By Domenic Romeo, Aurora ON. What happens to our garbage? The other day I was at a local coffee shop with my wife and at the table next to us a gentleman was speaking quite loudly to his group of friends and describing a recent story in the news about an Aurora resident who reported a run-in with the Town of Aurora garbage collection contractor and subsequently retaliated by shipping his compost, recycling and Town of Aurora garbage to the contractor’s offices. Their conversation shifted to one about bad experiences with Town of Aurora garbage collection and how complicated the ‘rules’ are becoming related to what is allowed in each waste stream. Then a comment made by one of the people at their table cut through the chatter, ‘Does it really matter? We don’t know what happens after they pick-up from the curb. They use the same truck for both recycling and compost; for all we know they could be mixing them together and dumping them in a landfill.‘
“… knowledge brings understanding and helps us make educated decisions.”
Although the comment was clearly intended to be sarcastic the sad truth is that most people do not know much about what actually happens to any of our waste after it is picked up from our curbs. Yes, the ‘rules‘ related to what waste goes to what streams are becoming more complicated since source separation was implemented for blue box recycling, green bin compost, yard waste, black bag (soon to be clear bag) residual waste garbage, bulky items, large metal items, household hazardous waste, and electronic e-waste. But there are resources available like ‘bindicator‘ from the York Region web site or ‘my-waste-app‘ from the Town of Aurora web site that can help you determine what goes where. You can find the reference links to those sites below.
This is the information age. In today’s world I believe most people have the desire to be environmentally conscious, they just need to start with some basic knowledge coupled with some regular encouragement. So here’s what I’d consider some of the basic knowledge related to 3 of the main collectable waste streams; blue box, green bin, and residual waste (Town of Aurora garbage).
The Town of Aurora is responsible for curbside pick up of our waste through a waste management contractor. Since Aurora is part of York Region, collected waste is delivered to one of York Region’s facilities for Sorting and Recycling (blue box), Composting (green bin), or to a Transfer station for residual waste (garbage) disposal.
For blue box recycling item the main recycling facility for York Region is located in East Gwillimbury. Everything that arrives at the facility is first sorted by people. Items that cannot be recycled or items that may contaminate or interfere with subsequent processes must be removed at this point. Paper, cardboard, plastic bottles, aluminum cans, glass bottles/jars, juice boxes, egg cartons, etc will continue through the process. Equipment and technology such as conveyor belts, mechanical screens, infrared (IR) lights, compressed air, and electrical eddy currents are then used to sort and separate the remaining items. Paper and cardboard actually make up most of the recycled waste so they are removed before the plastics, metals, and glass. In the end the various sorted materials are compressed and then sent to companies to be made into other products. It’s important to note that any items that could not be recycled do require special handling since they need to be processed in their appropriate waste streams (residual waste, hazardous waste, e-waste, or other).
“If we all embrace the responsibility to reduce, reuse, recycle, and recover we will find it much easier to make the right choices.”
For green bin composting items, similar to recycling there are various steps involved in processing the waste in order to make it into safe nutrient rich compost for gardening. The composting facility will accept compostable bags containing food scraps, some paper products, personal hygiene items, pet waste, indoor plant clippings/flowers, and small amounts of shredded paper. Since only organic-type items should be included in the composting stream everything is dumped into mechanical bag breakers to loosen the contents from the bags and mix them. Once again, technology is applied to ensure the composting process is set up to work properly. Mixture content ratios (like carbon to nitrogen), moisture, porous air pockets, and temperature all need some level of control and monitoring in order for the compost to be broken down and any bad bacteria neutralized. Then a screening process is applied to remove any remaining plastic bags or metal items. As one of the last steps the compost is cured for 3 to 4 weeks then tested for safety before being sold as soil nutrient.
For residual waste (garbage) items, anything that is not recyclable, not compostable , not yard waste, not hazardous and not electronic waste is collected as garbage and sent to a Regional transfer station. If everything is diverted correctly, typically what is left in the residual waste stream is plastic packaging materials, polystyrene, and other items that are not recycled. The contents of the residual waste stream are becoming more and more important since the Regional transfer stations will consolidate what they receive and truck the garbage to a designated energy-from-waste(EFW) incinerator facility. Yes, that’s right we’re no longer talking about landfills where garbage is buried in the ground. An EFW facility is an incinerator that burns residual waste, the combustion creates steam and runs turbines and generators to produce electricity – hence converting ‘energy-from-waste’. In 2014 the residual waste (garbage) from York Region municipalities was being sent to two EFW facilities: Algonquin Power in Brampton (Ontario, Canada) and Covanta Energy in Niagara Falls (New York, USA). In 2015 York Region will start to direct some of the residual waste to a new EFW facility that is jointly owned by York Region and Durham Region. The new facility is Durham York Energy Centre in Clarington (Ontario, Canada). For large bulky items that are not suitable for EFW there will still be two landfill destinations: Green Lane Landfill in St. Thomas (Ontario, Canada) and Niagara Waste Landfill in Thorold (Ontario, Canada).
Although I haven’t covered information related to waste streams such as yard waste, household hazardous waste and electronic e-waste, I would encourage you to visit the Town of Aurora web site and the York Region web site. In both sites you will find useful information related to all the waste streams including some descriptive videos.
In conclusion, knowledge brings understanding and helps us make educated decisions. The information above was intended to provide some basic knowledge about what happens to Town of Aurora garbage after it leaves our curbs today. That knowledge should encourage us understand why sorting and separating items for the various waste streams will continue to be important. Looking forward it is certain that our communities will continue to change and so too will waste generation, diversion and disposal. If we all embrace the responsibility to reduce, reuse, recycle, and recover we will find it much easier to make the right choices.