Water and waste chair accepts 'some of the blame' for slow movement on Winnipeg's organics collection

The city councillor responsible for waste collection in Winnipeg says he'd like to see household organics picked up across the city even sooner than a new report envisions.

Coun. Brian Mayes says he'd like to see household food waste collected by city no later than 2025

Winnipeg is one of the last larger Canadian cities to collect household food waste, which breaks down into methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, after it's buried in landfills. (Jacy Schindel/CBC)

The city councillor responsible for waste collection in Winnipeg says he'd like to see household organics picked up across the city even sooner than a new report envisions.

In October, the city plans to launch a pilot project that would see organic waste collected from 4,000 households in five Winnipeg neighbourhoods: Linden Woods, St. George, Inkster Gardens, Daniel McIntyre and Mission Gardens.

The test project would last two years and provide the city with the knowledge of how to collect organic waste from every household.

A final report recommending ways to do that is due at the end of 2023.

St. Vital Coun. Brian Mayes, who chairs city council's water and waste committee, said he'd like to see the process move more quickly.

City council originally approved an organic waste collection pilot project in 2011. It was initially slated to start in 2014, but was put off several times.

"I suppose I bear some of the blame for that," Mayes said in an interview on Friday, conceding he initially had little enthusiasm for the idea of picking up organic waste.

"My thinking has evolved on this over time. I'd like us to get going on it to see if we can do it a bit more quickly than [the] time frame that's envisaged."

Winnipeg is one of the last larger Canadian cities to collect organic waste from residential homes. Halifax, for example, has been collecting organics since 1998.

The diversion of organic waste from the Brady Road landfill would help Winnipeg reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Food scraps account for as much as half the household waste destined for the landfill, the second-largest point source for greenhouse gases in Manitoba.

When organic waste breaks down anaerobically — below the ground, where there's no oxygen — the decomposition generates methane, which is 21 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

But when city waste managers floated the idea of a new household fee for organics collection in 2015, most of council was lukewarm to the idea.

"I would have rather seen we were doing one before I came to office," Mayor Brian Bowman said during the summer of 2015, when he declined to commit to a pilot project and threw his support behind a public-engagement strategy instead.

"Let's see what evolves in terms of the feedback we get from Winnipeggers," Bowman said at the time.

St. Vital Coun. Brian Mayes said he deserves 'some of the blame' for slow progress on organics. (Rudy Gauer/CBC)

Mayes said there is far more support for organics collection now than there was five years ago, even in suburban neighbourhoods within his ward.

"People were saying, 'Yeah, I've done this for years. Go ahead and do it, but don't you dare charge me anything." he said. "I think that's shifting a bit over time. People sort of see this as a general societal thing we should be doing." 

Mayes said at the very least, he would like to see the city be able to include organics collection the next time it issues a tender for waste collection.

The city's contracts with GFL and Miller Environmental are slated to expire in 2025.

"Every six years or so, we go and look for a garbage and recycling [collector] for the whole city. It would be foolish to miss the next rotation," he said.

"Yeah, it's taking years to get this thing underway. But if we get some provincial funding for a compost centre, maybe we could get going a year more quickly.

"I do think it's good news we're finally getting going with this pilot."


Bartley Kives

Reporter, CBC Manitoba

Reporter Bartley Kives joined CBC Manitoba in 2016. Prior to that, he spent three years at the Winnipeg Sun and 18 at the Winnipeg Free Press, writing about politics, music, food and outdoor recreation. He's the author of the Canadian bestseller A Daytripper's Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada's Undiscovered Province and co-author of both Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg and Stuck In The Middle 2: Defining Views of Manitoba. His work has also appeared in publications such as the Guardian and Explore magazine.


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