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Go biodegradable in green bins group urges - Globe and Mail

Kenyon Wallace
December 29, 2007

Plastic bags have already been phased out of Durham recycling program

Toronto should follow the lead of Durham and Peel Regions, which require residents to use biodegradable bags instead of plastic bags in their green bin programs, a city environmental group says.

Franz Hartmann, executive director of the Toronto Environmental Alliance, said the use of cornstarch-based biodegradable bags in Toronto's five-year-old green bin program would be far more environmentally friendly than the regular plastic bags now permitted.

"Not only are you reducing the potential contamination of the organics by the plastic, you're also taking away another reason for people to use plastics in their daily lives," Mr. Hartmann said. "Toronto could certainly learn from what's happening in other jurisdictions, there's no doubt about that."

Peel Region began a green bin program in October requiring the use of biodegradable bags with the goal of diverting 70 per cent of waste from landfills by 2016. Durham Region - which includes the municipalities of Ajax, Oshawa, Pickering and Whitby - implemented its own green bin program in July of 2006 with the same requirements.

"We made a conscious decision to keep all plastics out of it, including plastic bags for bin liners," said Clifford Curtis, commissioner of works in Durham Region. "Our process is not as mechanically intensive as Toronto's. Ours is what you'd think of as more traditional composting."

Mr. Curtis said the use of biodegradable bags eliminates the need to separate waste and plastic mechanically - a process employed by Toronto.

Toronto's green bin program began in Etobicoke in September, 2002, in an effort to reduce organic waste shipped to Michigan. By 2005, the program had spread across the GTA with about 510,000 single-family households participating, according to city statistics.

Rob Orpin, director of collection services for the City of Toronto, explained that Toronto's green bin waste is mixed with water in a hydropulper, a machine that separates waste from plastic. The waste is then sent to storage tanks, where it decomposes into compost over several months, and the plastic is sent to city landfills.

Mr. Orpin estimates that 20 out of every 100 tonnes of organic waste collected through Toronto's green bin program are plastic. He said the program - which allows residents to deposit diapers and sanitary products into their green bins - was developed with convenience in mind. "Almost everybody has plastic bags in their house and the thought was to make it as easy as possible for people to use [the green bin program]," he said.

But because Toronto has only one processing plant capable of separating plastic from organic waste, only 25 per cent of the city's organic waste is processed within city limits, according to Councillor Shelley Carroll (Ward 33, Don Valley East). Much of the remaining waste is shipped to Quebec.

"One of the reasons we're going to Quebec is that Toronto's volume of organic waste is beyond what anyone predicted," Ms. Carroll said.

Studies of the Etobicoke and Scarborough green bin programs show each household annually diverts an average of 200 kilograms of organics from landfill.

Toronto is planning to build more organic-waste processing plants over the next several years, thereby reducing the number of trucks hauling waste to Quebec and lowering truck emissions, Ms. Carroll said.

Mr. Hartmann said Toronto should simply require biodegradable bags instead of purchasing more costly hydropulpers to remove plastic. He said Toronto residents would be willing to convert to biodegradable bags if they knew it would help the environment.

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