Piles of compostable material at the Whitehorse waste management facility. An organic collection program, which serves domestic residents of the city, has been expanded to include all food-based businesses. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)

City makes organic waste collection mandatory for Whitehorse businesses

“What we’ve been hearing is, ‘oh great, you’ve finally brought us a green cart,’ not, ‘You suck, now I have to do this thing.’”

The City of Whitehorse is working to be just a little bit greener.

The organic collection program – better known colloquially as “the green cart” program – which serves domestic residents of the city has been expanded to include all food-based businesses.

The program was made mandatory in March 2018, when city council passed the waste management bylaw. There was a delay in when the city could actually begin providing the service, said Geoff Quinsey, manager of waste and water services, because there were a lot of extra things that needed to be done, like acquiring more green carts and getting another truck to haul all the organic waste away.

Now that they’re ready to go, the city is rolling out the program in sections, he said, starting at the outskirts of the city, with businesses along the Alaska Highway. The program will start moving into the inner regions of the city in late March and then expand into the downtown core – where pick up becomes the most complicated – sometime in the summer, said Quinsey.

If everything goes according to plan, multi-family residences, such as apartment buildings and condo complexes, will have service by 2020, although if things go well it might even happen sooner than that.

“We won’t delay (service) if things are proceeding smoothly,” he said.

Around 100 businesses were already involved in a commercial organics program which launched as a pilot project in 2014.

The city has made it a goal to divert 50 per cent of the solid waste currently heading to landfills. Organic waste currently makes up 23 per cent of our garbage, said Sarah Preiksaitis, environmental coordinator with the city.

Diverting organic waste from landfill is especially important because of the way it gets handled, she said. Organic waste just gets piled in with everything else, buried under mounds of other trash which is not biodegradable, causing it to rot and break down anaerobically – without oxygen – which produces methane gas, an emission which contributes to global warming.

When organic waste is collected and allowed to compost aerobically – with oxygen – it not only drastically reduces these methane emissions but allows the food waste to be reused for gardening landscaping. The city sells bags of compost made from collected organic waste, which means gardeners can grow more and better food without buying compost trucked up from down south, which also adds to a person’s carbon footprint.

The city expects to collect an extra 1,000 tonnes of organic compost a year by the time the program is fully in place, said Preiksaitis.

Removing all that extra methane from the environment will reduce emissions by the equivalent of what four Canada Games Centres produce each year, Quinsey added.

The definition of a food-based business is pretty broad, said Quinsey, and includes not only restaurants and grocery stores, but any business that creates food waste for commercial purposes, like a school cafeteria or a hotel with room service – basically if you sell or handle food at your business, you’re included in the organic waste collection program.

The service, provided by the city, will cost $35 per green bin a month, plus an additional $30 a month for every extra green bin a business needs, said Preiksaitis. There’s also a dumpster program for businesses who produce a lot of food waste.

While even domestic residents are “supposed” to be using the green bin program according to the bylaw, it’s not like anyone is going through your trash to make sure you’re composting your cantaloupe rinds, which begs the question of how the city is going to enforce this mandatory practice.

Enforcement will rely on education and voluntary participation, not fines, says Quinsey. Loads are checked at the “backend” of waste pick up, meaning they are dumped out at the waste management facility and sight-checked for contaminants, such as plastics.

If they find loads are unacceptably contaminated, they will focus on upping their education and approaching businesses with educational materials where they can be identified. If they find this friendly approach isn’t working, however, Quinsey said the program would approach council to find a method of enforcement with “more teeth.”

Quinsey said that while they want everyone to comply as much as possible with the program, they want to make it as easy as possible for businesses – especially large food waste producers like grocery stores – to participate.

“While I think it will require some businesses to build new habits, I think (the program) is a positive thing,” said Colette Acheson, executive director of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce.

“The chamber is interested in supporting the city… and helping teach businesses how to make this as smooth a transition as possible.”

Although it means changes for how some businesses handle their food waste, Quinsey said, the reaction to the program from businesses has been largely positive.

“What we’ve been hearing is, ‘oh great, you’ve finally brought us a green cart,’” he said. “Not, ‘You suck, now I have to do this thing.’”

With files from Amy Kenny

Contact Lori Fox at lori.fox@yukon-news.com

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