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New food waste collection program begins in January

Rob and Judi Carmichael have been part of the city’s pilot project for food waste collection, and have become strong supporters of the new plan. It includes weekly collection of recyclables and compostables, but collection of trash every two weeks. - Neil Corbett
Rob and Judi Carmichael have been part of the city’s pilot project for food waste collection, and have become strong supporters of the new plan. It includes weekly collection of recyclables and compostables, but collection of trash every two weeks.
— image credit: Neil Corbett

It’s easy being green, according to a local couple already on board with the city’s new composting plan, which launches in the new year.

All homes in Abbotsford are provided a small lidded kitchen pail by the city, as it prepares for a major step in the waste management plan – food waste collection. The city will also roll out an information blitz, as it attempts to change people’s household habits starting Jan. 1, 2013.

Residents will be expected to fill the pail with coffee grounds, tea bags, eggs shells, carrot tops, potato peels and similar kitchen food waste. They’ll then empty it into a large garbage can or bin designated for all compost – both yard and food waste – which will be picked up weekly, along with recyclables. Garbage will be collected once every two weeks, and limited to three cans.

The program is just for homes receiving curbside collection – single-family residences and duplexes. In the future, the plan is to expand the program to multi-family, commercial, institutional and other users.

Rob and Judi Carmichael were part of they city’s food waste pilot project, and have become “huge proponents of the program,” said Rob, a retired principal from McMillan Elementary.

“We’re gardeners, and if you’re gardeners you always have compost.”

They put out several bins full of yard waste each week, and when their maple tree sheds its leaves they have several more brown bags beside them.

They have done backyard composting in the past, but Rob said it takes about two years for it to break down enough to be used in the garden. Some waste, like corn cobs, takes twice as long to rot, and food waste like chicken bones attracts raccoons and rats. So, they welcome the new city plan.

Judi has a three-pail system under the sink – one for recyclables, one for food waste, and one for trash. The little pails are emptied into larger waste bins.

“This is one more little step in our life,” said Judi. “It has to be a mental shift for people who haven’t been composting.

“It’s the same as taking your cloth bags to the grocery store – now everyone has their cloth bags.”

Rob agrees the new system is easy, but the challenge is changing old habits.

“It’s educating everyone to have that new value,” he said.

City manager of engineering and utilities, Jim Gordon, explained the new collection schedule puts emphasis on household waste that will be diverted away from the regional landfill in Cache Creek.

“It motivates people to use the compost program.”

The city ran a pilot project with 118 single-family homes in 2009, and then expanded to 425 homes in 2010. Participants found their trash minimal once recyclables and food waste were diverted.

A recent staff report to council called food waste collection a key initiative for the city, and Gordon said it “supports priorities including the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.” A greater waste, he said, is expending resources to truck food waste from the Valley Road waste transfer station to the Cache Creek landfill, and paying tipping fees to do so.

“We’re predicting that ultimately it will save us money,” he said.

Soon, the district won’t have a choice. It contracts Metro Vancouver for waste disposal, and that regional district will place a ban on organics coming into the waste stream by 2015. Metro plans to divert 200,000 tonnes of waste by having all homes and businesses in Greater Vancouver composting organics by the end of 2013.

Initially, there is a cost. The total communication budget is $161,000, and the budget for kitchen pail purchase and distribution is $179,000.

Coun. Les Barkman worked on the pilot project and, as a former supervisor of sanitation and roads for the city, was also one of the designers of Abbotsford’s blue bag recycling program. The goal with food waste collection was to keep it simple.

Barkman said the new system is a slight adjustment for homeowners in handling their household waste, and with food waste there is the issue of bad smells. He regularly empties his household’s pail into a garbage can designated for compost. It also contains leaves, weeds, lawn clippings and other yard waste. If there is meat or fish, or something that has the potential to become particularly odorous, it goes into a bag in the freezer until collection day. His trash is down to just a can and a half, or even only one can, every two weeks.

By the numbers

4,900 tonnes - Estimated amount of food waste city wide that can be diverted from the landfill each year

$92 - Cost of landfill tipping fees per tonne

$38 - Cost per tonne to compost

45.3% - Rate of diversion of waste away from the landfill for more than 25,000 residences in Abbotsford in 2011

55% - Diversion of waste by households in the pilot program by recycling and composting

80% - City hall estimate of achievable household waste diversion

Compostable waste:

• Yard waste, including grass and branches

• All food scraps, including meat and bones

• Paper towel, tissue, and food-contaminated paper

• Food-contaminated pizza boxes

Not accepted:

• Diapers, pet waste, pet litter, plastic, plastic bags, metals (including foil) or glass.

Where does it go?

A company named Net Zero won a $6 million, 10-year contract with the city, and will build and operate composting facilities at 5050 Gladwin Road. They accept yard waste, and as of Jan. 1, 2013 will also take food waste. The compost will be located indoors, covered with goretex tarps and aerated. The facilities are still under construction.

Mission program raised awareness

The District of Mission has had food waste collection for more than 10 years, encouraging people to include it in their yard waste bin, which is collected at the curb.

In June 2011, households were also given a “rot pot” – an 80-litre bin with a lid – for a curbside program similar to Abbotsford’s, but with a larger indoor bin.

Environmental coordinator Jennifer Meier explained the program was simply to encourage more people to compost their food.

“Basically, it was to raise awareness,” she said. “It was more of a PR move.”

Waste audits – randomly and anonymously sorting through garbage – had revealed 50 per cent of the residential waste stream in Mission was compostable. The city operates its own landfill site in a rural area north of the city, so extending the lifespan of the dump is a key consideration.

The result after the first year was an average monthly increase of 59 per cent in the compost collected at the curb.

The most common criticism of the program is odours coming from the bin.

Meier’s response is the odours are there now – in smelly garbage bags.

“You’re producing exactly the same types of waste as before; you’re just sorting it differently,” she said.

Tips to reduce odours were included in the literature in Mission, and similar advice is being provided in Abbotsford as well.

Meier sees a key benefit in keeping organic material out of landfill sites. As it decomposes it produces methane – a greenhouse gas that is more destructive than carbon dioxide.

According to Environment Canada, it is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of its global warming potential, and landfills account for 20 per cent of Canada’s methane emissions.

Meier found most residents of Mission appreciate the program, or at least will participate.

“They just need a little coaxing, but they know it’s the right thing to do.”

Food waste collection is a key initiative to slow global warming, she said.

“They’re not doing this for the district. They’re doing it for the planet, and for their children and their grandchildren.”

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