Composting in Ottawa

2009-09-22

in Canada, Daily updates, Politics, The environment

Ottawa is starting up a citywide composting system, with pick ups every two weeks through the winter:

Starting Monday, and for the next 12 weeks, the city will be delivering 240,000 green bins and small, counter-top kitchen-catchers to households across the city.

The chief environmental advantage cited, reducing landfill usage, is not overly compelling. We have plenty of space for landfills, and they are very tightly regulated. I would be interested in knowing what the other effects of the program will be, if any, on factors like air quality, water quality, and greenhouse gas emissions.

It is interesting to note that the service will no accept ‘biodegradable’ plastics, because the term doesn’t have a standard usage and there is a risk that the compost produced would be contaminated.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Tristan September 23, 2009 at 9:45 am

In Toronto, space for landfills it surely at a premium. Much of our waste is shipped, famously, to Michigan.

In British Columbia, space for landfills is at a premium, and transportation to landfills is very expensive and heavy on Green House gases and road wear.

Why is the situation in Ottawa so different? Does the state own much land which is appropriate for landfilling?

Milan September 23, 2009 at 10:11 am

Existing landfills may be strained – for physical, economic, or political reasons – but this is not a hard problem.

The US produces about 110 million tonnes of garbage per year which ends up in landfills. Even if you extrapolate present growth trends for a century, that adds to 324 square miles of space, buried 100 feet deep. That’s about 0.009% of the total US land area. Compared with other environmental problems, this one seems pretty trivial.

That being said, it is obviously good to re-use things where possible.

Milan September 23, 2009 at 10:12 am

Page 208 of Bjorn Lomborg’s flawed but sometimes useful book shows how big a landfill would be necessary to deal with a century of waste.

BuddyRich September 24, 2009 at 7:19 am

I’ve got to admit, they certainly embraced Web 2.0 with this green bin roll out.

Greenbin Ottawa

Twitter and everything.

I think you’ve missed one important component of composting, by just focusing on land use. The reason is also wrapped up in why they disallow biodegradable plastics; it’s that the city will start to use natural fertilizers in a step towards self-sustainability in that regard. Using natural gas to create synthetic fertilizer is very energy intensive and is one of the main reason commercial agriculture is so vilified (that and the smorgasbord of other chemicals used in herbicides and pesticides) . Granted the city isn’t growing food, just keeping its green spaces “green”, but excess compost can usually be bought for a nominal fee (if not given away free) by anyone that wants some for their garden.

I once got a load of mushroom compost from the Continental mushroom farm in Metclafe. Great stuff for gardening. Of course I already have a backyard composter, but this will be good for the winter when mine is buried in snow, and for folks in apartments.

Milan September 24, 2009 at 8:28 am

Good point.

I am not opposed to the composting program, just curious about the full impact. The fertilizer aspect is appealing.

La Canadienne September 24, 2009 at 11:11 am

In Halifax, taking out the trash is so involved! There’s compost, and corrugated cardboard in one thing and other cardboard in another and one thing tied up with string and another in a grocery bag in the garbage bag… wow. I can’t see some of the people in Ottawa taking to such an involved process.

Neal September 24, 2009 at 3:46 pm

Isn’t methane from landfills a non-neglible contributor to climate change? I would think that keeping most organic waste out of landfills would have at least a small impact on the climate in this manner.

Milan September 24, 2009 at 4:18 pm

That’ s one impact I would be curious about seeing quantified.

Firstly, how much of the carbon in organic waste stays in landfills indefinitely, how much methane is generated by Ottawa landfills, and whether it is captured and used already.

Milan September 24, 2009 at 4:18 pm

Also, does composting the organic waste actually lead to less methane release than having it rot in a landfill?

. October 12, 2009 at 6:53 pm

‘Big step’ needed on UK landfill

By Jeremy Cooke
Rural affairs correspondent, BBC News

Standing in a huge hole in the ground which is slowly being filled with thousands of tonnes of stinking rubbish it’s easy to see why landfill gets a bad press.

The site in Bury is one of dozens across the country – it is a giant sand quarry with a void in the middle which feels the size of a football stadium.

And all day, every day that void is being filled by a fleet of heavy lorries which dump rubbish into the path of a bulldozer which compacts it down to make way for the next load – 600,000 tonnes a year.

Landfill has never been pretty. But it has for decades been an effective way of dealing with waste. It is true that we are – as a nation – getting better. But the UK still dumps over half of its waste into landfill, compared with EU neighbours like Germany where the figure is about 1%.

The Environment Secretary, Hilary Benn, says it is time for a radical rethink: “We can’t keep producing large amounts of rubbish and putting it in holes in the ground… it’s producing greenhouse gases which are contributing to a problem we have to solve, we are throwing away things that have a value.

“We’ve been living in a 50-year bubble in which we thought we could throw away things without regard to the consequences. It’s got to change.”

There are already tough European rules – and fines – designed to dramatically cut the use of landfill. But now the government is calling together local authorities to tell them they must do more.

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