'Yuck factor' still hindering Ottawa's green bin efforts

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The city is expected to bring in a new strategy to increase recycling among residents to council early in 2018.

The city is expected to bring in a new strategy to increase recycling among residents to council early in 2018. (Alistair Steele/CBC)

Details of new strategy to boost organics recycling coming to council early next year

By Joanne Chianello, CBC News

Facing stagnant participation rates by residents put off by the "yuck factor" of dumping kitchen scraps in their green bins, the City of Ottawa is in talks with the company that handles household organic waste to look for ways to boost uptake in the expensive recycling program.

"We have a very productive relationship with Orgaworld and we have been talking about solutions," said Kevin Wylie, the general manager of public works. "That's something we hope to have an answer for early next year."

Wylie made the comments following a wide-ranging discussion at Tuesday's environment committee about waste diversion.

It was the committee's first deep dive into the subject during this term of council, a discussion prompted by a scathing report from Waste Watch Ottawa that called out the city for its poor diversion rate.

Ottawa lagging on waste diversion, group says

In 2016 Ottawa's diversion rate was 44 per cent, one of the lowest in the province. Only about half of eligible households used the green bin last year, and that's costing taxpayers money

Under the city's 20-year contract with Orgaworld, the city pays to process a minimum of 80,000 tonnes of organic waste. But the city has never reached that tonnage since the green bin program began in 2010.

In 2016, Ottawa sent 71,000 tonnes to Orgaworld's composting facility, costing taxpayers about $1 million in unused capacity.

'Yuck factor' still an issue

Councillors and staff both agreed that the "yuck factor" of throwing kitchen scraps into the green bin has likely held back many residents from participating in the organics recycling program. In the summer, for example, hot weather can lead to maggots in the bin, as well as unpleasant odours.

The city has spent $350,000 this year on education and outreach to encourage recycling.

"You can always do more education," Wylie said. "But at some point you've got to switch up the program and that's what we're going hopefully to be tabling in Q1 2018 ... a strategy to increase participation using the existing programs we have."

Giving residents the ability to put their organic waste in plastic bags before placing it in the green bin could increase diversion.

Coun. David Chernushenko said plastic bags aren't necessary in the green bin, "but it certainly makes it easier for more people."

However plastic bags currently aren't allowed under the Orgaworld contract, a detail that would have to be renegotiated. Legal disputes around the contract have so far prevented full-blown contract discussions.

As well, new provincial rules calling on producers to pay the costs of waste disposal and recycling — details of which are expected by the end of the year — will also affect the city's updated recycling strategy.

City urged to work faster on climate change strategy

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City councillors faced criticism from local environmental organizers who pointed to a lack of hard data in the city's plan to cut carbon emissions.

By Haley Ritchie, Metro

Winterlude could one day become waterlude if we don't move fast enough, according to one speaker urging city councillors to move faster on its climate change plan.

"Climate change is here, it's impacts are increasingly severe," said Coun. David Chernushenko, who kicked off Tuesday's environmental committee meeting with a global tally of flooding, wildfires and short winters.

"They're just as real here in Ottawa, where we have not yet seen anything close to the scale of the impacts on other places," he said.

Staff gave an update to councillors on the city's renewable energy strategy, including the $300,000 set aside last year for pilot projects meant to "increase energy conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy generation."

Most initiatives target the largest carbon emitters: buildings and vehicles. Many members of the public who spoke expressed concern that not enough was being done.

Angela Keller-Herzog, a small business owner living in downtown Ottawa, criticized the city's plan for lacking hard data and not providing incentives to individuals. Keller-Herzog said her bed and breakfast has solar panels and bicycles for guests.

"We shouldn't be complacent and we're not actually doing that great," she said.

Chernushenko called the crique "accurate and necessary."

Graham Saul from Ecology Ottawa echoed that criticism, concerned that the city wasn't moving fast enough to combat climate change.

"I'm seeing a real disconnect between what the community is looking for and what we're prepared to do," said Coun. Jeff Leiper.

"I know for real change to occur we need to set bold targets, finance those, measure them and report back. Those four steps help us to go forward," said Coun. Catherine McKenney. "Without any one of them it's easy to not meet what we want to meet."

Renewable energy strategy could be toothless and delayed, advocates worry

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Final report originally due last fall now slated for later this year

By Kate Porter, CBC News

The City of Ottawa's strategy to shift toward wasting less energy and using more renewable power was due last fall, but now environmental advocates worry concrete steps won't be laid out and funding won't even flow until after the 2018 municipal election.

The renewable energy strategy was made a priority for this term of council back in 2015 and the final report was due to be delivered by late 2016, but has now been pushed back to the end of this year.

On Tuesday, a staff update at the city's environment committee meeting presented residents with a glimpse of what to expect when the "energy evolution" report lands this fall, but Ecology Ottawa foresees more studies, no specific recommendations to change policies and therefore, no budget.

"I'm really worried about this process, and I really hope I'm wrong," Ecology Ottawa executive director Graham Saul told councillors at the meeting

He fears as this four-year council term ends, the issue will be "punted" to after the next municipal election in 2018 and a new crew of councillors.

"There's no sense of urgency," agreed Angela Keller-Herzog, who has spent thousands of dollars to install solar panels on her bed and breakfast.

"As a small business owner, I've done my part and I want the city to do its part."

Delays due to staff reorganization, broad consultation

The delay is partly due to a big staff reorganization and layoffs, said Coun. David Chernushenko, who chairs the environment committee.

The employee who was leading the renewable energy file has been shifted to a different role.

The process is further complicated because the city has been collaborating and holding meetings with some 100 people from dozens of local organizations — from developers and energy companies to school boards and government departments.

For instance, the chief financial officer of the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board attended Tuesday's meeting to praise the city for taking the lead

"This really had to be something that involved the city as a whole," said Chernushenko. "The City of Ottawa, the corporation, only consumes about 10 per cent of the energy and therefore emits about 10 per cent of the greenhouse gases of the city as a whole."

Chernushenko promised to push for the renewable energy report this fall to include as many specific recommendations as possible, and to argue that the plan receive money in the 2018 budget, "as tough a challenge as that's going to be."

Feds give money to cities to prepare for what climate change may bring

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Councillor says Ottawa's share of the $125 million in funding could go towards green city vehicles or retrofitting buildings.

By Ryan Tumilty, Metro

The federal government announced funding Thursday to help municipalities deal with rising flood waters, higher fuel costs and an increased risk of forest fires.

Split between two programs that will both be managed by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), the $125 million is meant to help municipalities do flood mapping and mitigation and to find ways to reduce green house gas emissions in their fleets.

“By enabling municipalities to plan, build and maintain their infrastructure most strategically, communities will be better positioned to make their infrastructure dollars go further with a lighter environmental footprint,” Minister Amarjeet Sohi said in announcing the funding.

Many Canadian big cities have started work on these kinds of programs, but Sohi said that some are further ahead than others and that this funding will help municipalities match their peers.  

FCM president Clark Somerville said municipalities manage most of the country’s infrastructure and they will have to deal with adapting it to a changing climate.

“They are also on the frontlines of climate change and must cope with increasingly extreme weather from floods to droughts to heavy rains and ice storms.” 

Ottawa Coun. David Chernushenko said there is a lot the city could use this new funding for.

“We’re particularly well placed with, if not detailed plans, than a strong list of priorities,” he said.

He noted the city has a climate-change strategy, with work already underway on renewable energy.

“Nobody wants us to suddenly just make things up because there is money being dangled.”

He said this funding could help move plans for replacing the city’s fleet with greener vehicles or adding more renewable power to buildings.

“Money like this could help to do that earlier and begin reaping those benefits.”