If we're going to compost dirty diapers in Vancouver, let's get it right
In an article in the New York Times last month, Oakland was recognized for its green-waste composting program. Citizens there can compost yard waste, food waste, and paper napkins.
But it turns out Toronto is even greener. They collect dirty diapers, animal waste, and kitty litter along with the food waste. They send it all to a facility to be turned into fertilizer for farmlands and parks. Dirty diapers, the article suggests, are "helping Canadian crops to grow".
Which way will Vancouver go with composting?
Metro Vancouver is in the final stages of negotiations with two companies to process organics. The Recycling Council of B.C. has formed an organics working group that will report back to its policy committee in June with recommendations on best practices for organics programs.
Will Toronto be our model? Will we provide composting for dirty diapers?
We will want to look at Toronto's system top to bottom before we make up our minds. The NYT article closes with a caution: "Some of the diapers may still end up in a landfill, however, due to an overuse of plastic bags in some areas served by the Green Bin program."
Because Toronto designed their program to allow folks to wrap up their compostable organics in plastic bags, the program produces thousands of tonnes of non-compostable plastic residuals each year that have to go to landfills or incinerators to be destroyed. According to a member of RCBC's working group who has visited the Toronto area facility, the non-compostable residuals could run as high as 21 percent of the material collected.
The plastic in diapers would meet a similar fate.
To me, it does not make sense to design a composting program to take non-compostable materials. I hope that our programs clearly prohibit plastics of all types.
And I hope that we go after the producers of disposable diapers and require them to take them back—the way we make beverage producers take back cans and bottles.
By cleaning up after Pampers and Huggies, Toronto's program will lock in the bad design in disposable diapers that makes them hard to compost.
We should instead require the producers to come up with a design that can be composted.
Helen Spiegelman is a Vancouver-based environmentalist and blog coordinator. Read more at Zero Waste.