Food scrap recycling takes root
After New Westminster instituted its automatic garbage pickup last Oct. 1 some residents would come to Kristian Davis and tell him the garbage can the city had given them was too small.
Davis, the New West’s solid waste and recycling branch supervisor, would reply, “OK, how are you using the container?”
Then he’d start telling them about all the leftover food scraps they could place in the yard waste bin instead of the garbage. Bones, vegetable and fruit peelings, coffee grounds, soggy sandwiches. If it is or was edible, throw it in the green bin. And toss in stuff like napkins and pizza boxes, too.
The residents would return home, give his suggestions a try and then come back to tell him they didn’t need a larger container after all.
“That happens quite frequently,” says Davis.
With the introduction of the food scraps program, New Westminster has gone from having a 31 per cent rate of diverting waste from the landfill in 2009 to 59 per cent in the last three months of 2010.
“That was a huge increase for us,” says Davis.
Burnaby began its food scraps program last June. City engineer Lambert Chu says the total weight from yard waste containers, the green bins, was 11,600 kilograms for all of 2010 compared to 9,400 kg in 2009. Chu says the city’s waste truck drivers report seeing more of the green containers being put out in the winter, so the program has been a success, although it’s only a start.
“It doesn’t mean we have maximized their use. There’s more that needs to be done in that area to encourage more participation,” says Chu.
In Davis’s eyes, New West’s program was successful almost from the start. For six weeks, city crews checked the containers, walking up and down the lanes to see what had been put out.
“It only took about two weeks before the residents were starting to understand what fit and what didn’t. Since then we are not having any problems with people not getting the program,” Davis says.
Occasionally he makes a house call himself to inform the residents of what to do. But those visits have dwindled with less than five in the last few months.
“It’s worked far better than I expected,” says Davis. “We thought we were going to have all sorts of hurdles, but the residents caught on quite quickly. They wanted to divert more.”
Janet Reid is one of Davis’s happy campers even though she was “a very happy composter” before the food scraps program was introduced.
“The unfortunate part was I never actually used it. It was not close to the back door. I never actually took the dirt out of the composter, although it was very nice dirt,” says Reid, who has an ice cream container for food scraps on the kitchen counter in the family’s West End home.
The change has meant the yard waste bin is getting full and heavy while the garbage bin is much lighter.
“Our garbage fits in the little can (120 litres) that they gave us. There are four of us in the household and in a week we do not fill it up,” she says.
However, there are a couple of issues that have arisen for Reid’s family. Cleaning out the bins isn’t much fun if the food is thrown in raw. She says even though the city suggests lining the containers with newspaper it tends to stick to the bottom.
The other snag for Reid is that it’s been a struggle to get her two teenage children to change their habits.
“They’re used to throwing food scraps in the garbage. They don’t want to separate. It would be nice to throw it in one spot.”
Over in the Glenbrook neighbourhood of New Westminster, Jane Armstrong is glad the city introduced the program because it’s important to get the organics out of the garbage and, subsequently, the landfill. However, she points out there is still a financial and environmental cost to hauling it away.
Armstrong doesn’t take much advantage of the program. Few food scraps go in her yard waste bin. Not much yard waste does either. They all go straight into her composter to eventually produce exceptional dirt for the vegetable garden in her family’s front yard.
“[Composting] should be the first priority because these organics are really valuable. You can’t get better quality soil,” says Armstrong. “We see it as a waste product, but it truly is a valuable resource.
“It’s great that it’s not going to the landfill, but it would be a better process if we kept it close.”
So far the food scraps program in Burnaby and New Westminster have been limited to curbside pickup. However, there are pilot projects in both cities for multi-family dwellings. Burnaby’s involves six complexes of varying types, including Whiltshire Village, a 31-unit townhouse project off Government Road where Ray Beaton lives.
He has a container in his townhouse that he bought at a home improvement store, and when it is full he takes it to a special bin for food scraps in a common area to deposit them. The latest statistics show Whiltshire residents there have put in 27.45 kg per unit while the other five complexes range from 2.79 to 9.07 kg.
“It’s been quite successful in our condo project,” says Beaton. “It redirects our garbage by quite a lot. I feel pretty good about that. I’m totally pleased with it. It should have been done a long time ago.”
There are 442 units participating in the Burnaby project, and Chu says it’s been so successful city staff will be formulating a plan to take to the environment committee and then on to council this summer to implement the program city wide.
“The infrastructure is already in place,” says Chu. “The major challenge is the education part. We have to talk to each building, the strata councils, to explain how to use it.”
Davis says New Westminster’s pilot project has been similarly successful with very little contamination (such as plastic bags), if any, in the food scrap bins. He hopes to have a report for council within the next six months to determine a direction for introducing it to all multi-family dwellings in New West.
He will also be proposing, once larger recycling bins are distributed to residents, that New Westminster collect the green yard waste/food scrap bins every week with alternating biweekly pickup for garbage and recycling.