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Green bins worth weight in gold: county

In Simcoe County
Oct 4th, 2009

By Nicole Million Midland Mirror Sept. 29, 2009  
The subject of garbage has been a contentious topic in these parts, but the County of Simcoe says it’s time to celebrate some good news.
Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary of the launch of the county’s curbside organics program. The program, which was recommended by staff to complement ongoing waste-diversion efforts, has been a big success, said director of environmental services Rob McCullough.
“It has been overwhelmingly successful,” he told The Mirror, adding officials were initially concerned they may have set overly ambitious targets.
“We had set pretty high standards. We were hoping in a one-year period to divert around 11,000 metric tonnes. After we set that high goal, we wondered if we’d set ourselves up for failure,” he said.
“But it looks like – with just another month’s worth of data to look at when we get finalized – that we’re probably going to have not only achieved that, but maybe also gone 1,000 tonnes over.”
Citing an information report presented to county council on Sept. 22, McCullough said in terms of curbside pickup from October 2007 to July 2008, there was a 31.9 per cent diversion rate. In that same 10-month timeframe after the program’s launch, that number increased to 48.9 per cent.
“That’s over what we would have estimated,” he said, adding the number will likely increase to 60 per cent once the audited results are in.
Lafontaine resident Karen Forget has been using her green bin religiously since the program was launched last fall, and said she is happy with the results.
“We have hardly anything in our garbage now. The only thing I wish (is that) they’d do something about the plastic,” she said.
Forget’s family has used a compost box in the garden for many years, but the organics program allows them to divert items that they can’t place in a regular compost system, such as bones and meat.
“It is a whole lot better. It’s a lot more sanitary because your garbage doesn’t stink as much and doesn’t draw a lot of animals,” she said, noting she has noticed many of her neighbours also use their green bin each week.
Forget said she and her husband have drastically reduced the number of garbage bags they place at the curb.
“We used to put at least one-and-a half big garbage pails out, and now that’s down to not even half,” she said. “It’s more our green bin and recyclables that have everything now.”
The Forget family is pretty indicative of homes around the county, said McCullough, with the majority of residences participating regularly in the program.
Since last November, audits have indicated 92 per cent of county residents participated in the garbage program, 84 per cent in recycling collection, and 64 per cent in the organics program over a two-week period.
“It’s a really good number for an organics program, because most of the advertising, etc. is about the blue box. That’s a natural part of everyone’s day, and the organics is the new kid on the block,” he said.
While McCullough said the program has been successfully implemented, there are some challenges ahead, including communicating the message to residents across the county. Officials will also be working with schools to help them participate in the future.
While schools are likely to be included in the organics program, businesses are not – despite many requests to do so.
Crystal Wiltshire, marketing manager for Only Green, said she believes businesses should not be left out.
“The amount of waste businesses produce, as opposed to homes, is dramatic,” she said. “I know there’s a lot more work involved to arrange pickup at businesses, but the impact it could have on the amount of garbage produced would be phenomenal.”
McCullough said while they will continue to look at the possibility of including businesses, the difficulty is that they have no legislated authority.
“The way you would collect at a business is very different than the way you’d collect from a single-family household,” he said, pointing out businesses could opt in and out of the program. “We’d end up buying all the … collection equipment with nowhere to go and, most importantly, nowhere to take it.
“We have to remember we don’t have our own organics processing facility. We’re relying on taking our material out of the county to have it processed. And, because of that, there is very limited processing capacity.”
Despite the success of the program, McCullough said there will still likely be a need for a landfill to take items that can’t be composted or recycled.
“For the foreseeable future, there’s still going to be a fraction of the waste stream that has to go to disposal,” he said.  “Because of that, the reported number we’ve just looked at is basically seven years left of disposal capacity in the county at current rates at approved facilities.”
While it appears the majority of homes in the county are using their green bins regularly, McCullough said it is nearly impossible to ensure all homes take part.
“We don’t have garbage police that go and require that you put everything in the right bin. What we continue to do is make sure we have reasonable programs in place that are cost-effective and that have reasonable limits,” he said, adding one-bag garbage limits effectively force people into diversion programs.
“We know that not everyone does it, but, without having garbage police, we’re a long ways from requiring people do that.”

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