Winnipeg compost program gets green thumbs up in city report

Winnipeg households could have a new green bin to roll out alongside their blue and black ones — but not for a while.

A long-awaited report, which is set to go to a City of Winnipeg committee next week, recommends moving forward with a citywide curbside composting program, though it may not begin this decade.

A permanent program would be good news for Linda Zhou, who was part of a pilot project that tested curbside compost pickup in five Winnipeg neighbourhoods from 2020 to 2022.

She loves to prepare dried apple slices and other produce from the backyard of her Linden Ridge home, but with three apple trees and a garden, she has a lot of food waste — which is why she was glad to be part of the pilot project.

“I care a lot about the environment, and I personally just feel good when I see a lot of the waste is going to the [compost] bin instead of generating those emissions,” she said.

The city estimates organic waste makes up about half of all residential garbage taken to the landfill, where it breaks down and turns into methane — a major contributor to climate change.

Winnipeg is now one of the few large cities in Canada without a curbside composting program.

Under the proposed program, each household would receive a 120-litre green cart and a seven-litre kitchen pail to collect fruits and vegetables, meat, bones, dairy, paper towels, tissues, and soiled cardboard boxes. Pet waste and diapers would not be part of the composting program.

The report doesn’t specify what the city would do with the compost material once it’s finished processing. Other cities have sold it or given it away.

The city expects to collect up to 42,000 tonnes of compostable waste per year with the green bins.

Waste fees would rise

However, before the program could start, the city would have to build a facility to process that material. The report recommends finding a private contractor to build and operate the facility, rather than the city building one itself.

The target date to start the program is 2030.

The program would also come at a cost. Currently, the city’s waste diversion fee for residents is $69.46. The report recommends an increase of $8 per year starting in 2024 to purchase and manage the green carts and pails. That increase would rise to $96 by 2030 to pay for operational costs, as well as capital borrowing costs.

Coun. Brian Mayes, who chairs the city’s water and waste committee, has concerns about those fees and the long timeline.

“I’m not sure that’ll survive,” he told reporters at city hall on Friday.

“I don’t think [the fee increase is] shocking or out of line. I’m not going to minimize it — it’s bigger than an annual property tax increase. But I think we gotta get going on this.”

Mayor Scott Gillingham also said the timeline and fees need to be reduced, possibly with help from other levels of government.

“Diverting food waste from the landfill meets environmental goals,” he said to reporters.

“Provincial governments, federal governments and the City of Winnipeg all have environmental goals. And so I would look forward to having the discussion with any future provincial government about the possibility of participating in this program.”

The report will be debated at a water and waste committee meeting next Friday, and any decision on the program would still need council approval.

Businesses, apartments not included

The city program wouldn’t include businesses or people living in apartments — but enterprises like Compost Winnipeg are available for that.

“It’s a great place to start and a fantastic way to start educating people and putting it in their hands,” said Karrie Blackburn, the sales and customer service lead for Compost Winnipeg, an initiative of the non-profit Green Action Centre that provides compost pickup for a fee.

Although a city program would supplant Compost Winnipeg’s business for single-family residences, Blackburn says the mission of the city and her organization are “100 per cent the same.”

Zhou hopes the city moves ahead with the plan for a permanent program.

“I also talked to some of my neighbours after the pilot program. They really wish it to continue as well, because they realize how much food waste they can divert from the landfill,” she said.

She also hopes “political will” will speed up the rollout of the program.

“It shouldn’t take that long, and this should really be a little hanging fruit.”