Early in the new year, a selected group of Nelson residents can stop putting their organic kitchen waste in the garbage.
Instead, they can drop it into a countertop appliance that will grind and dehydrate the waste, reducing its volume and weight by about 90 per cent.
The resulting nearly odourless residue (or “soil amendment”) can be put in a garden or compost, or placed in a neighbourhood receptacle to be picked up by waste collection crews.
The city will provide a free FoodCycler to 1,600 households, as the first stage of a pilot project that could extend city-wide if successful. Those households will be broken down into smaller groups that will be phased in gradually with the city monitoring the results and getting feedback from residents.
So far, nearly 200 early adopters have volunteered to take part in the first round, and program co-ordinator Emily Mask says this reflects residents’ growing curiosity about the program.
“The appetite in the community is really good. I get a lot of emails, there’s lots of questions and curiosity,” she says, adding that most of the emails are positive.
Mask says this receptivity might be a result of residents becoming more aware of their waste after unprecedented numbers of bears perished this summer after being lured by garbage.
This new program will not completely solve the problems of bears and garbage, Mask says, but it will help by getting garbage smells out of yards and off of streets.
The FoodCycler is produced by an Ottawa company, Food Cycle Science. A manufacturer’s description of how the Food Cycler works can be found at https://bit.ly/3TWvQxA.
The program is part of a larger project in the Regional District of Central Kootenay to divert food waste from landfills. According to the RDCK, compostable waste generally makes up 40 per cent of total household waste.
While other communities in the region will collect organic waste at curbside and truck it to a composting facility near Salmo, Nelson has decided to pursue this home-based solution on the premise that it will be less expensive and divert more waste.
The city also says the program will produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions than either the current situation (gases produced by a truck to get organic waste to the landfill near Castlegar and the methane produced by the organics in the landfill), or a composting alternative (trucking “wet waste” to to a composting site).
Only in Nelson
The City of Nelson’s new organic waste program is unique in Canada.
Mask says she knows of other communities that are trucking household organic waste to composting sites, and others that are interested in the FoodCycler, but she is aware of no other municipality that is committed to equipping residents to dehydrate the waste on their kitchen counters.
Inquiries she’s received about the program from across the continent tell Mask that other municipalities are watching.
“I think that there’s going to be a lot of civic pride with this project,” she said.
The program will be phased in gradually. In addition to the residents in the early adopters group, the first stage of the pilot might include a specific neighbourhood that has not been determined yet.
Mask says the rollout will be slow, methodical, and cautious, so the city and residents can learn and improve as they go.
“Our city residents will be coming at this with different abilities, capacities, interest levels, so we just have to meet everyone where they’re at. I think there is a fit there for everyone.”
Mask said that even though the operation of the FoodCycler unit is not difficult, there are still many questions including how to store, use, or dispose of the soil amendment. The city will produce a program guide as well as online and in-person tutorials.
Mask will be collecting feedback from the early adopters to improve the rollout to subsequent groups, she said.
As the 1,600-unit pilot succeeds over the next year and the program expands city-wide, there will drop-off locations around town for any soil amendment that residents don’t use in their gardens. The city will then transport the material from the drop-off locations to the recycling site in Salmo.
Pilot project in 2020
In the spring of 2020, 151 households in Nelson placed a FoodCycler on their kitchen counters and fed it their kitchen scraps for three months. The city analyzed the waste reduction numbers, and the opinions, of the users. Overall, participants gave the FoodCycler a rating of 4.4 out of 5, and 83 per cent said they would recommend it to others. Of the remaining 17 per cent, only one person said they would not recommend it.
The 151 participants processed a total of 30,000 litres (15 tonnes) of food waste over the three months and saved 187 garbage tags.
The city’s confidence that the program will save both money and greenhouse gases is based on its analysis of the 2020 pilot.
The FoodCycler uses the same amount of energy as a desktop computer running for the length of the cycle, or about $2 per month, according to a city analysis.
The FoodCyclers will have a seven-year warranty, and plans are in place to establish a local repair program, and arrangements with local retailers to supply replacement filters and other accessories.
According to a document presented to city council on Oct. 25, the cost of the purchase of 1,600 appliances and the administration of the program is $1,061,440.
The city has received grant funding of $682,720. The remaining $378,720 will come from the city’s funds held in reserve for recycling and or equipment.
The grants are from the Columbia Basin Climate Resilience Program ($198,750), the provincial Local Government Climate Action Program ($114,000), Environment and Climate Change Canada ($25,000), and from a grant funder the name of which the city has not yet released (about $370,000).
Mask invites residents to register for the early adopters list at https://bit.ly/3zy6zRX.