Who's the Fool??

Who's the Fool??

Here’s a shout out to all Calgarians: Weekly Green Bin pick up starts back up again on April 1st! Needless to say, we’re excited about this. Not only is this an imminent sign of spring, but it means we are back to getting a better bang for our buck. Well, “better” would be better suited in quotes, as like your garden in the spring, we’re still getting hosed.

Back in 2016, the City of Calgary completed its organic pilot project and proposed the rest of the city receive green bins to help reduce municipal waste by approximately 50%1. Of course, this would cost tax payers a hefty $6.50 per month. That sum would be worth every penny considering Canadians generate 2.7Kg2 of waste per person per day. Breaking that down: at 50% diversion, we would compost 1.35 Kg per person per day, meaning that in Calgary (1.2 million people in 2016)4, the Green Bin program would divert 1,672 tons of waste per day (that’s over 600,000 tons per year!), meaning that we are paying much less than a cent per ton of compost. What a deal! Especially since Council so willingly used the Fiscal Sustainability Reserve Fund (Rainy Day Fund) to pay all costs for the first year.

That’s about where the good news ends. We’ve learned, through sad experience, that through people’s nature and disposition, when they receive a little authority, they immediately begin to “[talk without speaking, [hear] without listening” 3. Facts are difficult to argue with, so let’s look at the facts. The numbers indicate that our city will produce 600,000 tons of compost per year. The City built the new composting facility to process 86,000 tons per year, based on extrapolations from the pilot project.  Oops!

Even given the benefit of the doubt that theoretical math and actual values don’t always equate, that’s still a significant discrepancy. We encountered the same math illiteracy when we approached the City of Calgary at the beginning of 2017, proposing that diapers be included in the Green Bin program. With over 86,000 diaper aged children5, there would be over 110 million diapers going to one of three landfills, constituting over 50,000 tons of waste that could be further diverted. This number doesn’t include adult diapers which could easily add another third. The response was less than positive when officials stated they expected no more than 4,000 tons per year at maximum participation. Our proposal included a $2 per month increase to the price of the Green Bin, which officials hollered down as astronomical, and “how could [they] justify to city residents a 30% increase in cost for a 5% increase in value.” (City of Calgary Waste and Recycling Management, personal communication)

This all becomes important when we consider the recent changes to the Green Bin program. First, Calgarians are now paying for the Green Bin service. If you haven’t glanced at your utility bill recently, we suggest you do so. What you’ll find is the cost of the program actually costs us $8.50 per month, down from $9. After less than a year in full operation and having received numerous complaints about the program being inefficient during the winter months, the weekly collection service was reduced by 50% from October through April.


There are two things at play here:

  1. Weren’t we supposed to be paying $6.50 for weekly service? Now we’re getting half the service for half the year, or a 25% reduction in service annually. Let me state that again: a 50 cent (6.5%) reduction in cost for a 25% reduction in service? That means that we are paying 38% more money than proposed each month to receive 25% less service.
  2. Didn’t the City tell us that no one would agree to pay an extra $2/month to have diapers included, stating there’d be an uproar among the citizens of Calgary? Yes. Yes, they did. Funny how when they included the same proposed increase, no one’s batted an eye.

The long and short of it: Calgarians are just getting hosed. If you compared these figures to effective dollars (what we would be paying for 100% of the service) it would equate to paying $11.50 per month for composting!

At the end of the day, the rewards of waste reduction are still worth it. What we question is the hypocrisy going on behind closed doors at City Council. Wasn’t it city management who touted justification to residents? Even if their wonky, self-serving, “new math” type calculations only predicted a 5% increase in value, how much more valuable is that than what their actual results have turned out to be?

How appropriate that the Green Bin resumes weekly collection on April Fool’s Day. Unfortunately, Calgary, it appears we are the fools.



  1. CBC News. (2014). Retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/canadians-produce-more-garbage-than-anyone-else-1.1394020 on March 30, 2019.
  2. Judith A. Layzer and Alexix Schulman. 2014. “Municipal Curbside Compostables Collection: What Works and Why?”. Work product of the Urban Sustainability Assessment (USA) Project, Departent of Urban Studies and Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  3. Simon, Paul. 1964. The Sound of Silence. Universal Music Publishing Group.
  4. Statistics Canada. 2016. Retrieved from: https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/dp-pd/prof/details/page.cfm?Lang=E&Geo1=POPC&Code1=0115&Geo2=PR&Code2=48&Data=Count&SearchText=Calgary&SearchType=Begins&SearchPR=01&B1=All&GeoLevel=PR&GeoCode=0115&TABID=1 on March 30, 2019.
  5. “Ibid”.