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Organics close to home – a Winnipeg perspective

If you’ve been to a sustainability conference in the last year, you’ll agree that food waste is often the “topic du jour”. My fascination with organics management really took off after I had the opportunity to hear Jen Rustemeyer & Grant Baldwin present at the Washington State Recycling Conference in 2014. They produced and directed “Just Eat It” a documentary that asks the questions:

“Why are we throwing over 40% of our food in the garbage?”
“How much of it is edible?”

These aren’t easy questions to answer but I was sure that I wanted to be a part of the solution so this week I attended the City of Winnipeg’s Organics Diversion Strategy Symposium. Here’s the symposium synopsis:

Winnipeg – How are we doing?

  • 29.7% diversion rate (2014)
  • 100 years of life remaining in city’s landfill
  • Weekly curbside garbage collection (64 gallon cart)
  • Weekly curbside recycling collection (64 gallon cart)
  • Bi-weekly yard trimmings collection from April to November (any type of container other than plastic bag)

Best practices

Janine Ralph, Senior Environmental Planning Manager, HDR Consulting was one of three panelists that participated. She was involved in the establishment of the first municipal curbside collection programs in Ontario in 2000. The most surprising statistic from her presentation was that 27% of Canadian households have access to curbside collection programs for kitchen scraps and other organic materials (as of 2011).

In her experience, she felt that the following considerations were best practices when it came to introducing a municipal curbside organics collection program:

  • Organic disposal bans
  • Weekly organics collection
  • Bi-weekly garbage collection
  • Allow the use of liner bags
  • Allow for all food waste & compostable paper fibre
  • Provide containers (kitchen and curbside)

Winnipeg Organics Symposium

The voice of the people

The most interesting part of the symposium actually had nothing to do with organics. The City had provided each attendee with a handheld voting device so they could be “part of the presentation”. We were asked several questions, and once everyone had a chance to submit their vote, the results were tallied (real-time) and charted on the screen for everyone to see.

In addition to asking us questions to make sure we were paying attention, the presenters asked the crowd about their interest in the topic:

  • 53% of attendees currently use a backyard composter
  • 86% strongly agree that more organics should be diverted

After the speakers had completed their presentations, we broke out into groups to discuss ideas and concerns about the City’s organics management plan. Here were some of the highlights:

  • Don’t try to re-invent the bicycle! Learn from other local governments, where successful recycling and re-using programs are already in place.
  • Attendees are frustrated with how long it’s taking our city to decide on a plan
  • Attendees do not like that Winnipeg is trailing behind other large Canadian cities
  • It is critical that multi-family property organics management is factored into the plan
  • Commercial and industrial organics management should be included in the strategy – they are large generators and shouldn’t be an
  • The City needs to present a firm timeline for the plan


What’s next?

The City has promised to provide an update on the next steps, so we’ll have to wait and see. Until then, if you missed the symposium and want to check it out, you can watch it below: