Recently here in Niagara, residential garbage pick up frequency changed from weekly to bi-weekly. This means that residents no longer get the luxury of putting their garbage out weekly, but instead get to put out two bags of garbage every other week. However, residents as always, are allowed to put out as much recycling (paper, plastic and organics) to the curb, every week. This caused some confusion, hesitation (to change) and just general residential anger. However, Niagara is not the first to move to this new way of waste pick up. Many regions have been operating in this biweekly waste system for years without issue, and Niagara was just catching up to the trend.
Now that the initial uproar has subsided, the most interesting outcome of this schedule change is that Niagara region residents are now using their organics program more than ever before. Although nearly 80% of Niagara region residents already diverted food waste from the landfill, the region has seen an increase. According to the Niagara Region Waste Management Department, organics tonnage is up by 34% and garbage tonnage to landfill is down by 16%. But why? Why are people all of a sudden using their organics program that has been available to them for years? In this blog post we are going to look into why this shift of organics usage has happened.
Why Are Niagara Residents Using The Organics Bin More?
When the region switched from weekly to biweekly garbage pick up, they left recycling and organics weekly, which is an obvious indication that the main purpose to the schedule shift was to increase recycling and organics diversion rates. Given this, the most obvious answer is that residents can put this out weekly vs having to hold onto more garbage for two weeks. However, I think there is more to this discussion. In my opinion, I think people are diverting more because of a few reasons.
First of all, we are in a major pandemic, where people are staying home more than ever (Niagara region has literally been on a stay at home order for nearly 4 of the 6 months this year), which gives people the opportunity to make more meals at home. In addition to this, restaurants are not open for dine in, only take out. All of the food scraps that would have been left at the restaurant are now being diverted through residential waste streams, as well as all the take out containers that go with this (think compostable clamshells and pizza boxes). This will naturally contribute to the amount of organics that the Niagara Region sees because some of that waste was going to other providers (like us), or dumpsters, at the restaurants.
However, I do agree that there is a direct connection between the bi-weekly and weekly pick up schedule change, and the increased diversion rates. I think this has to do greatly with the fact that people are inconvenienced by having to hold onto their garbage for more than a week. Holding onto more garbage is less desirable, so if you are able to get rid of more recycling or organics weekly, that is more convenient. Additionally, organic waste that is left in your garbage stream for a two week period is not ideal for vermin and odour. I think people have come to realize this.
Given this, I think that there is a twofold reason for more organics program use, but it is interesting that since switching to this method that the Niagara Region has seen an increase in their diversion rates. Niagara region has offered an organics program for many years and the fact that they are now just seeing an increase, does reinforce that the biweekly schedule is doing what it was intended to do – divert more waste from the landfill.
The other part of this is that there is a 16% reduction of waste that is entering the landfill. This is excellent for regional stats and for our landfill usage here in Niagara, especially given that we are in a pandemic. The same argument that I used for the reason for more food waste being diverted could also be a reason that the region should have seen an increase in garbage to the landfill, not a decrease. With this stat, hand in hand with the increased organics diversion stat, it is clear that the bi-weekly garbage is contributing to an increase in diversion (in both streams).
I think it is important to look at all angles when looking at diversion rates, as there are many reasons why month to month they could vary, especially during these unprecedented times. Can this increase of diversion be related directly back to the new bi-weekly pick up schedule? Maybe. But I do think there has to be some accountability given to the pandemic and people just being home more often, cooking more and getting solely take out foods. More evidence based research needs to be done here.
Another thing that should be noted is that the region has also confirmed that there is an increase in recycling as well, as that diversion tonnage for both paper and plastic recycling is up 12%. It is excellent to see that there is more diversion happening in all streams. However, another angle that can be taken from this is why are the tonneages for recycling and organics up so much (total of 46%) and garbage tonnage to landfill only down a small amount (16%)? Are we actually just creating more waste in the organics and recycling streams in general? These numbers of tonnage should align, but yet they are not.
Like I said, more evidence based research and audits need to be conducted to get to the root of these diversion rates, but I would say that diverting more waste is certainly in the win column for Niagara. Hopefully as the new bi-weekly schedule moves forward, and the pandemic comes to an end (sooner than later, we hope!), we will see these numbers even out a bit more and see the benefits of the bi-weekly schedule in full use.