From April to June, 151 Nelson area residents used a counter-top machine to process their household organic waste.
The FoodCycler does not actually compost organic material, but turns it into a soil amendment by grinding and dehydrating it. The resulting material can then be added to garden soil or to compost.
The pilot project was part of the city’s lead-up to the Regional District of Central Kootenay’s plan for curbside organic waste collection expected to come into effect in Nelson in 2022. Under that plan, organic waste will be collected at curbside and taken to the former landfill site near Salmo for processing.
Last year when council decided to join the program, it resolved to “explore the opportunity for residents to opt out of curbside collection of organics waste on the condition that they participate in an approved alternative organics diversion strategy.”
The FoodCycler is one such potential alternative, hence the pilot project.
To recruit participants for the pilot, the city reached out to people who had enrolled in its EcoSave program and subscribers in the solar garden. City councillors and staff also participated.
The results presented by city staff member Ginger Lester at council’s July 20 meeting included:
• Overall, participants gave the FoodCycler a rating of 4.4 out of 5, and 83 per cent said they would recommend it to others. Of the remaining 17 per cent, only one person said they would not recommend it.
• Most participants joined because they wanted to reduce wildlife and pests attracted by backyard composters and by garbage.
• The 151 participants processed a total of 30,000 litres of food waste, or 15 tonnes.
• Thirty nine per cent said they reduced their garbage tag use, for a total of 187 bags saved.
• Seventy one per cent mixed the soil amendment into their garden or into their compost.
• Problems identified were noise, odour, and capacity (33 per cent), no problems (52 per cent) and other (14 per cent).
• Average daily result was 1.1 buckets (2.5 litres) per household.
Presenting the results, Lester explained throughout the pilot project the participants formed a Facebook group, took part in a ThoughtExchange process (structured online discussion) and a survey.
“They were a very engaged group,” Lester said. “I was really impressed with the feedback we got all along. Positive or negative, we heard it all.”
She said the two predominant themes were positive: the simplicity of the unit and the amount of waste that was being reduced.
The city got a discounted price from the manufacturer that allowed sale of the units to the pilot group for $250 plus taxes. From there, the city gave a $125 rebate to all who did all the requirements such as tracking and answering surveys.
So far the city has paid out 147 rebates, which amounts to $18,375.
In the future, potentially the units could be offered for discounted sale to residents for $250 to $280 plus taxes. But no decision was made at the meeting as to whether the city will proceed with this.
The issue of comparative greenhouse gas emissions for organic waste processing is complex because it must take into account transport of organic materials as well as the transport and manufacture of technology.
Alex Hayman, representing the manufacturer of the FoodCycler, presented the following information to council on greenhouse gases. These numbers do not include the footprint of transporting the material to the processing site.
• C02 to produce and ship FoodCycler unit and four filters to Nelson: 122 kg (worst case scenario, depending on transportation routes, is 275 kg)
• Co2 diverted from landfill annually with one FoodCycler unit: 280 kg
• Net saving (280 minus 122): 158 kg (worst case is break even)
• Central composting produces approximately 150 kg of CO2 per tonne of food waste, not including transport
• FoodCycler produces about 71 kg of CO2 per tonne of food waste, from the manufacture and shipping of the machine.
Nelson’s Low-Carbon Path to 2040, written in 2011, envisions Nelson as a zero waste city, and reducing organic waste is one of the goals of the plan.
Reduction of organic waste in landfills is also a goal of the provincial government, which estimates that 40 per cent of material currently dumped in landfills could be composted.
As organic material decomposes in landfills it generates greenhouse gases, which increase global warming and contribute to climate change.
Placing organic material in household garbage is prohibited in three regions in B.C.: the Capital Regional District (Victoria), Greater Vancouver, and the City of Nanaimo.
This article was altered on July 28 to add the paragraphs about the cost of the units for residents during the pilot.