London

Keeping food out of trash: Why green bins can only go so far

The head of London's solid waste department says a green bin program won't divert enough waste to comply with a proposed provincial plan that would ban all food scraps from trash bags in five years.

City is looking at plans to divert more organic waste, but green bin program may only be part of the solution

In place of a green-bin program, London has backyard composting. London currently diverts about 45 per cent of its waste from the landfill but is looking at ways to boost this total. (CBC)

The head of London's solid waste department says a green bin program won't divert enough waste to comply with a proposed provincial plan that would ban all food scraps from trash bags in five years. 

The province floated the idea on Monday, but it came as "no surprise" to Jay Stanford, the head of the city's solid waste department. 

In an interview on CBC's London Morning, Stanford said the city is already working on ways to divert 60 per cent of its trash from the waste stream by 2022. The city currently diverts about 45 per cent of its garbage. 

"It's going to be a challenge," he said. "This is something we're taking seriously. All Londoners are interested in how we can divert more material from the landfill site."

  • Ontario wants to ban food waste from trash bags in five years

Part of the challenge is that London currently has no green bin program. Such programs in place at other municipalities require residents to separate their organic garbage — everything from banana peels to used tissues — for curbside pickup. 

London has a backyard compost program, but it's essentially voluntary and plenty of Londoners simply don't bother. 

Right now London diverts about 44 per cent of its waste away from the landfill, mainly through its blue bin and yard waste recycling program. The city is looking at ways to improve its waste diversion numbers. 

"The writing is on the wall that we'll have to have some program in place, probably within three years," said Stanford.

So why not a green bin program? 

A city report says a green bin plan in London would increase overall waste diversion by about eight to 12 per cent, depending on a number of factors, including how many residents  participate. Adding green bin pickup to London would cost about $12 million in initial startup costs and $3.8-million in annual operating costs.

The city's W12A landfill site on Manning Drive will be at capacity by about 2025, another deadline that's spurring the city to find ways to divert more waste. (Google)

To cover these costs, the average London household would have to pay about $35 a year more for garbage pickup.

Stanford said in addition to green bins, the city is looking at newer technologies that process all waste from a typical trash bag and turn it into fuel pellets. 

"There could be other solutions that are better than the green bin and that's part of what we're looking at here in London," he said. 

He mentioned a program in Edmonton that automatically separates organic waste from non-compostable waste, even if it's mixed together in a regular trash bag. 

"Even good green bin programs don't capture everything," said Stanford.

Whatever plan city staff comes up with, council wants it in place by next year. 

Stanford said there will be public meetings in the fall about waste-diverting options. He expects something will come before council by next summer. 

In the meantime, an environmental assessment process is underway to study the possible expansion of the city's W12A landfill site on Manning Drive. The dump will be full by about 2025.

The city is gathering public input about its waste diversion efforts at Getinvolved.london.ca.

About the Author

Andrew Lupton is a B.C.-born journalist, father of two and a north London resident with a passion for politics, photography and baseball.

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