'Yuck factor' still hindering Ottawa's green bin efforts

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The city is expected to bring in a new strategy to increase recycling among residents to council early in 2018.

The city is expected to bring in a new strategy to increase recycling among residents to council early in 2018. (Alistair Steele/CBC)

Details of new strategy to boost organics recycling coming to council early next year

By Joanne Chianello, CBC News

Facing stagnant participation rates by residents put off by the "yuck factor" of dumping kitchen scraps in their green bins, the City of Ottawa is in talks with the company that handles household organic waste to look for ways to boost uptake in the expensive recycling program.

"We have a very productive relationship with Orgaworld and we have been talking about solutions," said Kevin Wylie, the general manager of public works. "That's something we hope to have an answer for early next year."

Wylie made the comments following a wide-ranging discussion at Tuesday's environment committee about waste diversion.

It was the committee's first deep dive into the subject during this term of council, a discussion prompted by a scathing report from Waste Watch Ottawa that called out the city for its poor diversion rate.

Ottawa lagging on waste diversion, group says

In 2016 Ottawa's diversion rate was 44 per cent, one of the lowest in the province. Only about half of eligible households used the green bin last year, and that's costing taxpayers money

Under the city's 20-year contract with Orgaworld, the city pays to process a minimum of 80,000 tonnes of organic waste. But the city has never reached that tonnage since the green bin program began in 2010.

In 2016, Ottawa sent 71,000 tonnes to Orgaworld's composting facility, costing taxpayers about $1 million in unused capacity.

'Yuck factor' still an issue

Councillors and staff both agreed that the "yuck factor" of throwing kitchen scraps into the green bin has likely held back many residents from participating in the organics recycling program. In the summer, for example, hot weather can lead to maggots in the bin, as well as unpleasant odours.

The city has spent $350,000 this year on education and outreach to encourage recycling.

"You can always do more education," Wylie said. "But at some point you've got to switch up the program and that's what we're going hopefully to be tabling in Q1 2018 ... a strategy to increase participation using the existing programs we have."

Giving residents the ability to put their organic waste in plastic bags before placing it in the green bin could increase diversion.

Coun. David Chernushenko said plastic bags aren't necessary in the green bin, "but it certainly makes it easier for more people."

However plastic bags currently aren't allowed under the Orgaworld contract, a detail that would have to be renegotiated. Legal disputes around the contract have so far prevented full-blown contract discussions.

As well, new provincial rules calling on producers to pay the costs of waste disposal and recycling — details of which are expected by the end of the year — will also affect the city's updated recycling strategy.