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Seeing green in recycling

Post_dumpKeeping waste out of our landfills is good not just for the environment, but for the economy. For every 1,000 tonnes of waste diverted, two jobs are supported, according to a new study by the Conference Board of Canada.
Less than a quarter of the garbage produced in Ontario is currently diverted from disposal sites through practices such as recycling, composting, and reusing waste material. Boosting Ontario’s diversion rate to 60 per cent would add 13,000 jobs and contribute another $1.5 billion to GDP.
The report estimates that diverting significantly more waste would increase employment and economic activity in the province, while reducing Ontario’s dependency on U.S. landfills in Michigan and New York State.
While 47 per cent of residential waste was diverted, only 11 per cent of non-residential waste – produced by the industrial, commercial, and institutional sector – avoided disposal. Non-residential waste accounted for nearly two-thirds of the total amount sent for disposal.
In Waterloo Region, 52 per cent of residential waste was diverted in 2013. On the commercial and industrial side, only a fraction of that number was reached, as such businesses are responsible for their own pickup and disposal, unlike residential collection that’s governed by the regional government.
With no control over commercial waste – some of which is hauled elsewhere – the region is focused on boosting the residential diversion rate. The blue box program in place for 30 years captures about 80 per cent of applicable recyclables (recently expanded) , but the green bin program introduced in 2010 currently captures just 20 per cent of suitable organic material.
The low participation rate with the green bin comes at a cost, as the region signed on to a processing contract with a Guelph facility at a price of more than $2.3 million annually. That set rate was based on an assumption 20,000 tonnes of organics would be collected. Instead, the total is half that amount, which would have cost $1.2 million a year to process if the region had gone with a Hamilton bid. The shortfall comes out of taxpayers’ pockets.
The goal now is to collect more of the estimated 40,000 tonnes of organics still going to the curb each year.
“Our target is only half of that,” said Cari Howard, project manager in the Region of Waterloo’s waste management department, of the attempt to keep organics out of the landfill site. “We’re trying to encourage people not to waste their food waste.”
As part of its new waste management master plan, expected to be finalized next year, the region is looking at ways to encourage more diversion. Options such as bag limits for garbage and bi-weekly collection of trash, with blue boxes and green bins picked up weekly, would encourage greater use of green bins, despite some initial reservations, she suggested.
As the Conference Board report notes, there are economic advantages to diversion, with what would otherwise simply be piled into the dump being put to better use. Food waste, for instance, can be processed and end up back on local farms helping to bring along the next crop, said Howard.
“We see this waste as a resource. We know the material is out there.”
According to Waste Diversion Ontario, in 2012, a total of 927,351 tonnes of residential organic waste was reported collected in the province, a 5.3 per cent increase over the 2011 collection quantity of 880,126 tonnes. Based on current curb-side collection rates, if all 5,192,900 households in Ontario had access to curb-side collection of organic waste, another 580,000 tonnes of organic material could be diverted from landfill, representing an increase of 12 percentage points in the province’s overall residential diversion rate.
The Ontario government has a stated goal of diverting 60 per cent of the waste collected in the province into recycling, reuse and composting.
That’s in keeping with the target recommended in the Conference Board report. Studies suggest that increasing waste diversion from its current 23 per cent to 60 per cent would – once the 60 per cent-rate is reached (and maintained) – support the equivalent of an additional 12,700 direct and indirect full-time jobs, and add $1.5 billion to provincial gross domestic product.
“Diversion is an increasingly important aspect of solid waste management. Increasing diversion supports a significant number of jobs and economic growth. Furthermore, diversion would support new jobs in Ontario instead of exporting them to U.S. states,” Vijay Gill, the board’s director of policy research and co-author of the report, said in releasing the study. “Waste diversion also has the obvious benefits of preserving much-needed landfill capacity.”

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