Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Diverting Organic Waste – There’s Money on Your Plate

The following post is dedicated to my wife Sarah, who has been an inspiration to me over the years. The idea for this topic is hers. Thank you, Sarah!


It’s time to give that uneaten food on our plates some consideration before chucking it in the trash can. That unwanted broccoli and those picked-over chicken bones shouldn’t be thought of as garbage any longer. It’s better to view our organic waste as money - something that none of us are likely to scrape into the trash!

On the flip side of that coin, our organic waste can also be thought of us as climate changing greenhouse gases just waiting to be released into the atmosphere, should they wind up in the wrong waste disposal receptacle.

In the past decade, many of Ontario’s municipalities have implemented organic waste diversion programs, where food waste and other organics are collected separately from garbage and recyclables. In Greater Sudbury, through the Green Cart program, organics are collected curbside, turned into valuable compost, and made available to City residents. By diverting organics, the City is able to extend the lifespan of our landfill sites, saving taxpayers’ money.

Organics make up about 30% of Canadian household waste. According to a report from the World Bank (“What a Waste: A Global Review of Solid Waste Management”, Daniel Hoornweg & Prinaz Bhada-Tata, the World Bank, March 2012), urban residents on average produce about 2.6 pounds of organic waste per day, with volumes projected to rise by 70% over the next decade. Clearly, there are significant opportunities for converting organics into compost, a commodity which is only going to increase in value.

In North America, top soil is being lost about ten times faster than it’s being replaced. With food prices already rising due to resource depletion and climate change, backyard and community gardening is gaining in popularity as a food source. Compost from organics can help return nutrients to depleted soils.

However, unlike popular programs for recycling paper and plastics, participation rates for organic waste diversion remain fairly low. In a report from July, 2014, Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner estimated the provincial diversion rate of residential organics to be between just 26-27% (see:
Looking for Leadership: the Costs of Climate Inaction”, Gord Miller, Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, July 2014).

In Greater Sudbury, the City’s Auditor General recently noted that only about 20% of households were participating in the Green Cart program. The Auditor-General’s report identified that savings of a little over $2 million annually could be achieved by moving to bi-weekly garbage collection, while maintaining the weekly pick-up of recyclables and organics (see: “Audit Report – Environmental Services Waste Collection Contracts”, Brian Bigger, Auditor General, City of Greater Sudbury, June 27, 2014). Along with fewer pick-ups, reducing the City’s curbside bag limit would likely lead to a higher utilization rate of Green Carts, saving taxpayers money.

Diverting organics from landfills doesn’t just make sense economically, it’s also a very practical way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Methane, a potent greenhouse gas about 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, is a by-product of decaying organic waste. Ontario’s waste sector is responsible for about 7.5 megatonnes of emissions annually, which is about 14% of total provincial emissions. With a growing population, these numbers are expected to rise unless sincere efforts are made at diverting organic waste.

Diverting organic wastes from ending up in our landfills should become just as commonplace for households as the now routine sorting of paper and plastics into blue boxes has become. Making this relatively simple lifestyle change will help save our communities money through reducing the need for curbside pick-ups and by extending the useable life of our landfill sites. Pitching organics into Green Carts ultimately contributes to the creation of valuable compost for community-based agricultural initiatives. Diverting methane-producing organics from landfills helps in the fight against climate change.

The next time you’re scraping unwanted food from your plates, give a thought to how you might better be able to save money for yourself and for your neighbours. If you don’t already have a Green Cart, call the City at 3-1-1 to see if you can get one.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Party of Canada)

Originally published in the Sudbury Star, Saturday, September 20, 2014 as "May: Diverting organic waste: There's money on your plate"

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