Garbage – The Orgaworld Contract and green bin program

During this term of Council, the issue of garbage and its disposal has increasingly become a problem for all citizens in the City of Ottawa. Unfortunately, we find that for too often city staff and council have approached this issue very disjointedly without looking at the overall problem and properly consulting the people. Without doubt, this has certainly been true with regard to the implementation of the green bin program, the Orgaworld contract and now with the introduction of bi-weekly garbage pick up.

 

History

Back in 2008, the plans for the Orgaworld contract and the green bin program were brought forward to Council. It was at that time that Council was told that the taxpayers of the city would be paying more than $7.4 million to pick up 80,000 tonnes of organics, with little hope that this number could ever be reached.

Despite having this knowledge almost the entire Council, including your representative Doug Thompson, voted for the introduction of these programs. The only Councillor who voted against it was Gord Hunter. Also, at the time, Council decided to not bring forward the bi-weekly garbage collection and the weekly organics collection until after the 2010 election because they knew it would not be popular. *[1](Listen to Rob Snow interview with Councillor Eli El-Chantiry)

 

The Orgaworld Contract

In 2008, even when they first found out about the Orgaworld compost plant being built, numerous citizens expressed their concerns. Many residents in the Hawthorne and Rideau road areas were upset because they were not properly consulted about the project. At the time, their concerns were understandably about the possible heavy truck traffic; possible odours and fears of contamination of water in their neighbourhood. Of course, they had no idea at the time what kind of impact this project would eventually have on all the citizens of the city of Ottawa.

Back in June 2008, your councillor Doug Thompson said he would look into forming an advisory committee to oversee the process. (1) However, it was not until almost 11/2 years later, on Nov. 17, 2009, that the first meeting of the Orgaworld Advisory Committee took place. Unfortunately, by the time of these first meetings, it was clearly not meant to hear citizens concerns, but merely to “smooth things over”. The plant was almost completed! [2] (Ottawa Residents oppose green bin project – Jun. 25, 2008)

Furthermore, if you look carefully at the documents from the Orgaworld Advisory Committee some interesting points become apparent. First, if you look at the terms of reference, this PLC was an initiative put on by Orgaworld, not councillor Thompson. The membership of this committee was limited to a small number of people, with very few ordinary citizens included. Also, despite the original stated intentions, this group only met a total of 5 times prior to the Grand Opening of the plant in June 2010, never again. Moreover, as the monthly meetings progressed, attendance on the committee went down with little or no effort made to replace absent members.

In addition, I have highlighted a few of the statements made at these meetings by your councillor Doug Thompson. AS an example, at the Dec. 15, 2009 PLC meeting Doug stated “it was a City problem with how they said the Green Bin program was to be paid for.” Please keep in mind that this was our representative saying this. These kinds of statements should be of interest, as they very clearly reflect his true attitude to the program!
[3](See Public Liaison Committee Document)
OrgaWorld Advisory Committee  November 17,2009
OrgaWorld Advisory Committee – December 15,2009
OrgaWorld Advisory Committee – January 21,2010
OrgaWorld Advisory Committee – February 24,2010
Orgaworld Advisory Committee – March 23,2010

 

The Green Bin Program

Due to the Orgaworld contract, the green bin program was officially started in 2010 even though Council and city staff knew the numbers were unachievable. Unfortunately, by the terms of the contract, the city was committed to paying Orgaworld for 80,000 tonnes a year at a cost of approximately $7.4 million, for a period of 20 years, whether they reach the numbers or not. This works out to about $94 a ton. [4](Organics Contract Wasting tons of taxpayers dollars) Everyone still wonders who came up with the ridiculous numbers for this contract!

Nevertheless, in 2010 over 200,000 green bins were delivered to citizens with start-up costs for the program of about $16.8 million. Our property tax bills were charged $89.00 for the green bin as a separate charge. This was despite the fact that many residents didn’t want to pay for the green bin program, particularly in rural areas, because they already composted organic waste. At the time, almost 2,800 green bins were returned to the city by angry home owners. [5](Readers Have green bin fixes)  + [6] (Alta vista residents cash in biweekly trash pickup)

In 2011 and 2012, the early years of the program, the total organic tonnage sent to Orgaworld was about 55,000 tonnes both years. Only slightly increasing the overall waste diversion rate. In April 2011, Council voted for the changes to the program to be implemented in late 2012, with bi-weekly garbage pickup and the green bin being picked up every week instead of bi-weekly. Then, as we all know, leaf and yard waste pick up was included only to boost the numbers.

Due to the public pressure against the program in this area, and knowing it was going to sail through Council anyways, Doug Thompson voted against the program. Subsequently, interestingly, our Osgoode Councillor apologized profusely, more than once, to Mayor Jim Watson. [7](BiWeekly garbage pickup here-2012) + [8](Sun & the City – Blog) Once again showing how conflicted our representative was with this and so many issues that came before Council throughout his tenure. Far too often our Councillor seemed to forget who he was representing!

When the city voted to go to the weekly green bin program, taxpayers were promised that the overall cost of garbage collection would go down $9 million a year. However, by late 2013, Ottawa taxpayers were actually paying $1.6 million a month for the green bin program. This works out to over $19 million a year. [9](City spending more green on bins)

These ever increasing costs clearly cast doubt on the belief that the green bin is a cheaper alternative to other waste diversions. As an example, to send 20,000 tonnes of leaf and yard waste to Orgaworld costs close to $1.9 million, while to send it to compost at the city’s Trail Road site costs about $400,000.

Moreover, we recently found out the fact that the city sent as much as 11,000 tonnes of compostable waste last year to Orgaworld that was not being processed. The rejected material was then being sent to the Trail Road waste facility. All this really accomplished was to increase the costs, as we were paying for the same material twice. Of course, this once again shows the extent that the city will go to cover up a badly thought out plan, contract and implementation of a program. [10] (Taxpayers seeing double over waste) + [11](processing 10,000 tonnes twice) + [12](Spies or garbage cops?) + [13](Councillors won’t attend OrgaWorld Opening)

 

The Orgaworld Audit

Despite all the efforts by city staff and Council to try to social engineer and convince us of the benefits of the green bin and using Orgaworld, the contract has “smelled” from the start.

Finally, in Feb. 2011, the Environmental Chair Councillor Maria McRae, asked for an audit of the Orgaworld contract. The audit was expected to reveal how the city decided on the number of 80,000 tonnes of organic waste being sent annually to Orgaworld for 20 years. At the time, Councillor McRae called the city’s 20-year green bin contract with Orgaworld an “abysmal disgrace”. Shortly thereafter, the city auditor general of the day Alain Lalonde began conducting the audit, which was completed in late 2012. [14](Councillor Angry ‘stonewalling’ green bin audit) + [15](OrgaWorld audit under veil of screcy)

However, since that time, the city solicitor (Rick O’Connor) and others from the city have provided a wide range of questionable explanations as to why Mr. Lalonde’s Orgaworld audit cannot be released. In early 2013, we were told that arbitration between the city and Orgaworld over a number of issues, for legal reasons, prevented the audit from being released. However, by January of this year it was clear that arbitration between the city and Orgaworld had been completed. The author of the Orgaworld audit, Alain Lalonde had long hoped to present his findings, but unfortunately, due to the “mythical” process this has gone on so long he is now retired. Now we are still being told it cannot be released, perhaps even until after the 2014 election. [16](Green Bin stinky secret) Unquestionably this stinks!

As Councillor McRae herself says, every time the city comes back with a “stonewalling – type answer” the public loses faith in the organics program. Clearly, we don’t need the audit to tell us that the 80,000 tonnes was always simply a number pulled out of thin air. Also, we know that the conditions, cost and length of the contract were not well thought out. Clearly, therefore, the effort to keep the audit under wraps we can only conclude is to protect the individuals who signed it!

 

Solutions

(1) Return Weekly Garbage Pickup

As mentioned, one of the “core services of municipal government is garbage collection and waste disposal. Therefore, in my opinion, it is clear that the first step that must be done by the city is to return to weekly garbage pickup.

Of course, using the green bin can be a personal choice and there is absolutely no reason to not continue having organic waste picked up weekly. However, many citizens do not appreciate the garbage accumulation and the associated inconveniences caused by the bi-weekly pickup. The problems of odours, pests and wildlife, particularly in the summer months, have been well documented.

Furthermore, due to the fact that we get so little in the way of city services, this is an obvious return we must get from the taxes we pay in the rural areas. Without question, there is no tangible evidence that has been presented by the city that there has been any savings from the bi-weekly initiative. In fact, in truth as I have pointed out, we are actually paying more. Therefore, if elected the absolute first initiative I would make is to have weekly garbage pickup reinstated for Osgoode Ward.

(2) Release the Orgaworld Audit!

There must be total accountability for what city staff and Council do on behalf of the citizens. I feel very strongly that the city is showing a lack of integrity and are not being very respectful of taxpayers by not releasing this document.

It is very obvious that the city is now trying to protect members of city upper management, some staff, or even a couple of Councillors reputation by not releasing the audit. If there are resulting consequences for the people responsible for making this contract, so be it!

All this is really accomplishing now is to delay the proper evolution of the green bin program. Don’t fudge the numbers and make us pay more to compost just to make the program look better. Be honest and have us only pay for true diversion data.

Therefore, I would pursue the following:

(1)   Release the Orgaworld audit, we deserve this information.

(2)   Re-open the Orgaworld contract and re-work it to reflect true achievable diversion numbers.

(3) Explore Alternative Waste Diversion Methods

I have long believed that burning our garbage to produce electricity is likely the way of the future and one of the most efficient ways to handle our garbage problem. In fact, during the 2010 election I expressed my support of exploring the Plasco Energy Group initiative in this regard.

As you know, during this term Council has given its support to the initiatives by Plasco. Thankfully, probably due to the Orgaworld fiasco, there is no financial risk to the city and taxpayers. Unfortunately, to this point the company has had problems obtaining financing. [17] + [18]

My concern is that the city has made the mistake of not, at the same time, also exploring other enterprises that could offer such a program. In my opinion, we should definitely seek out expertise from companies in European countries that have long used this kind of technology!

[17] Plasco to heat 300 tonnes of trash daily – Dec.2, 2011

[18] City gives Plasco – Aug. 15,2013