Green Bin program's 'yuck factor' still bedevils city hall

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Jon Willing, Ottawa Citizen

The city is trapped in a green bin of confusion, not knowing how to get more people to scrape the guck from their plates into a bucket instead of a trash can.

After being shamed by Waste Watch Ottawa into addressing a ho-hum diversion rate, council’s environment committee on Tuesday held a question-and-answer session with staff about recycling and green bins.

The city is still having trouble helping people conquer their fear of the “yuck factor” in separating gooey organics from dry garbage, according to Kevin Wylie, the general manager of public works and environmental services.

Allowing people to use plastic bags, instead of only paper products, has been billed as one possible solution to increase the usage rate, but the city is still duking it out with Orgaworld over the 20-year green bin contract signed in 2008.

The legal tussle between the city and Orgaworld is over leaf and yard waste, but it’s getting in the way of other potential initiatives, such as using plastic bags.

“It boggles the mind that with an arbitrator ruling that essentially said the city was in the right that we’d be still here years later,” said Coun. David Chernushenko, chair of the environment committee.

“I’ll be blunt. It sucks.”

In 2014, the city’s auditor general exposed the poor planning leading up to the green bin contract. Taxpayers have been shelling out more money than necessary to process residential organics.

About 51 per cent of residents are using green bins for organic waste.

Chernushenko accepts that more people might find it easier to use the green bin if plastic bags were allowed, but he doesn’t believe it’s the only answer to improving usage rates.

There are several other roadblocks acknowledged by the city, among them, a lack of storage space at home to keep a green bin and the difficulty for people in apartment and condo buildings to separate organics.

The city has waited to see what changes the province would make to waste legislation before tweaking municipal programs. The Waste-Free Ontario Act, designed to put pressure on producers to consider disposal impacts, was passed by the legislature last year.

City staff plan to table a local strategy with the environment committee next March, after the province releases plans on the blue box program and organics.

Duncan Bury, who made a presentation to the committee on behalf of Waste Watch Ottawa, said the city should spend more on promoting its recycling programs, focus attention on high-density properties and consider mandating clear plastic bags to expose the stuff people aren’t placing in recycling bins.

“If people are worried about the yuck factor, we have to look at that,” Bury said.

The city diverted 44 per cent of its residential waste to recycling programs by the end of 2016.

Coun. Riley Brockington wanted staff to admit that they’re not doing enough to get more people to recycle, but Chernushenko was a little more gentle in his criticism.

“I know they’re trying hard. I guess that’s a tricky question. Are they doing enough? Clearly not, or not enough of the right things,” Chernusehnko said after the meeting.

The city has spent $350,000 this year on educating people about recycling programs.

Chernushenko said he would like more resources for education and promotion but the city needs to come up with better ways to communicate the importance of recycling and using green bins.

“For all the goodwill, we need to understand better what is preventing some people from participating, focus-test that with people and find out a better way to get the messaging,” Chernushenko said.

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