The discussion at Monday’s operations and administration committee meeting on curbside organics, taken together with some earlier discussions, just shows how woefully in disarray the city’s waste-management programs may be.
For starters, and this completely boggles my mind, the city has a five-bag limit on curbside trash. That’s just lazy and the city should move towards bringing that to a more 21st century level. Growth of its waste-diversion programs, such as recycling and organics, is only strengthened when you enforce a stricter bag limit. As an earlier discussion at the council table showed, recent bag counts show very few people are even using the five bags they’re allowed to use today.
Curbside organics collection is a piece of the waste-diversion puzzle. It’s been done elsewhere for some time — in many cases quite poorly (see: Guelph’s first curbside organics program) but over time in some cases quite well. It comes at a cost, and not a recoverable cost in most cases since the city would have to be composting the organics itself to see the benefits from the residual value of what was collected. The choice to contract out is a better one, given the stink that gets raised, in any sense you might interpret it, over the location of organics processing and composting facilities. There is capacity at existing facilities in the region today, so the city can opt in to that model.
But if it’s not done in concert with stricter limits on bags and a better recycling program, what incentive does the average person not already motivated by doing good for the environment have to participate? Then, as some at the council table fretted Monday, you really are spending almost $1 million a year to extend the life of the landfill by a dozen years— 60 years from now.
Another option that can work for encouraging waste diversion? Move to a full cost recovery user-fee system (fancy talk for garbage bag tags). It’s political suicide, but then people will know, exactly, the cost of collecting and landfilling the garbage they produce. My current home has this system (though it’s not full-cost recovery)— as the bachelor with a cat, I set out my 25L garbage can about once every two months at $1.50 a turn. If there were to be curbside organics in Oxford, I’d set out that trash can about once every four or five months. This too can be fraught with peril— after all, that truck still drives down my street every week regardless of whether I’ve paid my $1.50 and put out my garbage can. But a forward-thinking plan can buffer this— as trash volumes drop, collection frequency can be adjusted to match.
Hopefully some combination of the above comes together soon— I can’t see it from where I’m sitting and dealing with these things as one-offs somewhat but not wholly connected to each other is concerning.