City officials are going to find out how much online shopping Winnipeggers do, and just how much food they’re wasting.
The answers to those questions are key components in a City of Winnipeg request for proposal to conduct a waste audit, part of the curbside composting pilot program scheduled to start in the fall.
"In the end, it could mean we don’t have any garbage to put out — and that would be a good thing," said Coun. Cindy Gilroy, chairwoman of the civic water and waste committee.
"We have to look at recycling and if we are diverting it or not... For the people in the pilot project, it will be no different for them other than they will get another bin to put things in. They’ll be able to put in bones, meat and dairy — things you’re not supposed to put in your compost — but if we have a city-wide program, we would need to have a processing facility which could process it," she said Thursday.
"We will be watching and monitoring this very closely."
In November 2019, councillors approved a two-year, $1.8-million pilot project to implement composting pickup for 4,000 households in five areas of the city.
Part of the project will involve three waste audits — one before the composting pilot — to measure how much of various forms of waste 100 households toss out.
In a document posted Dec. 20, city officials list 47 categories into which they want a contractor to sort waste and come up with estimates of how much households and individuals are generating of each.
Those categories include recycling products such as Tetra Paks, "corrugated cardboard shipping boxes from online commerce" and other forms of cardboard.
The city also wants a tally of empty plastic bottles, as well as bottles that should have been emptied before they went into blue boxes.
Among the composting categories is edible food, and "possibly avoidable food waste" such as potato skins, chicken feet and bread crusts, as well as inedible food — egg shells and coffee grounds, for example.
It is all to get a sense of what types of garbage, recycling and organics Winnipeggers leave at the curbside — and whether they are following the rules for sorting and cleaning goods that should be diverted from landfills.
"The idea is: we’re throwing out all this waste, so how much of it could have been recycled?" said Tullio Bugada, founder of the Toronto-based Waste Reduction Group. "That’s basically the question that waste audits ask."
That data can help officials decide the most cost-effective and eco-friendly way to restructure waste collection, said Bugada, who has spent three decades in the industry.
"It shows us how good and how not-good the program’s working," he said.
Gilroy said the ultimate goal is to reduce Winnipeg’s greenhouse gas emissions.
"If we want to reduce... by 20 per cent by 2030 and 80 per cent by 2080, we have to take (organics) out of the landfill," she said.
Winnipeg is Canada’s last major city to have a curbside composting program, though opponents in 2018 argued enough residents already undertake backyard composting.
That’s likely why city officials have requested a breakdown of "backyard compostable" food, such as fruit or bread, contrasted with meat and cheese, which more likely can attract vermin.
Bugada was surprised the city is asking to learn how much cardboard is resulting from e-commerce sites.
"They probably just want to make a point, to say everybody’s buying online these days because everyone’s lazy," he speculated. "They’re trying to comment on the wastefulness of society."
The city’s most recent waste audit that included organics was conducted in 2015-16 — it found just 16 per cent of what Winnipeggers toss in the bin is actual garbage.
Curbside composting would cost tens of millions of dollars for bins, composting facilities and pickup, though officials say it could ultimately save costs by diverting from the landfill.
Food waste, in particular, generates a large amount of methane, which is among the most potent greenhouse gases, Bugada said. Composting returns minerals to the soil, which helps slow the ongoing decline of arable land.
He’s encouraged Winnipeg is getting on board, and suggests the city start with simple composting rules to get a good compliance rate.
"More and more people are jumping on the composting bandwagon," he said.
The University of Winnipeg’s sustainability office conducted its own waste audit in 2018, finding half of recyclables went into campus trash bins, and 13 per cent were put in the wrong bin. Volunteering students at local high schools have also done their own, less-formal assessments.
— with files from Kevin Rollason