A curb side organics program in Winnipeg is necessary. We should join Toronto, Calgary and other communities diverting waste from landfills. My concern is balancing the financial cost versus the environmental benefit.
Ontario leads the way on residential waste diversion. Almost 47 per cent of their waste gets recycled or composted. Our rate is 29 per cent but growing. To meet targets set by the Manitoba Government, the city needs to collect all those scraps we produce. The fruit and vegetable scraps, meat, bones, cooked foods, dairy products and coffee grinds that make up about 40 per cent of the waste we throw away. That third green container is coming. It’s just a matter of how intricate a system we adopt.
Jennifer Feschuk of the Green Action Centre says Winnipeg would go a long way to meet our climate change commitments. The city would avoid over $4.2 million in annual tip fees to bury it at Brady Landfill and lower operating costs for collection and treatment. “It makes good environmental sense to do this,” Feschuk says.
Toronto takes everything from meat to diapers and most soiled paper products. The Dufferin Organics Processing Facility handles 55,000 tonnes of organic material a year. Winnipeg is looking at a similar facility at Brady Landfill. It could be an aerated system where air is pumped through piles of organic waste to speed up decomposition or a heated system that speeds it up even more. We could go for what Toronto has, which is an anaerobic digestion system that uses a series of biological processes in which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen. One of the end products is biogas which can generate electricity and heat.
The cost according to a 2011 report is anywhere between $45 million to $65 million. That’s on the low side.
What will be the true cost of the program? A tax of $55 to $100 a year per household would, at 300,000 households in the City, realize between $16.5 to $30 million a year. With the cost of the processing facility ($45 to $65 million) and an initial cost of $11.4 million to supply green bins, the program should pay for itself in a few years. Winnipeg needs to be transparent in costs and what has been accomplished with the money already spent. It may also lead to collection every two weeks in parts of the winter.
“It’s a clusterf—,” according to one city councilor who spoke to me on the background. “The real story here is the pending Emterra contract.”
Emterra Environmental is in year four of a five year contract to collect, haul, sort and recycle our garbage and recycling products. They have a sorting facility on Henry Avenue. There have been some stories about people unhappy with the service. Emterra missed collection 16,000 times in 2013 but their record has improved in the past two years. Stories about safety on the job have also surfaced.
Emterra would certainly like to deliver the curb-side organics program and has approached the city to enlarge their role. The real story is how Winnipeg will expand the program, keep it cost effective and not place too much of a burden on the taxpayer.