For many municipal jurisdictions across Canada and the U.S. seeking to maximize the diversion of residential solid waste from landfill, food residue offers the next level of “low hanging fruit” in the spectrum of residential waste, offering an incremental diversion through source separation organics (SSO). When designed and implemented correctly, the incremental diversion may top 20 percent of residential solid waste. However, if implemented poorly, the negative reaction could jeopardize realized achievements and actually result in overall lower diversion across the board, simply by turning participants off entirely.
Quite simply, the issue associated with consumer acceptance and participation in the diversion of food organics boils down to the three Cs—cost, convenience and cleanliness. Failure to address all three of these issues will impact the overall success or failure of your program. Of the three Cs, cleanliness—addressing the “ick” factor—is easily the most important (see Figure 1).
As the saying goes “The second mouse gets the cheese”, there is a direct relevance here too. While SSO (food) diversion programs are certainly not new to the industry as such programs have been in place across Canada since the very early 1990s, program parameters have evolved greatly over the years in an effort to address the three Cs. First generation programs that struggled to maximize food residue capture rates have learned from the early days and those jurisdictions that have waited to launch pilot or full scale programs now have extensive resources to draw from to design and implement highly successful programs.
The Early Days
One aspect of SSO (food) program evolution relates to the recognition of the inherent relationship between bins and liner bags. In the early days, the debate often centered on “bins” or “bags” as the mechanism of transfer from the household to the curb. Discussions now focus on “bins” and “bags” with the understanding that both items offer their own inherent positive aspects to a well-designed program. While bins offer pest proofing, liner bags address the “ick” factor associated with drips and odors.
During the early days of program design, single use plastic bags offered participants the convenience, ease of use and cost-effective option for residents to line bins. However, this brought about challenges at centralized compost facilities associated with the extraction of food from the bags and ultimate separation of polyethylene film from the organic feedstock and ultimate compost.
In response, municipal SSO program administrators began looking at the use of kraft paper liner bags as an alternative to traditional plastic liner bags. However, although these products provided improved operating by breaking down along with the organic feedstock, the first “C”—cost—became a factor in maximizing residential participation.
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