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Every Sarnia kitchen might soon have a compost bucket

Published on

Cathy Dobson

Big changes are coming in the way household waste is handled in Ontario, and Sarnia officials are concerned local taxpayers will be stuck with the bill.

The new Waste-Free Ontario Act is expected to make it mandatory for residents to separate food and other organics from the waste stream.

“It is coming,” said Shawn Unsworth, purchasing manager with Sarnia’s finance department.

“It’s a lot of change and I am very concerned about the economic impact. We are a small city and the costs of dealing with organics are significant.”

Separating food waste could mean providing each home and food-related business with an indoor container for collection, a second lockable container to store food waste outdoors, and frequent curbside collection to keep animals and odours at bay.

Another major cost is finding someplace to locate a massive compost centre.

Sarnia currently composts leaves and other yard waste at its facility on St. Andrew Street. Though a logical place to compost food waste as well, that facility is nearing capacity and produces odours strong enough to bring complaints from nearby residents.

So that’s not an option, said acting engineering director Mike Berkvens.

He said city staff supports the separation of organic waste from an environmental point-of-view, but they’re concerned the province won’t offer financial subsidies.

They are also concerned local residents won’t participate.

About 15 years ago council authorized a small pilot project to encourage organic waste separation in Sherwood Village, said Berkvens.

“It fell off the rails because people didn’t accept it,” he said.

But the Waste-Free Ontario Act says all municipalities must develop an organics action plan this year, with implementation in 2018.

The first step is public consultation, and toward that end City Hall is launching a survey to measure public acceptance of food waste separation, as well as find out what residents are already doing to divert trash from the landfill.

Ontario wants all municipalities to divert as much as 70% of their waste, while Sarnia’s diversion rate hovers around 30%.

It’s possible an aggressive backyard composting program would help, said Unsworth.

“Part of the survey is to find out how many already do backyard composting, and how many would be willing to do it.”

The survey will also ask about blue box recycling, whether residents are willing to give up using clear plastic bags, and how frequent they want garbage collected.

A link to the survey will be available on the city’s website by mid-August for residents, Unsworth said. Small business will receive the survey in the mail.

Once data is collected, a public meeting will be called in September to discuss what the province wants and how Sarnians feel about garbage collection, recycling and composting.

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