Sunday, January 17, 2010

Green blues

Maybe it's the onset of the Grumpy Old Man syndrome, but Ottawa's new Green Bin program is giving me the pip.

Friends have excitedly asked me if I have received one, and if I'm using it, and in response I'm starting to sound like those nutbars who idle their SUVs on Earth Day. I'm planning, in fact, to repurpose the city's gift (which will actually cost me a chunk in taxes) as a planter. But I will pay the weekly costs of green garbage pickup regardless, which, the city soothingly assures us, will be "less than the cost of a latte."

Some readers might be surprised to learn that I don't drink--or is it "sip?"--latte. But I'd be prepared to start doing so in protest. Go figure out the politics of
that one.

I have a small kitchen, and I keep putting off the day when the necessary renovations will be done. In it, I have a standard scraps bin that conveniently takes about a week to fill. Everything goes in there: organics, glass (mostly from broken wine vessels), plastic, and the contents of wastebaskets around the house on garbage day. That gets put into an animal-savaged wheeled container that I paid for, and dragged to the curb.

I do use my recycling boxes, mind you. Paper every second week, ditto for various glass and plastic containers. I believe in recycling, even if (as I suspect) some of it may end up in landfills in China--which was apparently where "recycled" styrofoam went a few years ago, until the city stopped collecting it. I haven't figured out which group is assigned to the black box or the blue box respectively, but the stuff does get picked up.

But now there is a new box in the neighbourhood. Two, actually. I am supposed to collect acceptable organic scraps in a small beige jobbie that I am expected to find room for in my kitchen (maybe stack it on the other bin?), and then empty that from time to time into the larger green bin outside.

It doesn't end there, not by a long shot. Bin liners are needed for both bins, which can be purchased for the usual reasonable price. Alternatively, I am invited to wrap the kitchen waste in newspaper and place those packages in the green one. In case we can't figure out how to do that, we are offered instructions in "organic origami."

Remember when we just, you know, threw things out? Our ancestors used to toss their garbage on the village midden. Now we are expected to sort, wrap and box our various house wastes, do this every week, and pay for the privilege.

Mark my words, we'll be packaging up our own wastes next. Or paying more taxes for one of these things:

Not that I want to give the city any ideas.

We are provided an extensive list of what's allowed in the bin. Only plastics and dog poop are explicitly excluded. Kitty litter is permitted. So are
"food-soiled pizza boxes," which, we are now told, "should not go in [the] black bin." That must refer to the paper recycling bin. I've been dutifully putting said boxes out with the rest of my paper waste for years. It's always picked up. Now I might be facing a fine or something. Those boxes don't, by the way, crumple easily.

Untreated wood scraps are allowed, but they are not to exceed
"four inches in any dimension." What's that in centimetres, please?

Nothing metal is on the list of included items. Is everything not explicitly listed, forbidden? Old socks? Saran wrap? Pork bones are on the list: what about beef, fish and chicken bones?

All of the approved waste, in any case, will go to a "composting facility." That's not a bad aim, of course, although the stuff does end up composting in a landfill as well. But what if we were to come at this in a different way? What about excluding only plastic, glass and metal from the regular pickup, and being permitted to put all of the former in the regular recycling boxes? (Now only glass, plastic and metal containers are permitted--and "clean foil.") And then divert the regular pickup to the composting plant?

Makes too much sense, I guess.

Meanwhile, those folks rifling through your numerous coloured bins? They haven't mistaken you for a rock star, never fear. A small army of inspectors will be needed to do random searches and fine the offenders. "Sorry, sir, but your blue-box foil is soiled. And we found a popsicle stick in the green bin. Exceeds the size limit."

Time for a latte. Or maybe a stiff Scotch.

UPDATE: And we had a solution!

Mayor Larry O'Brien said this week that testing of the Plasco plant is nearly complete and the city is only weeks from being able to sign a contract for a plant that will turn garbage into electricity without emissions. Construction of the plant will take two years.

The Plasco plant could turn the organic waste in our ordinary garbage, now being diverted to the Green Bins, into useable energy. How green is that? Instead, Ottawans are now on the hook for two programs instead of one. City columnist Randall Denley nails it.

[H/t RGB, b/c]

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