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Why are we seeing red over green bins?

It seems like such a simple idea, composting the organic waste thatmakes up about half our garbage, thereby reducing the amount dumped inlandfill and the attendant greenhouse gases.

It seems like such a simple idea, composting the organic waste that makes up about half our garbage, thereby reducing the amount dumped in landfill and the attendant greenhouse gases.

Yet our green bin threatens to become a Pandora’s box of petty bitching.

There is a certain amount of grumbling to be expected any time citizens are asked to take on new expense and inconvenience. Yes, we will all have to spend more time thinking about the contents of our garbage, but it’s long past time we started taking more responsibility for what we waste and where it goes. This is everybody’s problem.

And so the $68 annual green bin fee for urban and suburban homeowners is proving divisive. Designed to pay for the program while keeping tax rates artificially low, it’s fooling nobody. Village and rural collection won’t be phased in for a couple of years, so residents there won’t be paying the fee, and neither are businesses, who won’t be able to use the service.

One of the main reasons for the program, though, is to divert waste from landfill. The city estimates its Trail Road dump, thanks to an expansion approved in 2005, has another 10 to 40 years before it’s full, depending on how quickly we pile up the bags. Every bit of organic waste diverted buys us all time to think of a better idea.

Perversely, green bin users will be charged to do something that benefits everyone, but as things stand, they would still be free to just throw everything in garbage bags and have them trucked off to the landfill.

The latest glitch: When we start making good on our new year’s resolution Jan. 4 with the first collection of organic waste, the facility being built for it may not be ready.

Still, these are mere details. The bigger question is, “What took us so long?”

With about one-third of our organic waste currently rescued from landfill, we stack up poorly against other Canadian municipalities, and it’s taken more than 10 years of debate and study to make what should be a no-brainer of a program a reality.

Just down the 417, my parents in Pembroke (population: 14,000) have had a green bin program for a few years now, and have already mastered the ins and outs of what goes where and gets picked up when.

Not that we’ve often been accused of cutting-edge urban planning here. Ottawa just opened its first high occupancy vehicle lane on the Queensway to encourage carpooling and thin traffic, an innovation California adopted in the 1970s.

Steve Collins lives, writes and walks in Ottawa; ottawaletters@metronews.ca.

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