The City of Ottawa is considering making green bin programs mandatory at multi-residential dwellings to improve what has been poor uptake on a voluntary program in place for nearly a decade.
Since the city introduced a voluntary green bin program to apartment and condo buildings nine years ago, just 29 per cent — or 500 of approximately 1,700 buildings — have put in compost bins for organic materials, according to data compiled by city staff.
The city plans to come up with a multi-residential waste strategy as it develops its 30-year master plan for solid waste, according to Kevin Wylie, the city's general manager of public works and environmental services, in a written response to an inquiry from River Coun. Riley Brockington.
Wylie said city staff will share options for the green bin program in multi-residential dwellings — including the consideration of mandatory green bins — in the fourth quarter of 2020.
The city is feeling added pressure to increase green bin diversion since the provincial government released its Food and Organic Waste Framework last year, which could potentially impose a landfill ban on kitchen organics as early as 2022.
But landlords are hoping push won't come to shove as they work with the city trying to overcome challenges of getting kitchen scraps from highrise units into compost bins.
One challenge for the city and landlords is that many of the residential highrises in Ottawa were built long before recycling and composting programs existed.
The age of the buildings means there isn't room to accommodate green bins, according to Geoff Younghusband, senior vice-president of Osgoode Properties.
Osgoode owns 15 apartment complexes in Ottawa, including the Juliana, a 12-storey building on Bronson Avenue overlooking LeBreton Flats.
Tenants there drop their garbage into a chute that empties into a large open bin in a small, cramped main-floor room.
Large recycling containers for paper and plastics are easily accessible by elevator in the basement parking garage, but there are no green composting bins.
"It's a possibility but it creates issues of smell, the potential for pests, and no one wants to park their car beside an area where they have to deal with kitchen waste," Younghusband said.
The superintendent has his hands full keeping the garbage and recycling areas clean and odour free without adding green bins, he added.
To accommodate the recycling containers, Osgoode Properties gave up two parking spots, which each rented for $120 a month.
"If we take another spot away [for green bins] that obviously takes it off our revenue stream. Parking is at a premium and we want to keep spots from residents," he said.
Younghusband said he's not aware of residents pushing for a green bin program.
"I think of an elderly person in the middle of February and if we're asking them to walk across the parking lot to take their recycling and separate it, in many cases they aren't going to do it," he said.
"It's much easier to walk down the hall and put it down the chute."
But tenant Marie Craig, who has lived at the Juliana for three years, would welcome a green bin program.
"I would love it because I was composting all this winter," she said. "I was putting it into big containers and freezing it on the balcony so that in the spring I could bring it to my friend's garden."
Craig isn't worried about the smell of green bins because collection happens every week and there are ways to control the odour.
"I find it kind of sad we don't do it anymore and it should be everywhere … could, would, should," she said, waving an apple she was eating. "All that vegetable and fruit waste should be nourishing our land instead of in the landfill."
Duncan Bury of Waste Watch Ottawa acknowledges space constraints and design are challenges for multi-residential buildings, but added concerns about rodents and odour are "overstated issues."
"The city provides waste collection to 1,600 of these properties with over 110,000 residents so the very least these buildings can do is work with the city because I think they have obligations," he said.
"They are getting a service that is paid for collectively and they need to step up."
Bury believes the city will likely have to make green bin diversion mandatory.
Last year the city set up a working group with owners of apartment buildings and condominium boards to come up with ways to increase green bin participation.
Osgoode Properties is part of the working group.
Younghusband said it has been constructive but added property owners don't want to be forced to provide green bin service.
"I think it would be unfortunate," he said. "We have an appetite to try and solve these issues but we don't want to be forced to solve them by ourselves."
The solid waste master plan, which will set out the direction and goals of how the city will handle the collection, processing and disposal of garbage, recyclables and organic waste, is set to be discussed at next week's meeting of the environmental protection, water and waste management committee.