Special Report: Waste Management

Councillors Discard Waste Management Proposal

Garbage collection is a touchy subject, but it is irresponsible for Council not to study its options before dismissing them.

By Ryan McGreal
Published April 28, 2011

Last week, the Public Works Committee backpedaled furiously from a proposal to move to bi-weekly garbage collection.

According to a Spectator report published last Tuesday, Councillor Sam Merulla summarized the feeling around the table: "I don't want the message out there that we are even considering bi-weekly pickup."

This is unfortunate. As I argued in February, switching to bi-weekly garbage collection while keeping recycling and green waste collection weekly would allow Hamilton to save taxpayer money, increase waste diversion out of the garbage can and extend the life of Glanbrook Landfill.

The good news is that Councillors Brian McHattie and Russ Powers have not given up on the proposal. Echoing calls from the Waste Reduction Task Force and Environment Hamilton, McHattie and Powers are asking Council not to reject the idea without at least investigating it.

On Monday, Councillor Judi Partridge tested the waters by tweeting the following question: "Taxpayers do you support bi-wkly 2 bag garbage pic-up with weekly pic-up grn bin/yard & recycling -save huge taxes [sic]".

The matter came to Council yesterday - the day before staff are hosting a public workshop as part of a ten-year review of the city's waste management program.

Our Councillors couldn't even bring themselves to ask staff to study the option of bi-weekly garbage collection. As McHattie noted, "We weren’t making a decision tonight. We were asking how much would it cost to go to biweekly. By turning this down tonight, we’ll never have that information."

So much for citizen engagement. Council's refusal even to study the merits of bi-weekly garbage collection does not show the kind of leadership we should expect from our elected representatives. (Of course, refusing to consider options before making a decision is a city tradition.)

Irresponsible Not to Study Merits

In Hamilton, most of the improvements in waste diversion over the past decade have come from expensive investments in alternate streams that extract value out of garbage instead of just burying it in the ground.

These investments are worthwhile, but we now have an opportunity to further improve our waste diversion with a move that would actually save $1.5 - 2.8 million a year.

It is irresponsible not to study the merits of this opportunity.

Garbage is a touchy subject, and Councillors wish to avoid the flood of irate calls and letters they fear will accompany any move perceived as a service cut. However, the common argument against bi-weekly garbage collection is easily addressed.

The most frequent complaint is that garbage starts to smell after two weeks, especially during the summer. However, the garbage that smells is the very stuff that can - and should - be going into green bins instead of the trash.

Only 55% of the compostable waste that Hamiltonians produce makes it into the green bin. The rest still goes into the garbage.

The easiest and most effective way to divert a bigger share of that green waste is to offer Hamiltonians weekly pickup for green waste and bi-weekly pickup for garbage.

Pickup will still be weekly - the only difference is that residents will have to sort their trash.

In any case, we don't need to guess at how it will work. We need only ask our neighbours in Halton Region, who switched to bi-weekly garbage pickup last year.

It may surprise the skeptical to learn that the sky has not fallen over Oakville and Burlington.

A version of this article was first published on OpenFile Hamilton.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By Seriouslyjadednow (anonymous) | Posted April 28, 2011 at 13:20:29

I've been trying to like Merulla but I think now I'm done.

I can't believe this is his position a mere five months after re-election. The poison has spread beyond election time and apparently now will affect the entire term.

What are we to do? We might as well have elections every year at this rate.

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By Rod (anonymous) | Posted April 28, 2011 at 13:28:07

Is the green cart and garbage not picked up in the same truck ? Don't see any savings there.

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By shaddupsevenup (registered) | Posted May 09, 2011 at 06:59:14 in reply to Comment 62814

Yes, it is. I'm not sure how they'd save either.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted April 28, 2011 at 14:40:48

Somehow I imagine a councillor being laughed off the table for suggesting that it wasn't worth studying a $1-3 million HSR cut because it would be "politically unpopular" to talk about. Nor do I see the very controversial Edwards Landfill site by Cayuga being vetoed for such fears.

Funny how these people interpret "public pressure", isn't it?

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted April 28, 2011 at 14:50:10

Just goes to show how the relationship of engagement between citizens and their elected officials...especially in local governance...needs to change.

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted April 28, 2011 at 16:57:00

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted April 28, 2011 at 17:00:38 in reply to Comment 62828

Nice troll, but Burlington and Oakville have had biweekly garbage collection since last year, these aren't radical ideas.

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted April 28, 2011 at 17:22:35 in reply to Comment 62829

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted April 30, 2011 at 10:24:10 in reply to Comment 62831

Trying to implement policy when the majority strongly oppose it is foolhardy.

Really?

Really...?

As much as I am not satisfied with much that occurs in 'politics', for me, the notion of 'the majority' knowing what's best in so many instances goes beyond 'foolhardy' to 'making me throw up a little in my mouth'.

Give me an informed, enlightened, engaged, participating electorate, and then 'the majority' has the cachet to make your statement reasonable.

Until then, no. I may have a healthy cynicism about 'politics' and what our 'politicians' provide on a seemingly constant basis, but my cynicism about the general lack of aptitude and reliability on the part of the average constituent far outstrips it.

'Many people don't have a qualified opinion about their own lives.'

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted April 30, 2011 at 13:28:45 in reply to Comment 62878

comment from banned user deleted

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By drb (registered) - website | Posted April 30, 2011 at 13:48:03 in reply to Comment 62881

Actually, "minority rules" is exactly what we've had for a long time... or haven't you been paying attention.

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted April 30, 2011 at 13:50:22 in reply to Comment 62883

comment from banned user deleted

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted April 28, 2011 at 17:25:50 in reply to Comment 62831

Studying != implementing. Council decided not to even study it.

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted April 28, 2011 at 17:34:18 in reply to Comment 62833

comment from banned user deleted

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted April 28, 2011 at 18:54:07

Because governments ALWAYS do what the democratic majority wants them to do...

Remind me again when we voted on this?

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By michel (registered) | Posted April 29, 2011 at 10:44:55

Actually, there is an easy action the City could take to greatly reduce the VOLUME of garbage without cost to anyone: ALL the 'regular' non-recyclable garbage also needs to be put in CLEAR bags (of a specific colour). Refuse to haul anything with recyclables mixed-in.

You would be amazed to see how much not just individuals but also many businesses do not bother to recycle at present, just throwing everything into their green bags. m.

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By Capital Idea (anonymous) | Posted May 01, 2011 at 16:44:19

Just more hot air and baloney trying to make something sound good. It is not creating any less waste. I worked for years with industry and believe me 90% of the recycled stuff ends up in the land fill. Some edumacation for you people: Look at the little triangle on the bottom of the things you are throwing out, it has a number in the middle of it. Do so research and call the city to find out which of those numbers can be recyled near you. Most of them are garbage cause we don't have no way to process them here.

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