All Things Waste
Index: (and please visit wasteless.ca)
February 26, 2022
To: Economic Standing Policy Committee, City of Lethbridge
Re: Curbside Organics Collection
Lethbridge fully implemented its curbside program for recyclable materials two years ago. At that time, the average citizen was responsible for 325 kg of residential waste going to the landfill each year. Two years later, this number has dropped to roughly 250 kg of waste per person, a 25% reduction with an average of 75 kg of recyclable materials being diverted from the landfill. With only about 10% of residential waste stream still comprised of recyclable materials, this program has made a significant contribution towards meeting our residential waste diversion targets, much to the credit of the City of Lethbridge Waste & Recycling Utility. Eighty-five percent of households participate in the curbside blue cart program up from less than twenty percent who recycled when only drop-off depots were available. The convenience of curbside pickup is a major factor in enabling residents collectively to prolong the life of our landfill, conserve finite natural resources and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Of the current residential waste stream in Lethbridge, roughly 57% is organic. That is, food or yard waste that can be composted amounting to roughly 10,000 tonnes of organic waste each year from our homes.
There are a number of reasons why it is a good idea to keep organic waste out of the landfill. One of the most important is the generation of greenhouse gases. When moist organic materials are sent to a landfill and covered, these materials begin to break down anaerobically (without oxygen). Bacteria convert the organics to methane, which is a greenhouse gas that is 25 to 36 times more potent than carbon dioxide. By composting this same material, the greenhouse gas impact is greatly minimized. Over 90,000 tonnes CO2(eq)[i] of greenhouse gases are currently released annually from the Lethbridge landfill. This makes the landfill one of the largest point sources of greenhouse gas in the region (representing over 4% of per capita emissions, based on a Canadian average 20.9 tonnes CO2(eq) each year).
A second reason to keep organic materials out of the landfill is to reduce the amount of moisture that reacts with other types of waste. A toxic liquid called leachate is created as the moisture collects at the bottom of the landfill. The landfill can be lined to protect groundwater and nearby rivers and streams and the leachate can be pumped out of the landfill to be treated or disposed of in deep wells, but it is much more effective and safer to prevent the leachate from forming to begin with. Keeping moisture out of the landfill protects air and water in the region, and reduces the liability and associated costs of managing pollution.
Finally, since organics comprise such a large component in the waste stream, diverting it will greatly extend the life of the landfill. It is getting much more difficult to site landfills in Alberta, and more costly to monitor and maintain old sites. Extending the life of a landfill represents some very real cost savings for the municipality.
This brings us back to the diversion of organics from the residential waste stream. In 2015, the City of Lethbridge committed to a 50% reduction in waste going to the landfill by 2021, and 65% by 2030. These targets are not achievable without an organized organics diversion program. The presumption that the personal responsibility and voluntary diversion of waste would be sufficient to meet these targets has been belied by the evidence of measured diversion rates of recyclable materials before and after the blue cart program. Besides, organics diversion has been available in Lethbridge for many years and, currently, 57% of our waste stream remains compostable.
The landfill is also approaching a greenhouse gas emission threshold that will require mitigation to comply with provincial and federal regulations, including greenhouse gas emission reductions of 50% within the next seven years. Organics diversion is a relatively easy and cost-effective approach for the municipality to achieve waste diversion targets and stay within legislated emission limits, and it is one that the City is well positioned to achieve with current expertise and infrastructure. Furthermore, the City of Lethbridge has raised enough grant funding to cover a significant portion of the capital expenses of this project, of which most has been committed to meet waste target timelines. It is our responsibility to better manage our pollution, and internalize the costs to the health of people and the environment in the decision-making process.
The curbside organics program has the support of the majority of citizens of Lethbridge, as indicated by: the results of the Ipsos Reid Survey (2019), in which 87% of respondents believed it is important to reduce the amount of food and yard waste going to the landfill; public engagement in the development of the Waste Management Master Plan (2020), in which a curbside organics program was the top idea for improved waste management; and the overwhelmingly positive online citizen input during the CIP project evaluation process (April 2021).
A ’pause’ to re-evaluate at this point will only increase cost and delay implementation of a program that was approved by City Council in November 2016 and has already been well-reviewed and delayed three years from its original implementation date.
For cleaner air, cleaner water and reduced greenhouse gas emissions, implementing curbside pickup of organics is a cost-effective, a socially beneficial, and an environmentally necessary approach to our municipal waste management. It is an essential component of Council’s Waste Diversion Policy. SAGE supports this important initiative.
[i] Update: Residential Waste Diversion Strategy (2019).
Fuchsia is Not My Colour
If you dared to look, what would you find in the dark recesses of your closet? Would you find the sequined scarf your Great Aunt bought you, the Pokemon tie from the kids, the frumpy sweater with a cougar applique gifted by your BFF? Remember the feigned joy, the forced smile, the hand on your heart and the I-Just-Love-It cry? Not surprisingly, it is estimated that more than $15.2 billion is wasted on unwanted gifts each year in the United States alone[i]. Of this 43% is unwanted clothing and accessories. I know. Merry Christmas.
Unfortunately, a majority of these items end up in the landfill long before they are worn out. Granted, some are donated. And some of these are reused. Some are even downcycled to rags and insulation. But most are just trashed.
In Lethbridge, about 1000 tonnes of textiles end up in the landfill each year. That is equivalent to every person in the city throwing away a t-shirt each week. In reality, this waste stream is comprised of more than clothing. It includes all those plush toys families accumulate, sheets and towels, and much more. Combined, it amounts to about 111 full garbage trucks each year. And this is solely from our homes. It doesn’t even include textile waste from commercial stores and industry.
All this waste has a huge impact on the environment. The textile industry contributes more greenhouse gas emissions than international flights and maritime shipping combined. Not only do cotton fibres take enormous amounts of water to grow, but chemicals contaminate even more water in the manufacturing process. In addition, most textiles are produced in countries with very poor working conditions and human rights standards. Therefore, we need to value our things more.
Sure, things wear out. But a lot of it is tossed because of changing fashions or because they were poorly cared for. And how many of you have decided to change the oil in your car while wearing your good jeans? Just a few minutes in the garden? A little touch up with paint?
Textiles are complex nowadays. Most clothing are blends of different types of fibres to improve overall performance. This is good, but it makes them considerably more difficult to recycle. In fact, reduction and reuse are the best approaches to lowering your textile footprint.
So, what else can we do? It’s pretty easy. Buy less and buy quality; buy clothes that you will enjoy wearing into the future (refrain from gifts of clothes, they’re personal); and make things last by caring for them. That is, by removing stains when they occur, following the care instructions on the label, washing them less often, hanging clothes to dry, and repairing items when needed (a stitch in time). But most importantly, go to https://wasteless.ca/textiles and view the Made-in-Lethbridge story for yourself.
SAGE is a leading voice for a healthy and sustainable community. For more information, visit our website at sage-environment.org
Oh, the wonderful things about green bins
Published in the Lethbridge Herald, April 22, 2021
Lethbridge residents: You and I produce a lot of garbage, more than the national average. But we don’t have to; half of what we dump into a giant hole next to the Oldman River north of town is useful organic material that could become compost.
But what’s the big deal? Why should you, dear citizen of Lethbridge, care about putting organic materials like banana peels or your lawn clippings into a big hole? The answer is the methane produced by landfills. Methane is a greenhouse gas 25X more warming than CO2. Landfills are a major source of air and water pollution.
Perhaps you are thinking: “I don’t care about global warming.” Well, even though we disagree on that point, we have great news! There are many other reasons to get behind composting that have nothing to do with climate change.
Are you an avid gardener, but tired of trips to the yard waste depot? Green carts can take most of your yard waste AND things from your kitchen that back yard composters can’t handle. Things like those turkey bones you made soup from after you ate turkey sandwiches for a month because nobody could come over for Thanksgiving because of COVID.
Do you know any farmers or gardeners? Maybe you are one. Compost contains loads of valuable nutrients like NPK (ask a farmer) and other things plants need and people pay for. It also contains carbon and bacteria that improve soils.
Do you hate how full your garbage cart is with alternating week pick-up? Or maybe you have space but you gag at the way it smells after 2 weeks in the summer sun? Green cart pick-up would be weekly all summer, and that extra space in the black bin would leave more room for garbage (kidding). Separated and ventilated organics in the green bin won’t make you retch. Rotting without oxygen smells… well… like farts, but rotting with oxygen smells like soil.
Maybe what does concern you is Lethbridge’s honour. You may recall that we were the last city our size in Canada to get curbside recycling. What is going on? This is a community of pioneers and trail-blazers. You want the best for this city and you think we should be at least as good as Calgary, Coaldale and even Taber (yep, all composting). Composting is so obvious, even the bureaucrats and politicians up in Edmonton are figuring it out. Now, hold onto your Stetson, even Red Deer is composting! If civic rivalries are big for you, you may be thinking: “Gosh-darn-it we are not going to be last again!”
Well, good news! The city has a plan ready to go that could have us composting in Lethbridge within 2 years. And there are still cities to beat! If we do this now, we can thumb our noses at those bumpkins in Regina and Winnipeg, tsk-tsking that they still throw organics into the dump.
It seems, now, that everybody has a reason to want a Green Cart. For more information on this topic, visit sage-environment.org. Get involved and have your say at the City about this program, https://lethbridgecipbudget.ethelo.net/page/waste.
City of Lethbridge Technical Briefing – Curbside Diversion Options, Link
City of Lethbridge Update: Residential Waste Diversion Strategy, Link
City of Lethbridge 2022-2031 Capital Improvement Program, Link
Waste Less Food
Published in The Lethbridge Herald
In Lethbridge, about half of the total residential waste going to the landfill is food and lawn cuttings. Of this, about a quarter is food waste, which is continuously sent to the landfill, while lawn cuttings are more seasonal (from April to October). In more measurable terms, Lethbridge sends about 100 tonnes of food each week to the landfill – that is about 1 kilogram per person each week[i]. Organics in the landfill contribute to methane emissions (a potent greenhouse gas), and the accumulation of toxic fluids in the landfill called leachate. But what makes this even worse is that the food you throw away also wastes resources, beginning in the sea or on the farm until it reaches your belly.
About one fifth of the food you buy ends up in the trash. Much of this food was edible at one time, some of it is discarded due to habit or personal taste (like bread crusts and potato skins), and some of it is simply not edible, like coffee grounds or eggshells. Of this wasted food, about 45% comes from fruit and vegetables – as they tend to spoil relatively quickly. Bread and bakery account for about 9%, and dairy and eggs about 7%. Uneaten leftovers account for 13% of the total food wasted in the home. And, though the amount of meat wasted is relatively small, it has a high impact on the environment due to the resources it takes to raise livestock.
Food wasted in the home costs you about $1700 each year, but it also costs our environment: wasting agricultural land to grow food that ends up wasted; using fresh water to grow the food; from the fertilizers that end up in the rivers causing huge aquatic dead zones worldwide; the herbicides and pesticides that disrupt soil ecosystems as well as affecting insects, birds and animals; and the energy used to package, transport and refrigerate before it arrives in your home. The State of Oregon has completed some interesting reports on the full life-cycle impacts of some foods[ii].
It is roughly seven times better for the environment to use all the food you buy than it is to compost the food you do throw away[iii]. But composting is the next best thing, as there are portions of the food you buy that simply cannot be used. Backyard composting is good, but municipal collection and industrial composting creates much better compost and can compost many things that are not suitable for backyard technologies. Reduce first, compost as a last resort.
There are a number of things you can to do reduce food waste in your home. For those who have shopped while hungry, you will know that planning your meals and buying only what you need for those meals is a good start. You can also improve your food preparation by using what you have in the refrigerator. Use more of the plant, from root to stem. And all of those scraps you generate can be saved to make soup stock for another meal.
Organize your fridge so that you can see the food that will spoil more quickly. Freeze food that you may not use right away or, when you have an abundance, you can preserve or dehydrate food to be used later. Best before and expiry dates are general suggestions from the food manufacturer. Do a sniff test, as it may still be good to use. If you are going to use a product right away, help your grocery store by buying the items on the shelf closer to the best before date. If you have purchased or grown too much food, consider donating it to a food charity while it is still good.
Most people are pretty good at eating what they buy, but it is amazing how much goes to the trash anyway. Throw a pot on you counter and toss in all of your food waste for a few days. Ask yourself if you could have used any of this food waste in another way. Make it a personal challenge to use as much as you can from the food you purchase. For a lot of good tips, tools, and resources, visit wasteless.ca
[i] Community Issues Committee, City of Lethbridge, October 7, 2019. Agenda package available online at www.lethbridge.ca
[ii] State of Oregon, Department of Environmental Quality, Environmental Footprints of Food (https://www.oregon.gov/deq/mm/food/Pages/Product-Category-Level-Footprints.aspx)
Environmental Working Group, Meat Eater’s Guide (https://www.ewg.org/meateatersguide/a-meat-eaters-guide-to-climate-change-health-what-you-eat-matters/)
[iii] State of Oregon, Department of Environmental Quality, Strategy for Preventing the Wasting of Food (https://www.oregon.gov/deq/mm/food/Pages/foodwastestrategy.aspx)
What to do with dog poo?
A stark sign of the coming of spring, after snow melts and before grass grows, is the dog poo appearing along sidewalks and trails in public spaces throughout Lethbridge. Walking pet dogs hasn’t stopped during the COVID-19 virus pandemic, in fact there are reports it has increased. There is no evidence that dogs can transmit the coronavirus and, provided physical distancing measures are practiced, it is one of the few leisure activities outside of the home that is considered safe during the pandemic. The daily exercise benefits both dogs and their human companions.
There is an estimated population of 11,000 to 12,000 pet dogs in Lethbridge. Together they generate approximately 1.4 million kilograms of waste a year given that on average one dog produces approximately one kilogram of poo every three days. Like human faeces, dog waste contains bacteria, protozoa, viruses and parasites that can pose risk to the health of people, other pets, and the environment. But unlike humans, dogs have not been trained to flush their waste to the municipal wastewater plant for treatment and safe disposal.
Many studies have traced bacteria in urban watersheds back to dog waste. Monitoring of Lethbridge storm water outfalls in 2000-2002 and 2012-2014 frequently found fecal coliforms at densities far exceeding standards for recreational and irrigation water.[6,7] Pets were identified as a potential source, as well as wild birds, humans and livestock. Defining specific sources of fecal coliforms in Lethbridge stormwater requires further study including investigating if the bacteria originates from feces directly or persists in biofilms and sediments.
Managing dog waste is a challenge for individual dog owners and the community at large. Lethbridge, like many municipalities in North America, has a Dog Control Bylaw requiring removal of your dog’s defecates from public property. However, enforcement effort in Lethbridge is minimal. Only eight fines were issued over a four-year period (2016-2019), all based on repeated complaints by disgruntled neighbours.
The large amount of dog waste collected from a river valley dog park in volunteer “doggy doo-doo pick-up” events (2017 and 2018) suggests some dog walkers knowingly violate the bylaw.
Responsible dog walkers are the majority, understanding the need to pick up their dog’s waste and making it a habit to carry plastic bags for that purpose. The City of Lethbridge effectively eliminates excuses about forgetting to bring bags by maintaining 203 doggie bag dispensers at popular dog walking spots stocked with approximately 600,000 doggie bags per year. Garbage receptacles are provided at dog parks and signs are posted reminding users to scoop the poop. These receptacles fill up quickly and are emptied regularly, even during a pandemic.
Most of the 1.4 million kilograms dog waste generated annually ends up in the municipal landfill, much of it individually wrapped in plastic bags. As it decomposes the dog poo emits methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Landfill methane is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the City of Lethbridge.
Poo in landfills can also lead to water contamination. Buried plastic bags do not degrade in anaerobic (devoid of oxygen) conditions even if certified as compostable.
Municipalities across Canada are looking at responsible ways to keep doggie doo out of their landfills. Metro Vancouver prohibits dog waste going to the landfill. At home, residents are encouraged to flush poo (unbagged) down the toilet, call a collection service, or build a backyard composter for only pet poo and use the compost on shrubs, not vegetables. In its parks the City of Vancouver is experimenting with septic tanks, dog litter boxes and bins picked up by private companies who separate the poo from the bag and send the plastic to an incinerator and the poo to the wastewater treatment plant.
Many municipalities with curbside organic waste pick-up programs (Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, Waterloo, Ottawa) accept pet waste in paper or certified compostable plastic bags and compost it in facilities designed to reach temperatures high enough to eliminate pathogens (55 C for three days). Waterloo is also working with a local company to put underground storage tanks in parks and convert the collected dog waste into fertilizer and electricity via anaerobic digestion.
In Lethbridge, the current conversation about implementing a residential green cart curbside pick-up program needs to include a holistic consideration of what to do with dog poo, at home and in public spaces. The current practice of depositing thousands of tonnes of dog waste, wrapped in plastic bags, into our landfill is unsustainable and will become even more so as our population grows, restrictions on methane emissions increase, and single-use plastic bags become increasingly unacceptable. As well the public health issue of un-scooped pet waste and its contribution to stormwater pollution begs investigation and enforcement. The health benefits provided by our canine companions, especially evident during this pandemic, must not translate into unacceptable community costs.
1. OIE World Organisation for Animal Health. 2020. Questions and Answers on the 2019 Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19). Accessed online 22/04/2020.
2. Lethbridge News Now. Jan 23, 2019. Lethbridge dog owners encouraged to renew licenses before months end to avoid fines. Accessed online 22/04/2020.
3. Clear Choices Clean Water. n.d. Frequently Asked Questions about Pet Waste.
4. Canadian Public Health Association. 2020. The scoop on poop. Accessed 23 April 2020. https://www.cpha.ca/scoop-poop
5. Municipal World March 2018. Dog Waste Dilemma – examining the problem and determining the solution. Accessed online 22/04/2020.
6. Saffran K. A. 2005. Oldman River Basin Water Quality Initiative: Surface Water Quality Summary Report: April 1998-March 2003.
7. Derksen J. et al. 2016. Lethbridge Storm Water Outfalls Monitoring Study: Microbiological, Pesticides and Nutrient Analysis (2012-2014). Report of the Oldman Watershed Council. Accessed online
8. City of Lethbridge. 2019. Response to a FOIP request to the City of Lethbridge by SAGE for information and statistics (2015-2019) on municipal efforts to monitor and enforce compliance with Section 7 of the Dog Control Bylaw regarding removing dog defecates from public property, and particularly from off-leash dog parks. Dog Control Bylaw
9. Chow L. et al. 2011. City of Lethbridge Corporate Greenhouse Gas Inventory. Department of Geography, University of Lethbridge. Accessed online.
10. MetroVancouver. 2020. What to do with dog poo. Accessed 23 April 2020.
11. Lovering K. 2018. Comparative Analysis of Dog Waste Processing Methods for Metro Vancouver. Accessed online.
12. Region of Waterloo. 2018. How to dispose of your pet waste. Accessed online.