Brilliant yellow garbage bags, bright as dandelions, have begun dotting the sidewalks of Toronto's commercial streets. These pay-as-you-throw bags signal a radical move toward Smogtown's stated goal of eliminating household garbage by 2010.
But alas, by calling it the Yellow Bag Program, the city has completely obscured its accompanying composting initiative and muffed good PR possibilities. Most of the media have been happy to magnify shopkeepers' distress at having to pay $3.10 per garbage bag. And because the city hasn't done decent promo on the new enterprise, many businesses don't know that they can now radically reduce the number of bags they put out by diverting their organic waste to city-supplied green 35-gallon bins. For the cost of $63 a bin, organic refuse gets emptied twice weekly for free.
This composting project -- involving 20,000 commercial operations throughout Toronto along with the new green bin program offered to 70,000 households in Etobicoke -- means we have the start of curbside collection of compostables. Rotten banana peels, funky fridge experiments, tea bags, ripe diapers, mouldy bread and greasy pizza boxes can be turned into energy and compost.
All this is trucked to the Dufferin Organics Processing Facility in Downsview, where 25,000 tonnes per year of rotten raunchy stuff is being transformed in a tank into methane gas, aka natural gas, supposedly to be eventually used for electricity, heating and cooling. The remaining unprocessed compost will be shipped to Niagara for finishing and will then be added to the soil as fertilizer. All this, of course, was the fantasy of ecological protestors who junked a plan to dump T.O. trash in Kirkland Lake's Adams Mine.
But will this all come to pass? The stuff is being turned into gas right now, but if you can believe it, rather than being harnessed, the biogas is being flared off just to get rid of it. The big question is, will the city have the stuff to finish what it's started?
"When it comes to implementing innovations that are good for the environment, the city typically lacks the commitment to provide the necessary resources to make it happen," says Toronto Environmental Alliance spokesperson Katrina Miller.
It's not that the city doesn't realize it's wasting a resource. Geoff Rathborne, director of policy and planning in the solid waste management services division of the works and emergency services department, says that when curbside compost collection expands to Scarborough next June, the larger total will warrant using the fuel for electricity generation.
In the meantime, while Alberta is considering seceding over its right to boycott Kyoto, it's disheartening to think that when it comes to this exciting new energy source, we're so near, yet so far.