A company that produces compostable coffee pods received a rude awakening last week after learning that Ottawa plans to keep banning the pods from city green bins.
“We were furious,” says John Pigott, chief executive officer of Club Coffee.
The city announced last week it has restructured its green-bin contract with Orgaworld to allow plastic bags and dog feces to be included in the organic waste Ottawans send to a plant in rural south Ottawa.
As proposed, the expanded list of items doesn’t include the compostable coffee pods. In a report, city staff expressed concern about the ability of the organics plant to break down the product.
“This is an area that is still in flux with respect to establishing standards for producers of biodegradable and compostable packaging,” the staff report says. “There is not enough reliable testing to determine how such packaging would fare in Orgaworld’s aerobic composting process (early test results indicate that the rings in one type of compostable coffee pod do not break down in sufficient time, for example).”
The city is essentially worried about contaminating the final compost product.
Toronto-based Club Coffee makes biodegradable coffee pods for several brands, including the McDonald’s-owned McCafé, President’s Choice and Ottawa-based Bridgehead. The pods are used in single-serve coffee machines.
Pigott, who is from Ottawa, said his company’s pods have passed a test with Orgaworld.
He said it’s a case of the marketplace moving faster than the government regulators.
“They’re afraid that we’re the first example and there’s no defined rules,” Pigott said, suggesting that the city might be afraid of opening the door to other biodegradable packaging companies asking for a place in the green bin. “We’re telling them we want to work with them to define the rules.”
Pigott said there needs to be a larger discussion with the province about biodegradable packaging. The Ontario government’s proposed food and organic waste framework discusses compostable products and packaging, encouraging municipalities to support innovation in processing organic waste. The proposed framework, which was first published last November, is part of the province’s strategy to recycle more waste and keep trash out of landfills. It considers phasing our organic waste from landfills as early as 2022.
On the city’s end, there could be budget impacts by opening the door to more green bin material. A biodegradable coffee pod, for example, would be moved from the blue box, a program funded jointly by municipalities and product producers, to the green bin. The city pays Orgaworld a per-tonne processing fee for green bin waste and, in fact, the fee will increase under the proposed revised deal because of the addition of plastic bags and dog waste.