The City of Nelson has chosen Fairview as the location of its organic waste diversion pilot.
In mid-March, the city will hold an official launch and distribute 1,600 free countertop appliances free to Fairview residents and to residences in other parts of town that have volunteered during the past few months as early adopters.
There are so far about 600 early adopters, according to Emily Mask, the city’s co-ordinator of the program.
Fairview, for this purpose, means the area of the city that receives Friday garbage and recycling pickup.
The countertop appliance will grind and dehydrate food scraps, reducing its volume and weight by about 90 per cent.
The resulting nearly odourless residue, which the city refers to as a “soil amendment,” can be put in a garden or compost, or placed in one of two neighbourhood receptacle to be picked up by city waste collection crews.
When the devices are ready to be picked up, residents will be notified, and home deliveries will be made to people with mobility restrictions or no car. In either case, upon delivery, the city will provide a short in-person training course on how to use the device.
The brand name of the appliance is FoodCycler, produced by an Ottawa company, Food Cycle Science. A manufacturer’s description of how the FoodCycler works can be found at https://bit.ly/3TWvQxA.
Mask says she expects everyone will want a FoodCycler because it’s an effective way of dealing with organic waste. But if there are people who are not interested, she says, she wants to hear their reasons.
“We’ll definitely be learning from our residents,” she said. “The goal is to have 100 per cent uptake in the pilot neighbourhoods, so (we want to) work with those who are hesitant, because the goal is to obviously to divert as much waste as possible.”
The cost of hauling “wet waste”
The program is part of a regional organic waste collection program run by the Regional District of Central Kootenay that will see organic waste collected and transported to a composting site near Salmo. In 2020, the City of Nelson decided to diverge from the RDCK plan with its countertop kitchen waste project.
Compostable waste generally makes up 40 per cent of total household waste. The city’s rationale for this new program is that organic waste when collected curbside, whether included in regular garbage or separated from it, attracts bears and rats, costs money to haul and creates greenhouse gases in the landfill.
During the pilot, Mask says, the city will be evaluating the social, environmental, technical and financial benefits of the program.
“We’re going to see how well it’s working for residents: is it making waste management easier for people, are there any technical issues, is it financially worth it for our residents?”
She said she will be connecting with a variety of community groups to get feedback.
“I feel like the success of the program will depend on how much we really let people be heard.”
The Fairview pilot period will last a year. Then the city will decide whether to extend it to the rest of the city, based on its evaluation of the pilot.
Drop-off locations and apartment buildings
If and when the project is eventually rolled out city-wide in 2024, residents will be provided with a special container in which to put the residue at curbside for pick-up. But for the Fairview pilot, residents will be asked to deliver it to one of two drop-off locations in the city. One will be at the public works yard near the airport, and the other, not announced yet, will be a convenient location in Fairview, according to Mask.
Instead of dropping it off, residents can also use the soil amendment as fertilizer for plants or gardens, and Mask says the city might use it as fertilizer in city parks and gardens.
Apartment building residents are so far not eligible for the organics program because their waste is not picked up by the city but Waste Management , that collects from businesses and institutions.
But Mask says the city will also be running a small version of the pilot in an as-yet-unidentified Fairview apartment building.
Several B.C. municipalities and regional districts — comprising more than 60 per cent of the population — have large-scale composting programs in place and have banned organic waste from landfills, and it is a provincial goal to divert all household waste from landfills by 2030.
Mask says Nelson is the first municipality in the country to undertake a countertop organics program of this size, although there are others exploring it and she gets many calls from other municipalities because Nelson is seen as a leader.
The cost of waste
The cost of the purchase of 1,600 appliances and the administration of the program is $1,061,440.
The city has received grant funding of $682,720. The remaining $378,720 will come from the city’s funds held in reserve for recycling and-or equipment.
At a city budget meeting on Dec. 8, chief financial officer Chris Jury explained the increases in the annual waste tax and garbage bag tags over the past few years.
Since 2019 the annual waste fee on residents’ property tax bill was $40 and has since gone up to $100 to cover the cost of household recycling bins and then the countertop organics program. The fee might go up again in 2024 once that program rolls out city-wide.
In 2019 the cost of a garbage tag fee was $1.50, which has since increased to its current $1.75. That fee helps to cover the cost to the city of taking garbage to the transfer station at Grohman.
Jury said one function of the increased annual fee is to build up a reserve for future expenses.
City manager Kevin Cormack said the city cannot enter an additional category of waste collection (organic waste) without increasing costs, at least in the short term.
He pointed out that although the FoodCyclers have a seven-year warranty, they will have to be replaced eventually and reserve funds will have to be built over time for that. He said the city will also need to purchase bear-proof curbside bins for organic waste when the program is rolled to the whole city.
“So as soon as you go to organics you are doubling your costs quite easily,” he said.
Councillor Rik Logtenberg said the message should be that eventually we will all produce less waste so all these costs will go down, adding that ideally people who waste less should pay less.
He said the amount residents pay to deal with waste are actually a fraction of the total cost because many costs are externalized or hidden, including the damage caused by the greenhouse gases produced from our waste and from the consumption that produced the waste.
“If we were to actually do some cost accounting for this, your fees might be hundreds of dollars a bag as opposed $1.75,” he said.