Winnipeg is making strides to encourage composting, but still has some ground to make up compared to other jurisdictions in Canada.
However, early indications are that Winnipeggers may be eager to get composting if and when a municipal collection service rolls out.
The city is about seven months into a two-year composting pilot program, and results from the latest survey are overwhelmingly positive.
Nine in ten viewed the program as “excellent” or “good,” and the number of people who said they’re likely to use a food waste collection service rose by 17 per cent over the first month.
“It’s just following nature’s way … this is the natural cycle of life,” says Susan Antler, executive director of the Compost Council of Canada, who calls the pilot project an important initiative for Winnipeg.
“As a council, we’re incredibly impatient. We totally respect the fact that cities are not in the business to take risks, they have many people to talk to, but the reality is that this is a homerun for the environment.”
The ‘homerun,’ as she describes it, means diverting between 30 and 50 per cent of all waste away from landfills – where decomposing organics produce harmful methane gas – improving soil conditions, and growing more nutritious food.
“The landfills are a precious resource. Bradly Landfill is something that Winnipeg needs to protect,” Antler says.
But, the city’s pilot project isn’t expected to wrap up until fall 2022, and it could be quite some time before the entire city benefits.
Composting in Winnipeg
In the interim, there are still options for Winnipeggers who have some space under the sink and want to help the environment.
The simplest way is to do the composting at home, and then spread it over the yard or garden.
The city’s website has a helpful guide to get started, which explains what can be composted, how to separate green material from brown material, and how much of each to add.
For the many people who don’t have a garden or a yard, the Green Action Centre keeps a running list of community compost bins, which it says are scattered throughout the city and near most community gardens.
“We’re hoping to really kick start and spark a more widespread adoption of organic waste diversion and composting in the province,” says Robin Bryan, Compost Winnipeg’s general manager.
“What’s becoming increasingly clear is that everyone everywhere is going to have to take some of our environmental impacts and especially our greenhouse gas emissions more seriously.
“Organic waste is a contributor of over three per cent of our greenhouse gases in the province, it’s something we’re going to need to take a closer look at.”
From Bryan’s experience, the movement appears to be gaining steam.
As many as 50 more people sign up for the compost collection service each month, he says, and at least half of the places they’re collecting waste from are businesses, such as grocery stores, malls, and the two largest universities.
“I think businesses are really starting to see that they need to be putting their best foot forward and showing to their communities and their customers that they’re committed to environmental sustainability,” Bryan says.
Leading by example
Most recently, Winnipeg estimated waste diversion at 30 per cent, and in 2011 aimed to reach 50 per cent.
Meanwhile, on the east coast, Halifax has been leading the charge since at least that time, when Statistics Canada put the city’s waste diversion at 94 per cent.
The city says the foundation for its success is a 1996 law that made recycling and composting enforceable, but it goes beyond that.
“Education is critical to this kind of program,” writes a city spokesperson in an email.
“In the municipality, we have five full time educators who solely talk about solid waste.”
It’s those peoples’ responsibility to put on in-person presentations (pre-COVID-19), and work booths at public events on how to use and maintain the green bins.
In addition, the city offers a suite of online programs to educate the public on what can be composted, connects with schools to teach students, and offers composting information on an app.
Back in Winnipeg, a motion heading to council this month will ask the public service to explore a $100 rebate on residents’ property taxes if they declare they compost.
“Anything that Winnipeg decides and is doing to advance organics recycling for both the household and the businesses of the town is perfect,” says Antler, adding the benefits of composting cannot be overstated.
“Basically one bag now represents avoidance of about seven kilometers driven. And that’s just an add-on to the benefits of what it’s doing to your soil, to your crops, and to your own health.”