Guelph Waste Management Coalition Inc

Waste system critic hopes Guelph council rejects green bin liners

Scott Tracey, Mercury staff Wed Nov 21 2012

GUELPH—Using the new waste collection carts will get a little less yucky if city councillors next week approve a bylaw amendment which would allow the use of compostable liners inside green carts.

But one outspoken critic is still hopeful council will reject them.

Ken Spira, president of watchdog group Guelph Waste Management Coalition, is concerned the liners will mean more waste in the system and could cause problems with the processing system and end product.

“The bags themselves might not completely break down, but there is also the issue of the plastic packaging that these bags come in,” Spira said. “There will be a big demand for these (compostable) bags which will result in more waste generally.

“It doesn’t really hold true to the low carbon footprint approach to be intentionally introducing new plastic waste to the system,” Spira charged.

Earlier this month, the city received from the province an amendment to the certificate of approval for the new organics processing facility on Dunlop Drive. That amendment allows the use of compostable plastic liners, which had previously been prohibited.

The Ministry of Environment agreed to revisit the prohibition after Ottawa-based composter Orgaworld Canada won an appeal of a similar restriction on its certificate of approval.

This week, the planning and building, engineering and environment committee endorsed a bylaw amendment allowing the compostable liners.

Spira is concerned continuing to use plastic bags of any kind will result in a lower-quality compost at the end of the process. He points to a 2011 staff report expressing concern that compostable products may not completely break down in the composting process, and that it can be difficult to distinguish between compostable and non-compostable plastic bags.

Spira also points to a 2009 position paper issued by the Regional Public Works Commissioners of Ontario. That paper suggests residents and businesses should be discouraged from using biodegradable or compostable plastic packaging or products.

“Increasing numbers of these packaging materials in the Municipal diversion programs can be expected to reduce the efficiency of processing operations and the quality of recovered products,” the paper reads.

However, Erin Mahoney, current chair of the Regional Public Works Commissioners of Ontario, said the position paper was in response to an increasing frequency of “rigid-type” containers being marketed as compostable.

Residents were putting those plant-based containers in their blue boxes believing them to be petroleum-based plastic, and unintentionally contaminating the recyclable stream.

Mahoney, who is the environmental commissioner in York Region, said the purpose of the paper was never to discourage the use of certified compostable bags. York switched to such bags more than a year ago.

Dean Wyman, Guelph’s general manager of solid waste resources, was in a meeting Wednesday and unavailable for an interview. In an email, Wyman noted the compost currently being marketed from the Guelph facility, even with the use of regular non-compostable bags, meets “compost guidelines class A.”

Wyman also wrote the new waste collection trucks are equipped with cameras that allow the operators to monitor what is inside all waste carts, and that compostable bags are generally different colours than non-compostable bags so operators will be able to spot improper bags.

Spira said while the city is “preaching the yuck factor” to support the use of compostable bags, he suspects the true reason for the bylaw amendment is to allow Guelph to import organic waste from other municipalities where such bags are used.

During a recent email exchange, a city staff member wrote to Spira that the city is currently unable to receive organics from other municipalities “due to the fact that there are no other municipalities in the Province of Ontario that are able to send their (organics) for processing because of the current plastic bag restriction.”

That doesn’t sit well with Spira.

“Importing source-separated organics from other centres seems to have crept right up to the top of the list of priorities,” he said. “I can’t see there’s a benefit to Guelph becoming the garbage capital of Ontario.

“It’s not encouraging people to look after their own waste, which is something the city preaches constantly.”

Wyman denied being able to accept waste from other municipalities was the key factor.

“The main driver to amend the (certificate) was to allow Guelph residents the same choice of liners for their green carts as their friends/relatives have in other municipalities,” Wyman wrote.

Councillors will consider the bylaw amendment at their meeting next Monday evening.