Organic Waste Diversion: No More Food in Landfills

Organic Waste Diversion: No More Food in Landfills

Ever paused for a second and wondered if those banana peels were worth more than taking residence in your compost? Or that the avocado shell was still deserving even after its nutritious insides have been scraped out? Or that your plate waste still had work to do even though it’s not going into your stomach? Well, luckily, our local governments have begun initiatives to divert organic waste from landfills and need your help to achieve the scale of food waste reduction required.

Organic food waste constitutes food that could have been eaten, as well as unavoidable waste such as vegetable peels. Current legislation in Canada makes it “too easy and too cheap to dump, and too difficult to do otherwise”, succinctly stated by internationally acclaimed agribusiness PhD holder Martin Gooch, and his co-authors. Landfills harbor up to 4 million tons of food waste each year, and that is in Ontario alone. And that’s just food waste, not to mention other waste categories.

Organic waste when landfilled emits a gas called methane, a greenhouse gas whose presence destabilizes the earth’s temperature. This volatility in the earth’s temperature is what gives rise to climate change and all its nasty side effects-melting of polar ice, species extinction, land terrain changes, tapered natural resources, extreme weather events–to name a few. Therefore, diverting organic waste from going to landfills will prevent heaps of plant and food matter from decomposing anaerobically (without oxygen), and releasing methane gas alongside many other odorous gasses. Even worse, the liquid from the decomposition can leak into our waterways and groundwater if care is not taken.

Banning organic waste from landfills was part of a national target for waste diversion in 1989, created by the Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME). Out of all the provinces enlisted to divert 50 percent of their solid waste by the year 2000, only Nova Scotia achieved and even surpassed the national target. More than 320,689 tons of solid waste was diverted in 2000 and they decreased per capita disposal rates by 54% within a span of 10 years. Nova Scotia was able to pull this off due to their province-wide ban on organics entering landfills; the first jurisdiction in Canada to enforce such.

Although waste management is primarily the responsibility of local governments, their limited mandates will not suffice to shift Canada towards a more resource efficient food system. They need more than just regulatory solutions; they need us on board. One of the keyways Nova Scotia successfully diverted their organic waste was through residential collectives that supervised recyclable curbside collection programs and organic curbside pick-up programs. Ontario announced a Waste Free Ontario Act in 2017, which seeks to phase-in a food and organic waste ban by 2022. Vancouver has created the Zero Waste 2040 Strategic Plan which prioritizes supporting a circular economy.

Instead of organic material finding their way to landfills, incinerators, or thermal treatment facilities, communities can increase their composting rate by undertaking organic curbside pick-up programs. Municipalities that are more remote can implement extensive backyard composting programs. Centralized composting is paid for through municipal taxes, and the net costs of the ban are lower than the gross costs to set up the facilities, as well as the environmental merits. Every year, there can be a linear decrementing cap on the percentage of waste loads that are organic. Monetary penalties will ensue after an agreed upon date. This will allow for an adaptation period where residential sectors have built the capacity to reduce and divert food waste. Municipalities will need to enhance organic collection systems that improve compost quality and facilitate systems that distribute compost for horticultural production. 

In order to improve the threshold for compliance, waste prevention education at the business and household level must be implemented alongside the curbside programs. Fostering behavioral and cultural shifts is key in building a circular economy that inherently values their possessions. Eliminating organic food waste should target the adoption of sustainable production and consumption methods and tackle food wastage from farm to fork.

Contact your municipality today and let’s give those vegetable peels a fighting chance!

References

Climate & Clean Air Coalition. Organic Waste Diversion. Accessed May 26, 2022. https://www.ccacoalition.org/en/activity/organic-waste-diversion.

MacRae, R.J. (updated 2022). Banning Organic Waste from Landfills. Food Policy for Canada: joined up food policy to create a just, health promoting and sustainable food system.  http://foodpolicyforcanada.info.yorku.ca

Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group. (updated February 12, 2021). Recycling Benefits. Back to Earth Initiative. https://www.mwrrg.vic.gov.au/back-to-earth/recycling-benefits/

Tomisona Oludairo
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