April 27, 2005

Composting Our Way to 60% by 2008

A few days ago, I promised more on a City of Ottawa report calling for substantially increased waste diversion and a green box composting program.

It turned out to be trickier than I thought to find the report, but a few phone calls to the city later, I was successful:

Here are some of the key items that the Report asks the P&E Committee to recommend for Council approval:

1. Confirmation of a 40% diversion target within existing service programs by end of year 2006;

3. Endorsement of a target of 60% diversion for Ottawa residents to be achieved by year endyear-end 2008;

6. Implementation of an Organics Collection Program within the next solid waste collection contracts with organics collection envisioned to commence in 2007, and that staff report back with the details of the program in the fall of 2005;

7. That staff develop a comprehensive "utility" based funding concept based upon the recommended hybrid model contained in this report providing service to urban, suburban, rural, residential and rural villages for implementation in 2007;

8. That the City provide solid waste collection services through a Yellow Bag Program to "non-residential establishments" that meet the eligibility criteria and service level outlined in this report with service to commence in January 2006;

9. Staff solicit "Expressions of Interest" from the private sector for organics processing technology to assess the level of interest, from the private sector and report back with recommendations to Committee;

There's a lot in the report, so I'll leave you to read it if you want all the details. The recommendations above are fairly self-explanatory with the exception of #7 and #8. For this, you'll want to skip to the "Discussion" section of the document which contrasts several funding models (assessment, flat fee on utility or tax bill, and full user-pays).

You may also want to read the Ottawa Citizen article that initially pointed me to this story, now available on Councillor Jan Harder's web site.

A $3-a-bag program is proposed to reintroduce residential-equivalent garbage collection for small businesses. In addition to the "yellow bag" program for small business, the "hybrid" model alluded to above proposes dropping a fluctuating taxes-linked waste services charge in favour of:

  • A flat fee for solid waste services (read: garbage collection) charged only to the users of the system (i.e. residential) on either the utility or tax bill.
  • Everyone continuing to pay an "assessed" tax amount for waste diversion, including businesses -- who would be paying for the "environmental benefit of a community with a strong Waste Diversion Program".

The report also refers to the waste diversion and solid waste management program cutbacks that occured in the 2004 Budget after the Universal Program Review in 2003. There was a public outcry after these cuts, so the city reinstated leaf and yard waste collection in the summer on a limited basis and promised to reintroduce plastics recycling in the 2005 budget.

This didn't happen, prompting a further outcry. While I'm encouraged by Ottawa's consideration of different funding models (e.g. connecting fees to service, recognizing the value to the business community of a healthier environment, etc.), I can't help but feel that the people in charge don't quite "get it". In his Ottawa Citizen article, Randall Denley notes:

City staff realizes we will never reach the lofty recycling target without a little persuasion. They estimate about $1 million a year for advertising and "public education" ought to do it.
One of the chief arguments against cutting the plastics recycling program was that nobody was doing a "good habits/bad habits" cost-benefit analysis. Many people saw good recycling behaviour as a key contribution to the environment and to their city and community. They had become very diligent about it, and then they were told "actually, why don't you throw that back in the garbage again." You can't turn this kind of behaviour on and off like a light-switch, and the city will want to turn it on again for the composting program, let alone when/if they reinstate the plastics program. So what's the irony in all this? One million dollars for public education, and an $800,000 plastics recycling reinstatement cut during late negotiations from Budget 2005. Slick.

Posted by anatole at April 27, 2005 11:32 PM

The plastics recycling *wasn't* reinstated?? Oops. I've been throwing my yogourt and ice cream containers in the blue box. Meh, they change the rules, they can deal with it.

Posted by: Lana at April 28, 2005 02:54 PM

Nice research, Anatole, thanks for continuing to investigate the issue!

Without having read the material (always a good way to start), here's a question: has the city ever experimented with more local, voluntary recycling programs? I guess when I see you mention that they plan to roll out this program to all kinds of different constituents, it makes me think that perhaps a better approach would be to really get it right with a small group of constituents: e.g. spend two years just implementing this in the Glebe, or Alta Vista, or something.

I say this not just because it might help work out kinks -- one could of course argue that it's hard to find a representative neighborhood that would actually be a good test-bed for a city-wide rollout -- but mainly because you could create advocates for the program in the form of the citizens of the test neighborhood.

Obviously for recylcing there are scale issues (you need to do it big), but for organic waste it's not so serious.

Another thing is that people who really care about this issue form their own groups to do composting, buy organic, etc. Usually it's food stores that are the anchors of these little communities. If the city could figure out how to tap into the goodwill those places generate, to actually use recycling programs as a way to tie communities together more closely, rather than just sending another colour of truck around, it would be nice.

In that sense public dumping spots seem to me the best way to dispose of waste, because each citizen gets some sense of the buildup of waste at the level of the community.

I should really read the plan rather than sling the rotting carcasses of ideas from the walls of my ignorant fortress.

User fees are an exciting idea! Yes, clarity and accountability and adaptability. But I guess there are obvious problems for those who can't pay... although of course you can have public drop off points like they had in Germany in the '80s: big coloured blobs on street corners with different shapes of holes.

Who's high on caffeine? And salmon, strangely.

Posted by: George at April 28, 2005 06:58 PM