Food waste pickup program in spotlight
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This could be the year Winnipeggers find out if they can be like Brandon residents when it comes to getting rid of potato peelings and expired lettuce.
A report on the merits of a city-wide residential food waste pickup program is expected to be completed sometime this year and Coun. Brian Mayes, chairman of the civic water, waste and environment committee, said he is hoping it will be done in time for city council to take action soon.
“I think we should have a debate this year on it and have it in with the multi-year budget,” Mayes said.
“Hopefully this is the year we bring it up. I want to see us do it, but how we do it has to be figured out.”
Mayes said the city has plenty of room in the Brady landfill — it is not expected to reach capacity for a century — but if more waste can be diverted it will last even longer.
It has taken a long time to get to this point.
While garbage has been collected just about as long as Winnipeg has been Winnipeg, and recycling pickup came in 1995, first with blue boxes and later with large wheeled blue bins, residential food waste has never been picked up city wide.
The city first looked at conducting a pilot project to see if food waste pickup would be feasible in 2011. That was pushed back to 2014 and finally went ahead in 2020.
That pilot project, which ran for two years, was budgeted for $1.8 million, and picked up at 4,000 homes in five different areas of the city, ended in the fall. The results have not been released.
Coincidentally, 2011 was also the year the City of Brandon conducted its own pilot project for organic waste pickup.
Scott Haddon, that city’s manager of solid waste, said the pilot project picked up organic waste for a year from 500 households.
Haddon said after it was completed they put together a business case, received a grant from the province, and it was up and running in December 2012.
“Council gave us the approval to expand the green cart program to a further 5,500 residents and we were successful in hitting that target in two years,” he said.
“We started as a voluntary program and we are still voluntary to this day. We have 10,000 households now and we have just over 16,000 households so we are picking up from more than 50 per cent of residents.”
Haddon said the program is paid for through property taxes and green carts can be requested by residents living in single family houses or up to a six-plex. The city gets another 400 to 600 people joining the program annually.
But Haddon said because of trial and error the program only operates seasonally — and the bulk of the pickup isn’t kitchen waste.
“It is picked up weekly and it is seasonal – it is picked up from mid-April and runs to early November,” he said.
“In winter the food waste would freeze in the cart. It became a bit of a nightmare. Bins would fall into the truck and it would be impossible to get them out.”
Haddon said they also found that kitchen waste made up only about two per cent of the annual organic waste with the vast majority being grass clippings and leaves. Among other items, the program does not accept meat, bones and cheese.
But Haddon says they still pick up a lot.
“For the green cart program, this year we picked up just under 3,000 tons of materials which were diverted from the landfill. Our garbage collection collected just under 10,000 tons so the green cart materials is a fair chunk of what we pick up.
“Ten years ago a report said our landfill would close in 2042, but now we are looking at 2052 because of diversion.”
Haddon said the organic waste is taken to the land fill where it is put in a separate area and it turns into compost.
“It takes six to nine months to turn to compost,” he said. “Our parks department uses it quite a bit on boulevards and we sell it to residents as well.”
The compost is sold for $28.50 per ton, but most residents get about $6 to $7 worth at a time.
“Once Winnipeg implements the green cart program I expect they’ll see a large increase in participation from residents,” Haddon said.
“It is a lot easier to participate when there is a bin right at your house.”
Jeanette Sivilay, the city’s co-ordinator of the Winnipeg Food Council, said she is looking forward to the day organic waste is picked up citywide.
“That’s what we’re hoping,” Sivilay said. “The Food Council is advocating for it.
“Food waste is 44 per cent of our refuse stream. That’s an enormous amount going to the landfill. Landfills emit methane and that’s a potent greenhouse gas.
“Hopefully everyone will have access to composting food scraps.”
The Food Council, a citizen advisory committee with the city, submitted a report last week to the civic executive policy committee.
In it, the council recommended the city begin a city-wide residential food waste collection program in under a year. It noted that in 2019, the city collected a total 275,200 metric tonnes of waste and, of that, 121,088 was residential food waste.
The city’s current seasonal yard waste collection saw 21,514 tonnes collected in 2021 and 27,545 the year before.
Mayes said there are several questions councillors are hoping to receive from the civic report on the pilot project, including what materials would be picked up, what it would cost, and whether individual homeowners would pay the cost or if it would come from property taxes.
“Actually doing it isn’t technologically difficult — it is just putting another bin out at the end of your driveway,” he said.
“I’m not sure when this may happen this year, but I hope to get it this year.”
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.
Updated on Monday, January 23, 2023 6:39 AM CST: Removes photo