by Theresa Peluso
How things have changed for the better! When my husband and I moved to Mississippi Mills in 2004, I was appalled by the Town’s token recycling program. At that time, the only items collected at the curb were newsprint, letter paper, cardboard, glass, metal, and small-mouth no. 1 and no. 2 plastic. Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of the Ontario government, municipal staff, and Mississippi Mills’ Environmental Advisory Committee, the level of recycling has improved. Many of us are delighted with Mississippi Mills’ new recycling program, which now includes not only paper, cardboard, metal and glass food containers, but also all plastic food containers, gable-top cartons (e.g., milk cartons), spiral-wound containers (e.g., frozen-juice cans) and tetrapaks (e.g., drinking boxes). Furthermore, we now have all kinds of Take-It-Back programs (with links provided by the Town’s website), and an electronics-waste depot not far from the Town.
Cory Smith, a technologist with the Town of Mississippi Mills Roads and Public Works, gladly agreed to meet with me over a coffee one morning to answer my many questions about waste collection in Mississippi Mills.
First of all, a few words about Cory’s background. Cory, who joined the Town staff in 2009, has many responsibilities, of which one is waste diversion. Cory’s educational background is in environmental geotechnical engineering, and his experience, prior to joining our Town staff, involved monitoring contaminated sites, waste collection systems, foundation design, planning and development, environmental compliance, and collection contracts. This made him the perfect choice for his current job, which includes garbage collection issues, including contracts, landfill programs and diversion programs.
Please read on for Cory’s answers to my questions.
1. What was the total amount of garbage (both recycled and landfill) produced by Mississippi Mills residents in 2008? 2011? Also, what percentage of the total amount of garbage was diverted?
In 2008, the amount of garbage sent to landfill was 4,020 tonnes. (Please note that all waste is calculated in terms of mass, not volume.) In 2011, it was 3,313 tonnes, even though the municipality’s population had increased by about 500 households. Furthermore, the total amount of waste generated (including both landfill and recycled waste), had also decreased over the three years from 5,115 tonnes in 2008 to 4,946 tonnes in 2011. In other words, the amount of total waste generated by each person decreased from 434 kg/year to 384.66 kg/year. This indicates people’s increasing awareness of the problem of excess garbage, and more prudent purchases (buying items that last, holding onto items longer).
2. What would be the cost of garbage collection this year with no waste diversion at all? Also, what would the cost be if we recycled everything we could under the new program?
Because the end-markets for recyclable waste are in a constant state of flux, it isn’t possible to give a definite answer. What we do know is that in 2012 the Town made $109,600 to offset the cost of the recycling program. That year, the net cost for the residential blue box collection was $269,078. These revenues can be increased if residents take the time to make sure all the recyclable items are free of food particles, and to remove labels from cans, so as not to contaminate the recycling process.
So far, for the two months that the new waste diversion has been in effect, there has been an 11% increase over last year, for the months of June and July. There is not enough data to determine the next steps. Mississippi Mills has sold more blue boxes recently, and more blue boxes are being set out at the curb, which indicates that people are serious about increasing the amount of garbage they recycle.
3. How did Mississippi Mills compare with other municipalities in 2011 in terms of diversion of residential waste?
A provincial audit of waste diversion was carried out for all municipalities in Ontario in 2011. Mississippi Mills, which was grouped with 65 similar municipalities (classified as “southern rural”) was ranked 27th in the group. However, our score was almost identical to the score for 7 municipalities ranked above Mississippi Mills. Consequently, we could consider ourselves as ranking in the top third. It is important to keep in mind that Mississippi Mills’ waste diversion program was limited by our previous contract (curbside collection of 1 and 2 plastic only, plus paper, cardboard, metal and glass, plus 3-7 plastic collection at the Pakenham and Howie Road depots).
With the new waste diversion program we will do even better. To achieve a top ranking, we would need to include an organics diversion program. The Town of Perth has been diverting organics through a curbside collection program for the last few years. Various audits have determined that about 30-35% of the waste stream consists of organics. In the 2011 audit, Mississippi Mills’ waste diversion record was 33% versus Perth’s, which was 55%. Based on the organics diversion rate that Perth had in 2011, Mississippi Mills could have achieved a diversion rate of 53 to 58%!
4. What is Mississippi Mills’ waste diversion target? What needs to be done to meet it?
Our target is 60%, but to meet this target, we need to expand our waste diversion program to include organics.
5. Can you provide information on what percentage of organic waste is currently being composted by residents?
Not really. A rough guess, based on provincial figures, is about 2 to 3%.
6. What percentage of Mississippi Mills’ residential waste consists of styrofoam and plastic bags? Would it be possible to expand our program to include these materials, as is the case in Arnprior? (Arnprior has a recycling program with Beaumen Waste Management that includes most plastic bags and most styrofoam.)
I can’t give an exact number for Mississippi Mills; however, I have taken our curbside audit and applied the provincially accepted rate for recyclable film plastic to the audit. This would indicate that approximately 0.96% of Mississippi Mills’ total waste would be recyclable film plastic. I have done the same for styrofoam, and it would be approximately 0.51% of our total waste steam.
Because waste collection targets are measured in units of mass, and not volume, waste such as plastic bags and styrofoam, which have a negligible mass, are not considered prime targets for a recycling program. Furthermore, they are often contaminated with food particles and are difficult to clean. To make matters even more complicated, there are different types of plastic bags and styrofoam, some of which are easier to recycle than others. Ensuring that residents understand and follow all these rules and exceptions is not an easy task. In addition, sorting plastic bags and styrofoam can be problematic in automated processes, which our new recycling contractor, Matrec, provides. (Beaumen hand-sorts its recyclables.)
Rather than have the Town take responsibility for recycling plastic bags and styrofoam, it would be more cost effective for the community to take responsibility for these materials. Retail outlets can provide alternatives, such as cardboard boxes, or bins where people can deposit their used bags for re-use by other customers. Customers can make sure to always bring a re-usable bin or bag with them when shopping, and avoid purchasing items with excess packaging.
Our current waste collection contract is for 7 years, but the Town has the option of making additions and deletions to the contract. It must be noted that alterations to the contract may affect the contract price. At present, Mississippi Mills staff have been exploring new options for the waste diversion program, keeping in mind that they need to use municipal funds as effectively as possible.
7. What about institutional, commercial and construction waste? Does Mississippi Mills’ contract include collection of this waste?
The Town collects waste from smaller institutions, such as mom-and-pop businesses, which can manage with a weekly garbage collection. However, the Town does not collect cardboard for these establishments at the curb. Larger businesses have private contracts to accommodate the huge volume of waste that they generate.
8. Is the provincial government of Ontario supporting Mississippi Mills’ efforts to reduce the amount of waste it sends to landfill? How?
(Explanatory note: In 2002, Waste Diversion Ontario (WDO) was created through the Waste Diversion Act as a non-crown corporation. WDO is funded by Industry Funding Organizations (IFOs) who are responsible for operating the programs. IFOs in turn are funded by the industry whose products are being diverted from Ontario landfills. WDO provides oversight for the development, implementation, and operation of diversion programs for waste designated by the Minister of the Environment.)
WDO, by means of its Continuous Improvement Fund, provides funding to municipalities and waste partners to develop effective recycling strategies. The CIF Funding received by the Town has gone to promotion and education programs, the development of a Waste Recycling Strategy, as well as staff training. Two staff members of the Town are certified Recycling Contracts Managers.
9. What can be done, besides fully participating in our new waste diversion program, to reduce the amount of landfill produced by Mississippi Mills residents?
I think the residents are doing a great job on their own, making responsible choices in their purchases and using great diversion facilities, such as the Hub and Rebound, to reduce the load on the system. In addition to what is already being done, a conscious effort to deal with our household organics needs to be made.
Isn’t it great news that Mississippi Mills’ residents are, by and large, highly committed to minimizing the amount of garbage they produce? Great news for our natural environment, and for our children and grandchildren. It takes intelligent, foresightful elected officials, highly competent staff, and committed citizens, all working together, to make this happen. Of course, we can always improve on the status quo, and we must, but we should also take the time to congratulate ourselves on our achievements.