Are Green Bins Always the Best Solution for Food Waste?

Cities across North America, and particularly in Canada, are seeing the benefits of food waste management systems. The standard answer to a municipality's food waste problem is almost always organic waste collection (or "green bin" services).


What Is A Green Bin Service?


A green bin service is a waste management system where residents receive a bin or cart from the municipality or affiliated provider and use it to collect their household food waste, much as they do regular trash receptacles. Some programs allow yard waste to be collected either in the same bin as the food waste, or in separate bins - it all depends on where the material is going.


Green bins are usually put out with garbage cans and recycling on waste collection days, and are picked up by collection trucks. Organic waste is then sent to a processing facility where it is either composted or anaerobically digested.


While organics diversion incentives like green bin services are far superior to sending organic waste to landfills, there are certain challenges to green bin services of which we should all be aware:


The Challenges with Green Bin Collection




Pests & Pets


Green bin odours attract unwanted visitors such as bears, raccoons, and vermin. Setting the bin out the morning of collection (vs. the night before) may help mitigate the amount of visitors. While most green bins do lock, animals are notoriously good at finding their way in. Further, lockable waste bins carry a hefty price tag!




Heavy To Haul


Green bins full of food waste are heavy and most programs require the bin to be brought to the curb. This is not suitable for all demographics, especially some older residents and for those who are differently-abled. This becomes a greater problem in winter when ice accumulation freezes the bin in place, and even more difficult to handle.


Did You Know?


Food waste is composed of ~90% water - which is why it's so heavy!

The weight of food waste is also one of the reasons that waste management systems are such a considerable expense to Cities (and their taxpayers). Up to 50% of household waste is composed of food waste, which in turn is composed of 90% water. Waste collection is often billed to the municipality per tonne and food waste accounts for a large portion of that expense (even if its a smaller part of the volume).




Contamination


With the use of a green bin, homeowners still require a kitchen compost bin, often paired with the use of a collection bags. This is an ongoing cost to homeowners. Additionally, the bags are a contaminant that are difficult for many compost facilities to handle.


Many cities (such as Ottawa, where FoodCycler is located) allow residents to use plastic bags that are then screened out of incoming material. This screening isn't perfect and increases contamination. Even if homeowners use biodegradable bags, standards vary and many bags will not fully break down during processing.


Pro Tip:


Paper bags or newspaper lining are the safest for collecting waste before it's added to the green bin!

Some processing centres have been retrofitted to be able to open plastic bags to access the waste within: however, the plastic bags are then sent to landfill instead of recycled. This process isn't perfect and significantly increases contamination.



Hidden Costs, Hidden Labour


Green bins take up space on your property, and by-laws may require homeowners to purchase or build a storage option, further increasing costs to homeowners.


Green bins are made of durable plastic, but they are still prone to damage. This is especially true during collection in the winter when the food waste freezes. Replacement fees may be passed on to homeowners.


Further, broken green bins can be sent for recycling, but - given the likelihood of contamination from food waste residue, and the fact that the recycling process further damages the bin's plastic polymers - the bins can often end up in the landfill anyways.


Finally: green bins are also notoriously smelly. They require frequent cleaning by homeowners.


Sources: BioCycle, Hear Life Well

Risky Business


Finally, green bin collection means yet another waste collection vehicle is out in the streets of your community:


  • Collection service is noisy and often early in the morning

  • With any service, missed pickups or service failures do occur

  • Collection must be frequent to keep unpleasant odours under control

  • Collection vehicles emit GHGs harmful the environment

  • Finally, waste collection is dangerous to your patrons and pedestrians! Did you know that refuse and recyclable material collectors have one of the most dangerous jobs in the world? In 2020, it was the 5th most dangerous industry in the United States.



Final Thoughts


Despite these challenges, green bins have been generally successful and helped many municipalities significantly reduce the amount of waste headed to landfill. However, adoption rates in many jurisdictions are still below targets as not all residents choose to participate. The multi-residential sector also presents challenges for organics collection.


Here at FoodCycler, we believe everybody should have access to an organics diversion system that works for them. Pre-treating your food waste with a FoodCycler can reduce the yuck, weight, and pests and make a green bin much more pleasant to use and thus boost overall adoption rates. Contact our municipal team at municipal@foodcycler.com to learn how our solutions can increase green bin participation rates.


If you're using a green bin today, please keep using it as it is an effective tool in reducing your waste and carbon footprint. And if you can, try to limit the amount of plastic bags that go into it.




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