June 23, 2017

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Analysis

Throwing compost into the trash

There is something rotten in the city of Winnipeg. This may not be what Hamlet was referencing in his comments on the state of Denmark, but there is an odour wafting through the city that gets worse by the week.

We are more than halfway through Mayor Brian Bowman’s term, a mayoralty intended to bring to life the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce’s BOLD vision for the city. That vision has been reduced to demolishing the old Public Safety Building, creating grey space around City Hall and trying to turn Portage and Main into a kill zone for pedestrians, letting them wander through eight lanes of traffic.

This week, Bowman engaged in the politics of dismissal recently demonstrated by others: I’ll rule how I want.

For all the discussion at city council about organic wastes, greenhouse gases and the decision by elected councillors to go ahead with some kind of a compost plan, Bowman has decided to dismiss them all with an imperious wave of his mayoral hand. Not on my watch, he has decreed.

It seems to me the language is supposed to be "mayor and council," but there was no evidence of it in his personal decision to throw any waste management strategy the city might have developed into the trash.

Yes, you can compost in your backyard — if you have a backyard and can get to the bin in the middle of the winter. But not everyone does or can. You can use your own compost on your own garden, if you have one and grow things in it. But not everyone does or can.

Every other major Canadian city seems to have figured out the necessity of diverting organics from landfill sites that are rapidly filling up — like our Brady Road site — and how to do it. Just not Winnipeg. Every other major Canadian city has learned that rotting organics in landfill sites create dangerous greenhouse gases, which is not a good thing for the commitments we have made to reduce them.

Winnipeg needs to make solid waste collection part of the direct pay system that covers water and sewer and provide a built-in incentive for people to divert organics themselves, as well as their recycling. I think most people here can figure out how to sort their trash and why it’s important.

As well, Premier Brian Pallister’s government requires a strategic climate plan, as part of the new vision proposed for the province.

Pallister needs to do what Bowman and city council apparently can’t — implement a provincial ban on landfilling organic waste as part of our commitment to greenhouse gas reduction and use the carbon tax money as subsidies or incentives for municipal strategies for organic waste diversion. There is federal green infrastructure money that could help in other areas, too, if Manitoba steps up to be a climate leader and declares its intention to work toward a carbon-negative economy.

Yes, there is something rotten in the city of Winnipeg. That would be our landfill sites — something easily fixed, if we composted instead.

Peter Denton teaches the history of technology at the University of Winnipeg and chairs the policy committee of the Green Action Centre.

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