When I moved back to Kitchener from Toronto 7 years ago, one of the things I missed the most was our green bin. I remember approaching Ken Seiling about bringing the program locally and he wasn’t keen on it. He preferred to promote backyard composting. So I was happy when Regional Council decided to start a green bin program and thrilled to get a green bin.

green bin and blue box

Waterloo Region has been talking green bins this summer. The Record has published many letters prompted by a series of articles by reporter Jeff Outhit including “Green bin costs soar. Are they worth it?

I found these articles thought-provoking as I recognized Outhit presented many good facts. Essentially, not enough people are using green bins and as a result the Region’s contract with Guelph is too expensive.

You can’t argue these facts. But being a backseat driver looking in the rear view mirror is easier than driving. Making decisions on how to move forward are more difficult. I wish that these articles had been written in the context of the Region’s Waste Management Master Plan that is in development. Or at the very least, mentioned that plan and that public input now is important to deciding how we manage our waste in the future. Better to get involved in decision making now than later.

I’ll be upfront that I’m on a stakeholder group on the Waste Management Master Plan. These perspectives are mine alone. The stakeholder group is not a decision-making body. We just provide input on what will be presented to the public such as consultation materials and reports.

Waterloo Region’s landfill–and it has just one–has about 20 years of life left. The reason it has that much time left largely a result of diversion efforts such as the blue box. The green bin is a key tool in managing our waste by diverting compostable material and extending the life of our landfill.

Perhaps as Outhit suggests, Regional Council didn’t make the best decisions when implementing the green bin and contracting with Guelph to compost it. But he shouldn’t put such a strong emphasis upon cost. Don’t get me wrong, financial considerations are important, Our landfill life has already been extended thanks to diversion efforts. As a result, we have save millions (likely hundreds of millions) in costs for locating and creating a new landfill.

But cost is not the only factor worth considering. A more balanced approach to making decisions such as those being used to develop the master plan is important. Environmental, social, technical and financial (including income and partnership potential) must also be considered. While I have not reviewed the Region’s decision-making for the green bin program, I believe a broad range of factors were considered and not just how to keep taxes as low as possible.

In a way though, it doesn’t matter because we are where we are and we must figure out how to move forward.

First a word on backyard composting. I don’t see that as being a viable alternative. It’s an even harder sell for broad adoption since it requires more knowledge and more work. That means a higher commitment level which is difficult to believe is possible if it is voluntary. In addition, many homes lack appropriate space.

So how do we make the green bin program successful?

Making Waterloo Region’s green bin program more successful

Waterloo Region definitely has not embraced green bins at a satisfactory level.

Local findings show just 15 to 35 per cent of houses put their green bin at the curb, depending on neighbourhood. Some residents compost in backyards. Green bins, given to all houses by 2010, currently capture just 19 per cent of the organic waste that could be put in them.

Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo residents are green bin slackers, study finds

So how do we make the program more successful?

I’d find those stats difficult to believe based on my current neighbourhood and my former neighbourhood. In both cases, I’d estimate use to be nearly 100%. But I’ve also needed to drive through other neighbourhoods on garbage day where it’s unusual to spot a green bin.

Please don’t jump to the conclusion that I’m saying one neighbourhood is better than another neighbourhood. I’m not. Different neighbourhoods attract different demographics though and that is a factor in adoption rates. As the blue box program shows though a waste diversion program can be successful in all neighbourhoods.

What I’m saying is two things:

  • People are influenced by what their neighbours do. If most of your neighbours are putting out a blue box or green bin, you are more likely to do the same because you want to show that you care about reducing what goes into the landfill. On the other hand, if your neighbours do not use the green bin, it’s easier for you not to make the effort to change your behaviour. Over the fence or over a coffee conversations may also reinforce reasons people don’t like to use the green bin.
  • We know where the green bin is being used and where it isn’t. 

Before the Region of Waterloo makes any decisions to force people to use green bins, let’s take  a new on the ground approach based upon these two points. I’ll share my idea on how this approach could operate in my next post.

12 thoughts on “Green bin is a key tool for managing waste

      1. Those are some squirrels you have! Our first green bin lasted at least 4 years before it started to crack. You probably don’t want a replacement but others reading should know that you can get a free replacement from the Region at its waste management office outside the landfill on Erb.

          1. Maybe not. But the contract with Guelph is a pretty strong motivator for making better use of green bins. Maybe if once we have a plan to vastly reduce our reliance on using a landfill, emphasis on green bin could give way to more personal composting–at least where it is suitable.

  1. I am a believer in reducing the frequency of regular garbage collection to every 2 weeks which would hopefully drive blue box and green bin use. I know a lot of the GTA suburbs have gone this route, have they shown an increase in these other programs?

    1. Interesting. I wasn’t aware that some GTA areas had already gone to every other week for regular garbage pick up. I agree it’d be interesting to see if that has had any effect on increased green bin or blue box use. Should be easy enough for staff to find out and I’d prefer to see if there is a link before we made a similar decision.

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