. On council, I assure you I will be taking action that leads the City toward a robust and successful waste plan.

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