Popular Diversions

Halifax probably has a different recycling and composting system than where you're from. Here's a primer for how best to use it.

"No other province has a waste management plan that bans organics from landfills," says Jim Bauld proudly. Bauld is manager of solid waste resources for Halifax Regional Municipality. He adds that other Canadian municipalities have only recently started to catch up to Nova Scotia's success in diverting 54 percent of our waste away from landfills. "Other municipalities come to us regularly to learn our model," says Bauld.

The secret, and what has really set this province apart, is in the organics, which make up 41,000 tonnes of our solid waste each year. Organics include food scraps and other materials that can be broken back down into soil or converted to usable energy. That includes boxboard and soiled papers as well as leaf and yard material. These become soil, which is mostly sold to professional landscapers and farmers.

Bauld emphasizes education and the provision of "tools" as the keys to waste diversion. In this case, the tools are big honking outdoor green plastic carts and accompanying indoor mini-bins, which have adorned Halifax homes for the past 10 years. "In 1998 HRM made an $8.5 million expenditure to distribute the green bins," Bauld says.

You should find your green bin wherever you make your home in Halifax. If you can't find one, give your landlord a gentle reminder that the law says all property owners must provide tenants with a recycling and composting program. HRM has been known to levy $5,000 fines to violators.

Once you find your green bin you'll know where to put your weekly organics, like fruit and veggie peelings, table scraps, meat bones, coffee grounds, eggshells, boxboard (that's the thin, non-corrugated kind that holds your Kraft Dinner), soiled napkins and cooking oil---let it cool first. If you're a green thumb or a handy person, you can add raked leaves (although the best thing for your lawn is just to let them be, or start a compost in your backyard), sawdust, and fallen branches.

Leave out soil and sods, stray rocks, logs and, of course, tree trunks. Also no plastics, waxed packaging (no Tim Hortons cups), corrugated cardboard (no pizza boxes), newspapers and glossy magazines, glass or Styrofoam. Papers soiled with bodily fluids are not appreciated. If you put these things in the green bin, your friendly neighbourhood waste collector will leave it behind, along with a stern note, to decompose and stink up your otherwise sweet pad for another week.

Fortunately, HRM provides some handy tips for minimizing that incriminating stink. Start by emptying your mini-bin into your green cart daily, and rinse both frequently with soapy water. Keep the large green cart in a ventilated shade area, and wrap wet food waste in paper. In the early fall and late spring you may experience the Halifax plague, also known as fruit flies, which will give you plenty of motivation to empty your mini-bin. Fruit flies can be captured in a bowl of vinegar. Cover it up with saran wrap and put some little holes in.

Another difference you might notice between Halifax and home is that here you'll pay a deposit for your plastic, glass and aluminum beverage containers. "That resulted from a visit to Ontario in 1988," says Bauld. Turns out that a third of Ontario's blue box system is funded by the soft drink industry, which for some strange reason didn't want to do the same in Nova Scotia. Well, actually, in most places where industry pays, it's because the government makes them, and ours won't. Hence the deposit. So, you'll pay a bit more out-of-pocket for your all-nighter Coca-cola binges, but you can return them to an Enviro-Depot for a refund (find your depot at rrfb.com), or give them to the bottle collector who will probably come by your door every couple of weeks.

Alternatively, you can just put them on the curb with your other recyclables every other week and call the deposit a donation to the city. Put any containers with a 1 or a 2 on them, including milk cartons, in a clear blue bag (you can buy these at the grocery store). Plastics of any other number are not recyclable, usually because there is no market for recycled plastic of that kind.

Next to the containers go your bundled corrugated cardboard (flatten out all your moving boxes). Place unsoiled paper products---newspapers, magazines, flyers, egg cartons, paperbacks, phone books---in a grocery or clear bag. The collectors need to see what they're grabbing so they know where to put it.

Compost goes out every other week (though weekly in the summer), recyclables weekly. And regular garbage goes out the opposite week compost does. HRM's official waste disposal bylaw (S-600, in case you were wondering) states that garbage must go out after 9:00pm the night before, or before 7:00am the morning of, collection. There is an upper limit of six bags per household (or five if you live in a small apartment building).

The other thing you should know about throwing shit out in HRM is that hazardous waste goes to special disposal sites. That means more than just your at-home chemistry experiment leftovers. Common household products like batteries, paint, gas and medicines go to the Hazardous Household Waste Depot at 20 Horseshoe Lake Drive in the Bayers Lake Industrial Park, which is open four days per month. You can learn which days---and all the rules and schedules of waste collection in HRM---at halifax.ca/wrms.

Happy disposing and diverting.

Trash Tips
1. Over 50 percent of what goes into the average Haligonian’s garbage could be recycled if we made the effort to do it.Make the effort.
2. Organics and leaves go into the green bin, but no plastics or glossy mags. And when you walk down your street on garbage day, have a look at the blue bags strewn over the curb.
3. See how some people put paper in with their bottles and plastic? Those bags won’t get picked up.
4. Separate your recyclables.