Thursday, November 19, 2009

Life in Waterloo - Part 2 - The Green Bin Program

Tomorrow is our garbage and recycling day. Given that John just wheeled our green bin to the curb, it seemed the right time to (finally) get this post up.

One of the very exciting things for me (call me a recycling junkie) about moving to Waterloo is that the Green Bin Organics Program has been underway here since 2006 with test pilot homes. It spread its wings wider in 2008 and 2009. Now almost 100,000 homes have the green bin as part of their weekly recycling program. By 2012 the Region plans to ban household organics from landfill sites. How cool is that?! Hello, Ottawa, are you listening?

Ottawa, where we normally live, is only finally getting the program underway this January. I have lamented and complained about this over and over through each delay that Ottawa's City Council allowed. But finally we get to participate in the program in Waterloo and when we're back to Ottawa, we'll get to do it there too (if the City doesn't postpone it yet again!). And... and... and... last spring the Region of Muskoka introduced the program so we had the green bin at the cottage all. summer. long.

Take note Ottawa: Muskoka and Renfrew County (I'm told) all had this up and running before you did. Shame!

Now that my berating of my home city is complete, let me give you some details on the program and what I've noticed works and doesn't work so well (or things I still have to find a solution to).

For those of you in an area with no green bin program, it is similar to a standard blue box program except the green bin is for the collection of household organics such as kitchen scraps and paper towels. The bin itself is tall and has a locking lid. We also have a small indoor bin for collecting the kitchen scraps. ALL kitchen scraps can go in the bin including meat, bones and dairy. I'm not going to lay out here all the things that can and cannot go in the bin because what I've realized, using the bin in two different regions (Muskoka and Waterloo), is that different regions have different rules. For example, in Waterloo you can put raw meat in the bin and pet droppings, in Muskoka you can't put either of those things in. In Toronto, you can put disposable diapers in. In Waterloo you can't (and most other places with the program). There are some very cool things that can go in there: paper plates, bones, pizza boxes, butcher paper, flour bags, hair, just to name a few.

Wonder what happens to the household organics that are collected? This little illustration courtesy of the Region of Waterloo explains it better than I can:

Isn't that cool? My scrambled eggs, paper towels and chicken wings become the gardens at a retirement home, greens at a golf course or the lawn of a new condo. I love that.

There are some rules of course and I'm told the Region is pretty sticky about them. For example, no yard waste is allowed. I was reading Andrea's post on Ottawa's coming green bin program this week and she suggested that Ottawans put in some leaves to cut down on the smell for people who are concerned about that. This is a good idea and would work but for the regions of Muskoka and Waterloo, doing that could leave you with a full green bin when the collectors refuse to take it. I wouldn't take that chance. Newspapers or paper bag liners are allowed however.

As for smell, I haven't found it bad at all, even through the summer. The lid is very tight fitting. Sure you get small gnats living in there that fly out when you open the lid but big deal. You get that with a regular compost bin in the yard. We haven't had any trouble with raccoons or other creatures trying to get into our green bin. In Muskoka, where that is likely to be more of a problem, we kept the bin in our shed. Here is photo of our outdoor bin with the yummy contents in full view (I don't know why I felt the need to show this off except that I feel the need to give full reality programming):

The one big issue we've had is fruit flies in our indoor bin. It's driving us crazy! We've tried a few things - the most recent being abandoning our indoor bin (we think the fruit flies laid eggs in it because they appear when there is nothing in the bin!) and just using a bowl inside that gets emptied every day. That worked for about a week and now the little critters are back. I really don't have a good solution yet but I'll let you know if I come up with one. I think the next step will be to bring the sucker in from outside and keep it under the sink. Here is what we use now inside and what the Region gave us but we abandoned outside after the infestation of fruit flies:

As for the paper bag liners, we're not fans. We found they don't fit the bins very well making the bins a little difficult to close and they were very messy in the indoor bin becuase they were too tall for it. The result was food in between the bag and the bin totally defeating the purpose of the bag. So we don't use them at all. Instead, we scrub out the indoor bin or bowl and hose out the outdoor one (in summer). Now that it's cold, we don't even hose out the outdoor bin. In spring I'll give it a good cleaning.

I've heard the argument that people don't want to participate because it's too disgusting. I honestly have no idea where that comes from. There is less smell from our green bin, which goes out weekly, then from a full kitchen garbage that has household organics in it. Also, at the risk of sounding all self-righteous, I find this a lot less disgusting than an overused landfill that contributes to global warming and a dying planet.

And as for our regular garbage, we are a family of four and we are down to one small garbage bag a week and I'm sure we can do better (I'm not always good about pulling out the kleenexes). Amazing! The program also gives you a daily reminder of how much food you are wasting or not wasting. I've found that is something we really have to work on - the kids are particularly bad for it.

Can you tell I love, love, love the green bin program? If you need convincing, I'll be the one to convince you. Actually, once you try it and see how little garbage you actually produce when all your recyclables are sorted, you'll love it too.


little b said...

I looooved it at the cottage this summer. Austin only just introduced single stream recycling and started taking all numbers of plastic (it used to just be #1&2) so I'm not holding my breath that we'll get an organics program any time soon.

magnolia_2000 said...
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magnolia_2000 said...
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H Munro said...

I had a fruit fly problem this fall. I ended up making little traps for them. Take a small jar and put in some cider vinegar and a couple of drops of dish detergent. Then I put some saran wrap on top with a few holes poked through. The little flies go in there and can't get out and drown.
They were on my window sill and I could see them when I washed dishes, I got a strange delight watching them go in there and die.

Might not help with a reoccurring problem but it did seem to clear them up for us.

Julie said...

i like heather's idea.

guess what k? they might be delaying the green bin. yep. for one, they forgot to do an rfp for collection (what a bunch of morons in this city) and the incinerator facility might not be ready.

just when i got supper excited, now i'll have to wait longer.