Composting is everybody’s business

In Whitehorse, businesses don’t compost. Not restaurants, not cafes, not hotels and not supermarkets.

In Whitehorse, businesses don’t compost.

Not restaurants, not cafes, not hotels and not supermarkets.

All that organic material is being tossed into dumpsters with other “garbage” and ends up in the city’s landfill.

And, while most homes that have the garbage picked up by the city have the option of composting bi-weekly, businesses and apartment buildings, which have their trash picked up by private haulers, do not.

That’s why the municipal government is developing a pilot program to pick up commercial compost and have it recycled, said Sabrina Schweiger, an environmental co-ordinator with the city.

“The college is going to start composting again, the federal building and the French association are doing it, and the schools also have a program, but there’s no other restaurants or businesses that do any kind of composting,” said Schweiger.

“There’s problems with pickup and collection, so we thought we would do a small-scale pilot project with some businesses in the downtown core to see whether composting on a commercial scale could be viable.

“We’re hoping to work out some of the bugs in the hopes that some commercial enterprise would be able to take it on and make it go citywide.”

Composting, for the uninitiated, is when things like food, cardboard boxes, soiled paper and yard waste are collected, broken down and then used much like fertilizer in gardens and other landscaping activities.

This is being done in major centres across the country and has been made mandatory for everyone, both citizens and businesses, in Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.

In Whitehorse, compost is taken to the city landfill, which has waived all tipping fees on organic waste.

The material is then processed by Raven Recycling, which lines it up in nine-metre-long, 2.4-metre-high rows, churns it, waits for it to break down, and then sells it.

The city’s commercial pilot project is still in its infancy. Names of the interested are being collected and a game plan is being drawn up, said Schweiger.

“Businesses that have expressed an interest in the past couple of years in terms of composting were contacted,” she said.

“They now have a questionnaire asking them several questions about how many employees they have, what sort of materials they produce, what volumes they produce and how it’s split up.

“Then, we will sit down with those businesses and the public works department and try to figure out which places would be suitable.”

Hauling commercial waste is normally not in the city’s jurisdiction, but the private waste haulers, McInroy Disposal and General Waste Management, have indicated they are not interested in hauling compost, she said.

Lorraine McInroy owns and runs the commercial-waste hauling business that bears her name.

The business has tried hauling compost, but it didn’t work so well, she said.

“We tried it one winter with the college. The only thing is, we just have our big garbage packers and they’re just not practical.”

Wet waste freezes and trucks have to be emptied of garbage before making a separate compost run. It’s expensive and time consuming.

McInroy would think about trying it again, but the business community would have to show some interest, she said.

That interest must include investment.

Dumpsters require a lot of space, are too expensive for the business to double up on at $1,200 a pop, and aren’t well suited for composting in -30 C weather, said McInroy.

“Composting would have to be done with a small vehicle, not the big garbage packers we have. You’d have to have a garbage packer, but one of the little small ones, the ones with the little arms on them, like the city has,” she said.

“They’re like $130,000, so I can’t buy one for just one customer.”

The city has been using its trucks to pick up compost and garbage for its bin project in Porter Creek.

Five hundred households in that subdivision were given wheelie bins, the ones used during the Canada Games. They just roll them out on garbage and compost days.

The test area has seen compost participation rise by 45 per cent, according to the city.

But, that’s residential.

There hasn’t been a lot of composting talk in the business community, said Rick Karp, president of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s never really been brought up.”

However, Whitehorse businesses are generally keen to help out with the environment. So, it could be a good opportunity, he said.

“If someone was interested in doing this, they should contact us so we could do the research and make a recommendation.”

As a business owner, he’s interested in helping, but he’d need to know some details, said Gordon Clark, the owner of Boston Pizza.

“We have 20, 30 or 40 pounds of vegetable scraps a day,” he said.

“It would be absolutely no trouble for us to put it in a separate bin.

“I guess I’d have to know what it would cost.”

The Riverside Grocery would also be interested, said owner Leona Common.

“It could definitely cut down on the amount of garbage.

“We recycle our own cardboard because the cost of having it picked up was very expensive. So, I think cost would be a factor.”

Cost is a factor, said Lewis Rifkind, of Raven Recycling.

He used to run a composting business — Recycling Organics Together — using a pickup truck, and he knows firsthand some of the pitfalls.

“The labour costs are quite high,” he said.

“What you want is a truck that is automated.”

Pickup is also an issue as most restaurants produce most of their organic waste on Friday and Saturday nights, he said.

“If you don’t have a pickup until Monday morning, things can get pretty ripe.”

But, if it can be done, it’s worth it because pushing less waste into the landfill is good for the environment, said Rifkind.

Mayor Bev Buckway agrees.

Diverting waste from the landfill is necessary, for the environment and for the longevity of the dump, she said.

“Compostable and recyclable material should not be going in the landfill.

“It’s the way we have to go to keep our landfill viable as long as possible.”

Representatives of General Waste Management could not be reached for comment.