By Jenn Watt
Published Nov. 7 2017
Despite best intentions and ambitious goals Ontario diverts just more than 60 per cent of its recyclables from the landfill and only 40 per cent of organic materials such as fruit and vegetable waste. Looking to boost diversion the provincial government is considering mandating food waste be diverted entirely from landfills putting the materials to use as compost and slowing the growth of landfills.
The idea has been floated as part of the new Waste Free Ontario Act with specific details set to be revealed in 2018.
In Dysart et al municipal councillors are skeptical that food waste could be diverted in an organized way from landfills.
“Where are you going to put it?” asked Dysart et al Reeve Murray Fearrey during council’s environment and conservation committee meeting on Nov. 2.
“I don’t think we can do too much with it until the province comes out with further direction” said Councillor Dennis Casey who is chair of the committee.
In larger jurisdictions organic waste is separated and taken to special facilities that turn the materials into nutrient-rich compost. However there is no such facility near Haliburton County meaning waste would need to be trucked great distances at financial and environmental expense.
However the problem of organic waste is something that needs to be addressed whether residents live in urban or rural areas.
According to a recent report by the Environmental Commissioner’s Office Beyond the Blue Box “Ontarians like most Canadians throw away far more waste per capita than most people on Earth. About three-quarters of that goes to landfill or incineration.”
“Landfilling and incinerating waste have adverse environmental consequences. They squander valuable resources can contaminate air and water and generate powerful greenhouse gases that increase climate change. Incineration releases toxic pollutants into the air that can harm human health while landfilling can release toxins into the soil and groundwater reduce property values and use up precious disposal capacity that is difficult and expensive to replace” the report goes on to say.
Haliburton resident Mieke Foster is a waste management specialist and has worked on several environmental projects in the Highlands over the years. She said beyond simply taking up precious space in landfills food waste releases greenhouse gases.
“They have the most impact because when they degrade they release carbon monoxide and carbon monoxide is a lot more dangerous than carbon dioxide” she said in an interview with the Echo.
So while banana peels in the dump may eventually shrivel to a fraction of the size they started at in the process they are releasing a gas known to accelerate climate change.
Beyond fruit and vegetable peels that cannot be avoided much of the organic waste is actually wasted food that was never used.
Foster explained that a discarded clementine for example came from a far-off place from a tree that had to be planted fertilized cultivated and watered. Human energy is expended in picking and packing the produce which is then shipped and trucked to a grocery store in Haliburton using fossil fuels to get there. To throw it in the garbage at the end of that journey is missed opportunity and a waste of money and resources along the way.
The solution for the Haliburton area Foster said is to reduce food waste and promote composting since it’s unlikely a composting facility will be built in the region.
“The energy in that banana peel can break down to create a fertilizer to provide nutrients for new plants. If you throw it in the garbage you’re wasting all of that energy that was in the food that is a resource for more plants that can grow” she said.
Composting still releases carbon monoxide (though it’s likely less than the amount emitted from a landfill) so the best practice is to only use as much food as you need.
Foster said this means learning from those who came before us.
“It’s attitudes of people now that food is plentiful and you can afford to waste it whereas during the war …[your mother might say] ‘bread’s a little bit dry make breadcrumbs.’ Those attitudes of conservation and make due with what you’ve got have flown out the window” she said.
In order to avoid the soggy back-of-the-refrigerator lettuce scenario Foster advocates more frequent grocery shopping; buy what you know you need for the next few days rather than stocking up on produce that may never get eaten and will wilt before you’re ready for it. Leftovers should be composted.
Dysart et al provides a fact sheet on its website on how to compost in black bear country. Among their tips: spread lime to reduce odour and speed decomposition; cover kitchen waste with brown materials such as newspapers or dried grass clippings; and locate compost bins away from the forest’s edge or other pathways bears would use. (Many more tips on composting are available on the website: dysartetal.ca under “landfill services”.)