Thursday, March 24, 2011

York's Bad Move with the Green Bin

Recently the Region of York has decided to implement a new process for it's Green Bin programme. As reports, York Region has passed a by-law that requires Green Bin items no longer be placed in plastic bags (e.g. plastic garbage bags, plastic shopping bags, etc.) but can be put in compostable bags only.  

The Region has apparently launched an education campaign valued at around $357,000. I clicked on the link from the scrolling menu under "News and Information" and the page gives a listing of acceptable compostable bags. But these compostable bags, as pointed out in the article, are more expensive overall than regular shopping bags.  Regular shopping bags are normally sold at No Frills for five cents or given away for free with purchase at Wal-Mart.  Whereas the compostable bags listed are believed to be about fifty cents a piece.  At fifty cents a piece per bag per week that is a significant increase in costs to take part in the green bin programme for the average home owner. To add insult to injury the Region of York will not sell the compostable bags themselves.  So what exactly is the $357,000 educational campaign going towards?  Probably just merely high priced help to create the webpage and advertisement in the local newspapers.  Really the only benefit of the campaign is the local Metroland community newspapers

Added to the problem is that "biodegrable bags" will not be accepted either.  Great, this totally confuses people as they must now check the list of approved bags before buying them during their grocery trips instead of picking up a box of bags that seems environmentally friendly.  Apparently "biodegrable bags" are not environmentally friendly enough for the programme as they do not break down fast enough. So, if an average weekly grocery trips are anything like what I go through, most residents will purchase the wrong bags.  Next, the resident will use one and have their wrist slapped by either facing a fine for infraction of the by-law or non-pickup of the green bin materials or, most likely, the local municipality's collection agents will simply pickup the green bin without knowing it is the incorrect bag.  This brings up an important question: Once the bags are removed from the box and used in the green bin, how are collectors supposed to know if a resident is using a biodegradeable bag as opposed to a compostable bag? 

What the Region should do is team up with the local municipalities.  Most of the local municipalities (e.g. Aurora, Richmond Hill, etc.) already take out full page advertisements on a weekly basis to promote local events and council happenings.  There could be a blurb placed in these advertisments about the change to compostable bags and contact information if residents have questions or concerns.  As of right now the Town of Richmond Hill has yet to notify it's residents using this method.  As well local municipal website should be used to also promote the change with a link to the region's website for a list of acceptable bags. Further, the Region and partnered municipalities should be purchasing a vast number of compostable bags from a supplier and making them economically viable to residents.  These bags could then be sold through libraries, town halls and leisure complexes similar to how the region's York Region Transit fare media is sold.   This would make the bags easy to find at an affordable price. 

Currently, response to the bags have been negative from residents so far.  On's article there are two negative responses as well as a letter to the editor on the subject. If the comments provided are anything like what the response will be to the introduction to the compostable bags only by all residents, the Region and local municipalities are going to be in trouble.  Most people will probably just forget to put out the green bin and start placing their compostables in with their regular garbage.  This of course would be step backwards but the Region of York is not really making the programme that easy with this little tweek.  The region needs to revisit this switch as the main issues arising are differences in cost between bags.  In times of great economic strife like York is experiencing, governments are looking for efficiencies and words like "revenue neutral".  Why then would it encourage this move that is far from "revenue neutral" and the efficiencies not fully explained?  The Region of York needs to answer this question and hopefully not spend an additional $357,000 on educating us on how.


  1. We've been using the "compostable-approved" compost bin bags here in Niagara for just over a year - honestly, Cuz - you get used to it!!

    Hint - if you have a Costco membership - you can buy a box of something like 200 bags for about $12 - WAYYY cheaper than buying them by the box of 20 or so from any of the other stores!!

  2. D:

    I've been shopping around and the average price so far is about $0.15 to $0.20 per bag. That is at Wal-Mart, Home Depot, No Frills and Dollarama.

    I will hopefully post my results later once we've completed our shopping around.

  3. I live in Aurora and we've been using compostable bags in our house since the green bins came out. I get them at Costco, as D suggested. It's really not a big deal.

    Putting organic waste in plastic bags just didn't make sense to me.

  4. The box of certified compostable bags is $10 for 100 at Costco. Richmond Hill has started notifying us as of April 1st and they make it quite clear that we should look for the compostable symbol (as shown in the article/ad in the Liberal) on the box. As we've seen with other certification schemes for products, such labels are quite helpful for consumers when distinguishing between biodegradable and compostable bags. Also, the bags themselves are labeled with the symbol and have "compostable" written on them.

    While I do agree that education and awareness are lacking (especially when it comes to reduction programs and getting people to understand why such change is important), I think that York Region residents should be given a little bit more credit for their efforts and definitely more responsibility for their waste.

  5. Marlee & Kevin:

    Thank you for recommending Costco. I currently do not have a Costco membership but do have access to someone that does. The prices for Costco seem more reasonable than other places I searched within the last two weeks.

    I hope do a follow up posting in the next week or so about the cost of the bags themselves. Let me point out that other stores I've visited the bags cost anywhere from twenty to fifty cents a piece.

    I also have noted that the Town of Markham Council has put their municipality on hold in terms of enforcement of the bags until they look that the issue closer.

  6. "Whereas the compostable bags listed are believed to be about fifty cents a piece."

    What planet do you live on? I bought a pack of 60 bags for like $5.00. That's like 8 cents a bag dude, compared to 5 cents at the grocery store. Plus, you get to buy in bulk.

  7. David:

    50 cents a piece was the original estimate I had seen in another article online.

    I did a follow up blog post, which you have read as I've noticed you have commented on already, about the exact costs at some of the major stores like Zellers, No Frills, Home Depot and Wal-Mart.

    So as for the planet remark, I live on planet earth...could you let me know what planet you live on? I'm curious since you asked. :)


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