Convenience vs. Green Bins

The use of green bins, or more accurately, the disuse, of them has been a topic of attention lately. It started with the admission of a resident that she doesn’t use the green bin because of a fear of odours and pests she might encounter. A few letter writers responded in turn encouraging her and others to use the bin properly.

This week, Simcoe County, which manages waste for member municipalities, circulated a flyer with the shocking statistic that 40% of collected garbage is organic material that could be diverted to the green bin for composting. This summer the County is launching a pilot program, Feed Your Green Bin to Win. “The goal is to recognize and reward those using their green bin for doing the right thing”. The aim is to encourage more people to use the green bin most often.

I’m old enough to remember when all garbage cans were basically ‘green’ bins. ‘Back in the day’, before supermarkets, before plastic bags, before ‘fast’ food and prepackaged foods, the garbage bin was mostly all organic waste as I recall. As a boy – in Toronto at the time – it was my job to empty the garbage pail once or twice a week and take it out to the garbage bin for collection. The kitchen pail was lined with one of those heavy brown kraft paper bags that we had carried home from the grocery store. When I gingerly pulled it out, it was sometimes a bit soggy on the bottom and a bit smelly. (I was expected to make sure it went outside before getting too bad.) But it couldn’t just be tossed. I spread out several sheets of newspaper on the floor and wrapped the whole bag into a neat bundle. Then the whole thing got tied up with some white string before being taken out to the garbage can. I don’t know what other people did, but I remember the city did bring in a rule that all garbage had to wrapped, which upset some people.

What’s changed? We have a lot of inorganic waste now – lots of plastic bags and packaging because we spend a lot more time outside the home and also carry home a lot more processed and packaged foods. At the same time, those handy kraft paper bags are a thing of the past, and a lot fewer people have old newspapers around. For a while we were putting everything in plastic bags that went into the garbage. Since then, we’ve had the opportunity to separate recyclable materials, and I think County residents do pretty well separating metal, glass and paper. According to the County’s data, only about 8% of the garbage contents could be diverted to materials recycling.

I use two compost bins for all fruit and vegetable scraps so my green bin doesn’t really get much traffic. But we do save whatever paper bags we happen to get. They’re used as a liner for a kitchen green bin to dispose of tissues, used napkins and paper towels and any smaller organic items. Bones and food scraps get bundled in newspaper and put on a freezer shelf until collection day.

I have a feeling that the green bin dilemma is part of a bigger issue that’s been making news in several developed countries. That’s the scandalous amount of food waste that I’m guessing is a by-product of our ‘convenience’ lifestyle. It seems too much food gets casually tossed – something that would have been unthinkable a generation ago.

Why should we care about green bins? The Simcoe County solid waste management budget is $48 million this year. That includes the development of an Environmental Resource Recovery Centre to be built on Horseshoe Valley Road in Springwater: “This facility will house the Organics Processing Facility (OPF), Materials Management Facility (MMF), and areas for truck servicing, public education, and space to potentially sort blue box recycling in the future.”

We’re paying to develop this environmentally responsible facility. It’s up to us to use it fully and efficiently, or we’ll end up paying for someone else’s ‘convenience’. And all that organic waste that does get composted? The County is hosting a Compost and Mulch Giveaway on May 11, 12 and 13.