Many municipalities these days have some sort of green bin collection service. Although we’d like to believe that all our green bin waste is getting composted and going back to local farmers, that’s not necessarily the case. So, where does the green bin waste actually go?
In this article, we’ll be exploring what happens to our green bin waste, why green bin waste collection services can be a challenge, and some sustainable alternatives to green bin collection. Feel free to jump ahead to the alternatives if you already know you don’t want to rely on green bin services:
- What are green bin services?
- How cities compost your waste: aerobic vs anaerobic composting
- So, where does your green bin waste actually go?
- 6 challenges of green bin waste collection
- 5 options that are better than green bin services
Just in case your municipality calls it something entirely different, let’s start by explaining what we mean by green bin services.
What are green bin services?
Green bin collection services are how municipalities deal with their residents' organic waste. Generally, this means people will be sorting their food scraps and yard waste into a separate 'green' bin from their recyclables and other waste. That sorted waste will then be taken to a composting plant.
The specifics will be different for every municipality, including what can be put into the green bin. For example, the city of Ottawa allows residents to put their organic waste in plastic bags, while many other cities don’t allow any plastic whatsoever.
How cities compost your waste: aerobic vs anaerobic composting
In general, municipal composting works much like it would at home, just at a much larger scale, and often quicker than you would be able to accomplish with a backyard compost pile.
The process will start by separating compostables from non-compostables. Although most of us do our best to keep only organic compost in green bins, mistakes can be made and non-organic waste can make its way to the composting plant. This step is necessary to prevent finished compost from being contaminated.
After contaminants have been separated, the organic waste can start composting. The exact process will depend on the composting plant. However, you can expect the plants to use either aerobic or anaerobic composting methods.
Aerobic composting is the most common method of municipal composting, and what you’d likely be doing at home. This method uses microbes that rely on oxygen to break down food waste and turn it into a natural fertilizer.
The process involves making a pile of organic waste with the right balance of nitrogen-rich and carbon-rich materials. This pile is kept moist and turned every once in a while to make sure there’s a sufficient amount of oxygen throughout. This process would normally take months at home but can be shortened to just a few weeks in an industrial setting.
Anaerobic composting isn’t as common as aerobic composting, but there are some municipal composting plants that employ this method. Anaerobic composting is essentially the opposite of aerobic composting - it relies on an environment devoid of oxygen to break down organic materials. Unlike aerobic composting, this method also doesn’t rely on a balance of nitrogen and oxygen.
It is also possible to anaerobically compost at home, it’s just not as common. Two easy ways of anaerobic composting you can do at home is trench composting and composting with a Bokashi bin.
So, where does your green bin waste actually go?
The hope is that all our organic waste makes it to the composting plant and gets turned into usable compost. And, this is generally what happens. The extent to which your green waste actually makes it to the composting plant depends on where you live. We encourage you to check out your municipality's green bin service!
However, there are challenges that makes green bin waste collection less than ideal. There’s also clearly far too much food waste still making its way to landfills and releasing methane into our atmosphere. Let’s take a quick look at why green bin waste collection isn’t the best.
6 challenges of green bin waste collection
Once again, some specific challenges will depend on different municipalities’ regulations and methods for collection green bin waste. However, the following problems are relatively universal:
- Smelly odors: It’s no secret that a pile of whatever organic waste you have just thrown in a bin and ignored for a week (or two) is going to start smelling really bad. Not only is this unpleasant, but it can easily attract pests, causing you more problems in the long-run.
- Heavy bins: Food waste gets quite heavy, which can be difficult or impossible for some residents to deal with. This can also become more expensive for municipalities where waste collection is charged by weight.
- Non-organic waste: Not everything in the green waste is going to be organic as mistakes can be made and some residents just don’t care as much to sort properly. Although composting plants have ways to sort out the non-organic waste, it isn’t perfect and some of the compost will get contaminated.
- Extra labor for residents: Even though green bin waste collection is proposed as an easy way for people to take care of their green waste, that’s not necessarily true. The possibility of pests was already mentioned, but people will be responsible for taking care of their green bins. That includes cleaning (which can be very difficult) and even replacing it when damaged or broken.
- The collection produces GHGs: While sending your food waste to a municipal composter will prevent that waste from releasing methane into the atmosphere, the collection process itself produces plenty of greenhouse gases. Not only are those collection vehicles emitting GHGs across the city, but they’re also noisy, often early in the morning.
- Not everything can be composted: Not all organic waste being sent to municipal compost plants can actually be composted there, even if you’re told to include those items in the green bin. Some items would be considered contaminants in the finished compost (sanitary items), while others might just not be there long enough to compost (coffee filters).
5 options that are better than green bin services
Now that you know about where green bin waste goes and the challenges surrounding it, here are some other options for dealing with your waste. You can choose to use one of more of these options, and even use these in addition to green bin services to optimize how your organic waste is being taken care of.
1. Traditional composting
Instead of sending your kitchen scraps and yard waste to a municipal composting plant, you can just compost your organic waste at home. There are a variety of ways to compost at home, so you’ll be able to choose whatever method works best for you. Depending on your choices, composting can be quick, extremely simple, and quite cheap.
If you’ve never composted before, there are many easy-to-follow beginner guides, including on our own blog. You can also easily find guides on choosing the best compost bins, tips to make composting easier for beginners, and how to best use your compost in your gardens. Getting started is easier than it looks, so don’t be afraid to give it a try!
Why it’s better than the green bin: When composting at home instead of sending off you’re green waste, you’re getting the same end result. The difference is that you can use the compost for yourself (or give some to friends/family), and you don’t get the downsides of municipal composting.
This option is great for: Anyone who has the time and energy to put into learning how to compost and maintaining a compost bin. Composting at home is an especially great choice for anyone who has indoor or outdoor plants that could use the natural fertilizer.
2. Electric composting
Traditional composting isn’t going to be the best, or even a posible option for everybody. You do need the space for it, and you need to learn how to do it right to get good results. If traditional composting isn’t right for you, but you still want to compost yourself, electric composting is also an option.
Electric composters can easily fit in any space, no matter how small. They’re also extremely easy to use. With Pela’s electric composter, Lomi, you only need to put your food waste in the bin, put on the lid, and start the composter. In less than 24 hours, you’ll have nutrient-rich dirt that you can use as a fertilizer for your gardens.
Why it’s better than the green bin: As with traditional composting, you’re getting to break down your food and yard waste at home without deaing with challenges of green bin waste collection. If you’re using Lomi, you’re also ensuring that methane isn’t being released into the atmosphere while the food is being composted.
This option is great for: Anyone who wants to compost at home, but isn’t able to compost traditionally. Electric composting is also ideal for anyone who could use a daily supply of nutrient-rich dirt.
Like compost, mulch is another wonderful way to reuse organic waste to improve your home gardens. Mulch protects plant roots, keeps your soil moist, adds nutrients for your plants, and much more.
Mulch is relatively easy to make at home depending on what you’re mulching and what tools you have at your disposal. Dead leaves are asy enough to shred up with a lawn mower. You can then mix those with grass clippings and spread a thin layer on your garden. Another option is to shred wooden scraps such as tree branches to create your own wood chips.
Why it’s better than the green bin: When mulching your own yard waste, you’re not relying on your city to compost all your yard waste for you. You also get to use that mulch yourself, or give some away to loved ones, to enhance plants at home.
This option is great for: Anyone who has a lot of yard waste they need to get rid of, especially if they also have gardens they could improve with the mulch.
4. Community gardens
You also have some options available to you that don’t involve you doing any work yourself at home. One of those options is to take your food waste to a community garden. There are plenty of community gardens that rely on the community to supply the food scraps they need for their own compost. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, we would highly suggest getting in contact with garden coordinators in your own community.
Why it’s better than the green bin: Your food waste will be directly helping your local greenspace and the people in your community who benefit from those gardens.
This option is great for: People who don’t want to compost at home and have local gardens they can donate their kitchen scraps to.
5. Local food recycling programs
Community gardens aren’t the only place you can bring your kitchen waste. You can also look up local food recycling programs to see what options you have in your area. Another great way to find places to bring your organic waste is through ShareWaste. ShareWaste connects you with neighbors who are already composting or who have farm animals and could use your scraps!
Why it’s better than the green bin: Once again, you’re directly helping people in your community by bringing them the supplies they need to take care of their own gardens and animals.
This option is great for: Anyone who doesn’t have a use for their own food waste and wants to help their neighbors.
If you’ve been wondering where green bin waste goes, you can assume that plenty of it is making it to your municipal composting plants. Of course, you should research your local municipality’s service to find out for sure. However, even if all of it is making it to a composting plant, that’s still not ideal. The best way to deal with your food waste is by composting it at home, whether you’re doing it traditionally, or making it easily and quickly with Lomi. Start making a difference by making your own compost!
Written by: Sereana Simpson