Friday, August 19, 2011

Red Light London's Green Bins: An Open Letter to City Council

The proposed Green Bin program currently before City Council carries an estimated startup cost of $7.6 million plus an annual operating cost of additional $5.5 million. Aside from the large financial burden, there are several other reasons to oppose the Green Bin program, outlined below in my open letter to Mayor Fontana and City Council. The following was sent to the Mayor and all members of the Council on August 19.


Dear Mr. Fontana and City Council,

I would like to share with you my concerns with introducing a Green Bin program in the City of London. I am not opposed to the promotion of composting in London. I have a backyard garden which benefits from compost and my family has been composting consistently for about 30 years. However, I believe that a city-run curbside compost program is an unnecessary expense for London taxpayers. Please take the time to consider my reasoning to Red Light London's Green Bins.

1. Cost and Tax Impact

I'm encouraged by Mayor Fontana's and the Council's efforts to maintain the 0% tax increase proposed by Mr. Fontana during the recent election. This was a major election promise which I'm sure earned Mr. Fontana many votes, including my own.

According to the 2009 OMBI Report, London ranks #1 of cities surveyed in terms of low garbage disposal costs at only $19 per tonne, well below the $59 median. Our garbage collection costs are also below the median at $85 per tonne. However, our cost to divert garbage from landfills is $129 per tonne. It seems plainly clear that introducing a new green bin program will drive up costs. In fact, the OMBI Report specifically attributes the introduction of "green cart program[s]" as a reason for increasing garbage collection costs in other cities.

These costs will naturally be passed on to Londoners, likely in the form of an all-too-familiar tax increase. What benefit would taxpayers see for taking the time to separate our organic waste and then paying for a separate compost pickup program? The Toronto Star has called that city's program a sham and earlier this year, Parry Sound decided that introducing a green bin program was not worth the cost. Let's do the same.

2. Redundancy with Existing Compost Programs

The City already has two EnviroDepot centres and has been promoting the use of backyard composters for years. Those of us who have already made the decision to purchase or build our own composters would have no need for a curbside compost pickup, but would still be saddled with the cost. Furthermore, a City-run compost pickup would discourage many from purchasing their own backyard composters in the future.

In order to offer services for those without backyards (or for anyone else) who may wish to compost, the City could consider expanding the EnviroDepot services to include a compost dropoff. Also, to encourage the use of backyard composters, consider partnering with one of the composter manufacturers to include coupons in the City's annual garbage calendar.

3. Composts Attract Insects and Other Animals

Fruit flies, ants, flies, maggots, mice, raccoons and other animals are all attracted to compost material. Of course, there are ways to deal with these nuisances, but some households already produce such little waste that dealing with these pests make composting not worth their while. Allow people to make their own choice by purchasing a backyard composter, rather than foisting a new taxpayer funded program upon everyone, whether they need it or not.

4. Compost Waste Smells (especially in summer!)

If you have backyard composter, you can remove the organic waste from your home before it begins to smell. If you're just throwing the organic waste in the trash, you could wrap it in its original packaging or an old milk bag to keep the smell contained. Presumably, plastic won't be allowed in green bins, so the odour and methane (a powerful greenhouse gas) will be free to gas off into the kitchen, basement, garage or wherever the green bin is stored.

Additionally, the compost processing plants can create severe odour problems in their communities. This was the main reason for the closure of two compost processing plants in Quebec, one in Caledon and our very own OrgaWorld here in London.

5. Storage Space

If I look at Toronto's green bins, they're rather large. Storage of large green bins could be a problem for some residents. Personally, I don't think I'd have enough space to conveniently store one of these in my small garage. I may just recycle my green bin in my blue box to save space, especially since I already have a backyard composter.

6. Carbon Footprint of Pickup and Transportation

Having more heavy trucks travelling around the city, stopping at each house to pickup compost separately from regular garbage will add to the air and noise pollution in the city. Also, if the processing sites are far away, transporting the city's compost to those sites will further add to this project's carbon footprint. Sometimes green projects aren't as green as you'd think.

7. Many Problems Plague Compost Programs in Other Cities

In 2009, Ontario stepped in with a province-wide probe into a number of problems with compost processing programs, including:
  • "Thousands of tonnes of green bin materials end[ing] up in gravel pits and landfill[s]"
  • "Plastic bags and diapers [being] burned"
  • Organic waste being transported all the way from Toronto to "a landfill in Quebec" or to incinerators in New York and Michigan.
  • "Extremely high salt content in the compost that was produced, making it a killer for plants"

8. Doesn't Eliminate Need for New Landfills

I've seen it stated that our current landfill has 12 years left before it's filled and we'd need need to find another. Well, that's just part of running a city. We've needed to find new landfills before and we will again. A green bin program may push the lifespan of our landfill down the road a couple of years, but then we're still going to need a new one. As the previously mentioned OMBI Report points out, the city's current waste disposal costs are very economical. Clearly, that's where we should be focusing our disposal efforts in order to keep costs low. Besides, doesn't organic material decompose regardless of whether it's in a composter or a landfill?

9. How Do Multi-Unit Buildings Benefit?

A major hurdle other municipalities who have with green bin programs is extending the service to residents living in large multi-unit buildings such as high rise condo and apartment builds. Londoners who live in these multi-unit buildings will have a difficult time utilizing green bins, but would still be burdened with the cost of the program.


I hope the Council will consider these concerns and Red Light London's Green Bins.

Thank you for your time.

Andrew Culver