Ottawa

'Smelly and gross' green bins major barrier to increased use: study

Starting next month, Ottawa residents will be able to use plastic bags in their green bins — and city officials are hoping that will reduce negative impressions about the organic waste program.

City hopes that allowing plastic bags as of July 2 will decrease 'ick factor'

Starting July 2, Ottawa residents will be able to toss their organic waste into plastic bags and then throw those bags into their green bins. (Alistair Steele/CBC)

Starting next month, Ottawa residents will be able to use plastic bags in their green bins — and city officials are hoping that will eliminate the "ick factor" around the organic waste program.

Just over 30 per cent of residents with access to curbside green bins say they don't use them as often as they could because they consider them "smelly and gross," according to a survey of households commissioned by the city and carried out by Hill and Knowlton Strategies.

Last December, some 1,200 people across Ottawa were asked about their recycling and composting habits, and whether the city's communications strategy about the waste diversion program was working.

Of those surveyed, 77 per cent said they were using their curbside bins. That's a significant increase from the 50 per cent who said they were doing so in a 2014-15 city waste audit, although city staff cautioned the methodology in those two surveys was different.

New rules July 2

Regardless, on July 2, residents will be allowed to put kitchen and dog waste in plastic bags before dumping it into their green bins. Municipal waste officials are betting that the new rules will change the minds of those currently dumping their organic waste into the garbage.

The Hill and Knowlton study appears to back up that prediction: roughly six in 10 households surveyed said they'd use their bins more frequently if they could use plastic bags.

Renewi, the company that processes the city's organic waste, has invested in new equipment to sort out the plastic bags from compostable waste, with the city is on the hook for $626,000 of the cost of the new technology. 

Coun. Scott Moffatt, chair of the city's environment and climate protection committee, says by giving residents 'more opportunities to use their green bin,' thousands of tonnes of organic waste could be kept from the landfill. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Allowing people to throw plastic bags in their green bins will divert an additional 10,000 tonnes of organic waste from the landfill each year, said Rideau-Goulbourn Coun. Scott Moffatt, chair of the city's environment and climate protection committee.

While the plastic bags will still end up in the landfill, Moffatt said if organic waste ends up being diverted, it's a trade he can live with.

"The plastics are already there. They are going to the landfill now," he said

"We're actually trying to give plastics an extra life in your green bin. And we're not actually telling people to go out and buy more plastic bags. We're just giving people more opportunities to use their green bin."

New research from Hill & Knowlton Strategies identifies some of the challenges for local residents using the green bin. 7:35

The city said the changes to the green bin program are part of a review of its solid waste master plan, which will begin June 25.

The survey's results also reinforced a previously known weak point in the green bin program: that relatively few apartment buildings in the city have access to it.

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