Macdonald: If people recycled at home, we wouldn't need green bins

Starting in the spring of 2017 the green bins for recycling will be rolled out to single family homes in all Calgary communities. After a pilot program that saw approval ratings in the 90% range..


Starting in the spring of 2017 the green bins for recycling will be rolled out to single family homes in all Calgary communities. After a pilot program that saw approval ratings in the 90% range, it would seem that Calgarians are excited and ready for this new service. After all, the City is here to serve us, and at a cost of $6.50 per household and a total of 143 million dollars for the new Shepard Waste Management Facility, the City has committed to this program and so have Calgarians. There is no opting out. 

Our family opted into recycling a long time ago. We have very little garbage and our black bin is rarely full, so the prospect of having garbage pickup every two weeks is not a big deal. We compost and take great joy in the challenge of hitting 120 degrees in our own biomass of earthy bliss. When spring comes, we reap the rewards of our green work.  

Which brings me to the new green bins. It’s likely we will have two bins under-utilized: the black one and the green one.  For $6.50 more on our monthly taxes starting in 2018, we will get a service that we may not really need or want. You see, the City has chopped the fee associated with the program to zero dollars for 2017. Even those snowbirds that escape the city for six months a year will have to pay because as I said before, there is no opting out.

Additionally, we will receive less service for the black bin without a reduction in cost to offset the green bin. Is this correct?  Well, to find out, I called 3-1-1 after not finding these answers on

The 3-1-1 operator didn’t know either, but said that I could email my inquiry to the City. I was also informed that I could put table scraps, meat, dairy, bones and excrement in the green bin--items that I could not compost myself. But I figured, wow, if we’re throwing out that much food and doggie do-do each week then we have a different problem! I mean, who possibly throws out that much food! And anyway, our dog is small and there is very little waste there. 

So is this program a waste? Well, the City’s approval rating from the green bin pilot program is so high there should be no complaints, right? But my informal poll of many people tells me the approval has flipped. Questions arise like,“What is the City doing with the biomass after it is composted?” and “Will this black gold be sold for profit and returned to us in savings?” And bigger questions have arisen such as, “Why doesn't the reduction in garbage service result in a reduction in our taxes?” and “Hey, doesn’t this entire project discourage people from doing their own composting?” 

Well believe me, this project will be in everyone's sight once Calgarians start seeing one more bin in the back lane. Logically any replacement black bins could be that much smaller if the blue and now the green bins assimilate so much of our weekly garbage.

The least the City could do is slowly shift black bin pickup to the same schedule as green bin pickup. But the skeptic in me says that the City will slyly keep the black bin cost the same with less pickup service. Well, we should feel good for the first year anyway, as our monthly charges are being covered by the city’s reserves. Right?

Calgarians are committed to this project now. It is supposed to be ready to go sometime in 2017, and we will be happy to pay another sliver of taxes that will slowly slice into our earnings even more. After all, the government does everything better than the people, including composting waste, so I am looking forward to using the mandatory green bins and being as happy as the 90% of people that took part in the pilot project. Somehow, however, I think I will be one of the 10% who wonders,“Wouldn’t it serve our city better to let us keep our money and encourage more families to recycle at home?”

Kathy Macdonald is executive director of the citizens’ advocacy group Common Sense Calgary 

As published in the Calgary Herald October 15, 2016

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