Green bin program an educational opportunity

Header image for Interrobang article CREDIT: EMILY STEWART
A green bin program in London could make people more aware of materials that can and cannot be composted.

A composting program for the City of London received green thumbs up during multi-year budget talks.

On Feb. 6, the Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee voted 12-2 in favour of the 60 per cent waste diversion action plan, which includes the green bin program. Councillors Michael van Holst and Paul Van Meerbergen voted against the motion and Coun. Elizabeth Peloza was absent.

Jay Stanford, the city’s director of environment, fleet, and solid waste, said at the meeting the Ontario government has mandated that municipalities have a green bin program or equivalent by 2025 and to have their waste diversion rates first at 50 per cent and then at 60 per cent. The city also aims to have a 60 per cent waste diversion rate by the year 2022.

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The green bin program will be $5 million in operating costs. The whole business case will cost $6.5 million total. London could see a green bin program by October 2021 at the earliest.

The city’s website scheduled the finalization of the full 2020 to 2023 City of London multi-year budget for March 2.

Heenal Rajani, the co-founder of Reimagine Co., said that London’s one of the last cities of its size in Ontario to have a composting program. Over his three years in London and in Canada, Rajani’s noticed more people thinking about their environmental impact, with groups like the London Environment Network (LEN) leading the city’s strong environmental movement.

“From the time I’ve been here, I’ve seen a massive shift,” he said. “I think it’s partly because of the work of some of the great environmental organizations in the city and beyond and partly because the global tide is turning.”

Rebecca Amendola, EnviroFanshawe president and a social service worker (SSW) student at Fanshawe College, said many Londoners are interested in composting.

“I’ve heard a lot of people in London express interest about wanting to compost more and about wanting to be more conscious of their waste diversion,” Amendola said. “I know I’m not the only one who’s happy to hear about that.”

After the interview, she said in an email to Interrobang that a lack of landfill space and the provincial government mandate is why London’s working on a composting program.

Introducing a green bin program could also teach people what can and can’t be composted. When volunteering with Reimagine Co. to help with Sunfest’s waste diversion rate, Amendola learned that banana peels don’t break down easily and several meats cannot be composted.

EnviroFanshawe attends Fanshawe Student Union (FSU) events involving food or alcohol in Forwell Hall to guide the campus community in sorting compostable and recyclable materials, while also pushing the garbage cans away to encourage waste diversion.

“In doing that, I’ve really noticed that people don’t understand how important compost can be, how much of our waste is truly compost — like 70 per cent upwards of that can be composted — that people tend to throw away,” Amendola said. “A lot of events tend to have paper plates, napkins [and] paper bags that can all be composted and particularly with the Fanshawe program, they can take more products than most places.”

Amanda Whittingham, Fanshawe’s sustainability coordinator, said the College’s organic waste diversion rate increased after partnering with Storm Fisher in April 2018 and therefore allowing more items in the green bin. Soda drink cups and Harvey’s fry boxes became part of the acceptable green bin items, which also include food scraps, coffee cups, and paper napkins.

Fanshawe’s 2019 Waste Audit found 67 per cent of waste went into the green bin in 2018 — up from 35 per cent the previous year. Despite the increase, however, material that could have been composted still ends up in the landfill. Whittingham said that now, it’s about raising awareness on composting and why it’s important.

“Not just because Fanshawe wants it to happen, but because there is a huge amount of greenhouse gas output from food waste in landfills,” she said. “Capturing that greenhouse gas and turning it into bio-fuel, it offsets other energy costs and other greenhouse gas emissions from other energy sources and also takes it out of the landfill, and it also prevents this city from having to buy another farmland and turning another farmland that is supposed to give us food into a landfill.”

Off of campus, those looking to compost can either use a backyard composter or solar digester in their yard. People living in apartments can use their balconies to try vermiculture and feed a variety of food scraps to their worm farm.

Before composting, Whittingham said it’s best to prevent food waste whenever possible. Grocery shopping three times a week instead of one will make sure you’re not buying a lot of food to go to waste. Freezing leftovers and even buying frozen vegetables can reduce food waste.

“You do get the plastic waste with that, unfortunately, but there is a trade-off there where your veggies are fresh until you cook them,” she said. “If you find that you have good intentions and you want to eat more veggies but you just find you’re wasting money throwing them out, buy frozen veggies.”

Rajani said that if there are landlords or housemates who won’t allow composting, Londoners in that situation can take their compost to a friend, workplace, or public space allowing compost. The ShareWaste app can also be used to connect people wanting to compost to people who compost.

“It’s a great way to make friends in your local neighbourhood, connect community, and to find a place for your food scraps.”

Along with researching apartment composting options, Amendola said to educate compost-hesitant roommates about the benefits of composting and diverting waste.

“There’s always an opportunity to educate. Just because someone is resistant to something, doesn’t mean that they can’t learn.”

To learn more about composting at Fanshawe, visit fanshawec.ca/sustainability.