BioCycle October 2011, Vol. 52, No. 10, p. 29
Faced with a disposal crisis, regional solid waste agency implements a zero waste plan with organics diversion at its core.
Jeff Ainge and Carey McIver
THE Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) is a federation of four municipalities and seven rural Electoral Areas situated on the east coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. It contains a mixture of urban and rural lands with a total population of 150,000, of which 85,500 reside in the City of Nanaimo. In October 2010, 34,500 single family homes in the District changed their household waste habits and began diverting their food and compostable kitchen waste (food scraps) from landfill to a commercial in-vessel composting facility.
The RDN Board of Directors committed to a Zero Waste Plan in 2002 in response to a looming disposal crisis. The regional landfill was reaching capacity, the RDN’s landfill siting exercise was unsuccessful, and regional waste reduction had hit a plateau once the diversion rate hit 50 percent. The RDN was faced with two alternatives – pay to export waste to another community for disposal, or optimize its landfill capacity and plan for zero waste. The RDN Board of Directors chose the latter route adopting a forward-thinking Zero Waste Plan, based on regulation, collaboration, education and enforcement, with an ambitious goal of 75 percent diversion from landfill disposal by 2010.
ORGANICS DIVERSION STRATEGY, BAN
A 2004 waste composition study showed that food waste and compostable paper comprised 35 percent of the municipal solid waste stream within the RDN. In January 2005, the RDN adopted an Organics Diversion Strategy (ODS) to provide the general public and business community with information on how organic waste would be diverted from disposal.
Organics waste processing capacity was essential to the ODS. The RDN, through the promise of a commercial food waste ban and Waste Stream Management Licensing (WSML), created the conditions for private sector investment in a local composting facility. Consequently, the ICC Group (ICC) opened its compost facility in June 2004, providing capacity to receive and process the region’s commercial food waste as well as yard trimmings delivered to drop off facilities.
In June 2005 the RDN put the first phase of its ODS into action by banning from disposal at the region’s solid waste facilities all raw and cooked food and other compostable organic material generated by commercial and institutional sources. Extensive consultation preceded this ban, with follow up site visits to over 200 businesses and organizations. In addition to stakeholder information sessions, education packages were distributed to assist organizations in complying with the disposal prohibition. The commercial food waste program now diverts more than 4,000 metric tons/year of commercial food waste and compostable paper from the landfill – all of which goes to ICC to be processed into compost and eventually biofuels.
TESTING HOUSEHOLD ORGANICS COLLECTION
Building on the success of the commercial food waste ban, in 2007 the RDN introduced another component of the Organics Diversion Strategy – residential organics collection. A pilot project introduced residential food scraps collection to 2,000 households on three collection routes. The goal was to change the way households dealt with their garbage, and the reason was clear: at that time food scraps comprised up to half of the household garbage collected in the regional district. Staff knew “green bin” programs worked in many urban jurisdictions but needed to determine if such a program was applicable where local conditions included collection on a gulf island and in rural areas of working farms and residential acreages.
Once again, the RDN embarked on a large-scale public education program. During the pilot, the weights of food waste, garbage and recycling collected at the curb were tracked, and public opinion was gathered through online surveys, focus groups, and regular contact with pilot participants and nonparticipants. Survey responses showed 95 percent of residents on the pilot collection routes participated and 98 percent supported region-wide residential food waste collection. By keeping their compostable food waste and recyclables out of the garbage can, the average household diverted 64 percent of their waste during the year-long pilot. The results were promising enough to continue food waste collection on the three pilot routes. Expansion of the program was approved for all areas of the Regional District (about 52,000 single-family homes).
PLANNING REGION-WIDE ROLL OUT
Depending upon the municipality or electoral area, household waste collection for single family homes is provided by a mix of municipal crews and contracted service. All collection is done manually. Prior to the 2010 program changes, the material streams consisted of weekly garbage (limited to up to one 100 liter container per home) and unlimited source separated recycling. Up to two additional garbage containers could be set out each week with a $2 extra-container tag purchased and affixed to the extra container(s). Yard and garden waste is not collected at the curb; however this material is banned from disposal and residents are encouraged to backyard compost or self-haul this material to licensed drop-off facilities.
Although low-level planning had been underway for some time, it was not until a roll out date of October 2010 was agreed to by the various municipalities and contractors that things became serious. It was clear that a wholesale change would require a collaborative planning process to ensure success. District staff took the lead and in February 2010 a project plan was created to record the many tasks required, assign roles and responsibilities and help keep everyone on track. The 230-plus items in the plan included:
Administration: Preparing the necessary bylaws and Council/Board reports; preparing collection and processing contracts; ensuring staffing levels were appropriate to handle the upcoming workload; and hosting/attending regular project team meetings.
Infrastructure: The transfer station required $5.5 million in upgrades to handle food waste and the private composting facility had to be upgraded to meet licensing requirements – both to be completed before curbside collection of food scraps could begin.
Collection: For those serviced by contracted collection, a new collection contract was required along with the requirement for a fleet of new split-packer trucks. In addition, 52,000 collection containers had to be sourced, purchased, received and distributed.
Communications Strategy: A multifaceted strategy was prepared which contained three distinct phases to reflect the need for information to go out during the Planning stage (look out, change is coming), the Preparation stage (green bins are being delivered), and the Collection Starts stage (care and feeding of your green bin). Communicating was a top priority as it would improve the prospects of a successful program change. The budget was $5/household, and it covered everything from creating a new program “brand” to developing a website and social media presence; traditional media advertising and preparing display materials for public events; producing newsletters and local government publications; and of course compiling program education for each household.
As occurred frequently throughout the planning process, it was important to analyze feedback received during the pilot project, and apply the lessons learned to the current task at hand. Branding the message was no exception. Responses to one pilot project survey question indicated that 64 percent of respondents actively composted in their backyards. Many did not initially see the value of collecting this material at the curb, but after several months, 92 percent of the active composting households indicated they were using the green bin for at least some of their household organics.
Staff anticipated the backyard composting bias would be a constant refrain in response to the new program until residents moved past the traditional backyard compost ingredients and gained an understanding of items acceptable in the new curbside green bin program. The Green Bin Program accepts cooked food, meat, fish, bones and food-soiled paper packaging, items beyond what are suitable for backyard composting. In examining the new program’s aims it became clear curbside collection was moving from “Beyond Recycling,” the existing brand created for the regional recycling program in 2002, to “Beyond Composting.”
With the new brand in hand staff hit the streets and local summer events. Transit buses made great rolling billboards creating awareness of the upcoming change, thousands of people viewed the displays at community events and the RDN slowly made friends on Facebook.
COLLECTION CONTAINERS, IMPLEMENTATION
Norseman Plastics won the contract to supply both the curbside container (13 gal/49 liter green bin) and in-home container (1.9 gal/7 liter kitchen collector). In addition, Norseman would coordinate the distribution of containers and information packages to each household.
The compilation of residential addresses for the distribution proved challenging. Inadvertent errors were made and compounded as data in different formats was acquired from three municipalities, then reformatted, sorted and resorted into container distribution routes. Unfortunately the errors did not come to light until distribution commenced in September. Despite the glitches, the preassembled information packages and containers did get distributed, mistakes were fixed, and collection began on schedule for most residents, with only 1,500 homes (6% of the total) still awaiting their new containers. The City of Nanaimo was treated as a stand-alone project. Of the 25,700 homes serviced by the city, one-third of their customers were included in the 2010 rollout (the remaining 17,500 will be completed in October 2011) so their data was provided separately and their distribution proceeded smoothly.
Forewarned by other municipalities who had changed their curbside programs to include food scraps collection, staff prepared for heavy call volumes by establishing a temporary call center with three extra staff. The RDN includes a large senior population (21% over age 65 compared to British Columbia’s average of 14%), many of whom take the messaging from their local governments very seriously and who prefer to get their information from real humans, not websites.
As the distribution process unfolded and delays were encountered, call volumes increased to a maximum of 600 in one week (several hundred percent higher than the normal 60 to 80 calls a week for solid waste related inquiries). By the middle of November when the dust had settled, over 3,500 green bin related calls had been logged at the RDN office. Analysisof the call topics showed that the vast majority (78%) of callers had been concerned they had missed receiving their containers by the advertised dates. This proved the effectiveness of the communications strategy in creating awareness of the program and preparing residents for the changes ahead.
The new collection program commenced in mid-October 2010 with the challenges experienced when any established program is altered. Collection staff had to adjust to the new material streams and new trucks, residents had to adjust to sorting their waste more thoroughly (containers with incorrect materials are tagged with compliance stickers which helps with education), and staff at the transfer and processing facilities have had to change work practices.
At the end of 2010 when the project team met to review the year, the project plan was evaluated and was deemed to have been crucial to the success: Planning Pain led to Project Gain.
In looking at how the year unfolded, the program launched on budget and on time; Beyond Composting brand recognition was achieved; Stronger partnerships were built; Infrastructure upgrades were accomplished on time; Contracts were in place and working well; Stress and headaches had stayed at the staff level (and away from the politicians); and Good diversion and participation rates were being achieved.
Collection staff estimate set out rates exceed 75 percent on average (depending on the route location). Weigh scale records indicate household garbage going to the landfill has been reduced by 48 percent (Figure 1). In terms of costs to the homeowner, the 2011 annual utility fee (the first full year of the new program) is $125 CDN/household. This includes collection and disposal of garbage, recyclables and food scraps, as well as program administration costs. Staff believe implementation of curbside organics collection had little influence on the overall final annual fee because a new collection contract (with new split packer trucks and route efficiencies) was required regardless of any program changes.
Looking back, and with the luxury of hindsight, we feel there is very little that we could have done differently in terms of RDN’s residential solid waste management program. With the realization in 2002 that waste export was not sustainable, to the studies and plans prepared in 2004, the political direction to make changes, and the willingness of staff to “work the plan,” the RDN has accomplished a major change in how household waste is managed. Household diversion rates have risen from a regional average of 30 percent to 60 percent. If a conservative estimate for self-haul yard trimmings from single family residences of 150 kg annually is included, the single family residential diversion rate improves to 70 percent. This increase in residential diversion has reduced the per capita disposal rate from all generators from 420 kg/capita in 2010 to an impressive 378 kg/capita in 2011.
Jeff Ainge is Zero Waste Coordinator with the Regional District of Nanaimo. Carey McIver is the Solid Waste Manager for the Regional District of Nanaimo.
October 19, 2011 | General
Rolling Out Residential Sso Collection In Nanaimo Region
BioCycle October 2011, Vol. 52, No. 10, p. 29