Special Report: Waste Management

Council Chooses Expediency Over Evidence

Yesterday's vote was all about making a contentious issue go away, rather than actually achieving the City's goal of maximizing waste diversion.

By Ryan McGreal
Published February 22, 2012

The General Issues Committee (GIC, formerly the committee of the whole) voted 12-3 yesterday to continue weekly garbage pickup, rejecting the staff recommendation to move to bi-weekly garbage pickup combined with weekly recycling and green bin pickup.

In addition to the one-container limit, the city will issue tags allowing residents to put out another 26 containers of garbage a year, or an average of one additional container every two weeks.

The staff recommendation would have increased waste diversion rates from 49 percent to 55 percent and further extending the life of the Glanbrook Landfill, while saving the city $3.6 million a year.

The plan approved yesterday will cost $1.4 million more than the staff recommendation and will, if anything, result in an actual reduction in the city's waste diversion rate after a decade of steady improvement.

Path of Least Resistance

Policy should be driven by evidence, not fear, but it is abundantly clear that Council chose the path of least resistance rather than the path of best practice. This vote was all about making a contentious issue go away, rather than actually achieving the City's goal of maximizing waste diversion.

It is unconscionable that Council would increase the allowable limit by 50 percent in response to a 3 percent non-compliance rate with the one-bag limit - especially when a cheaper, more effective solution is waiting on the table.

Councillors who supported the decision argued that bi-weekly garbage pickup "imposes a decrease of quality of life" because it "subjects residents to odor issues", as Sam Merulla argued yesterday on twitter.

Bi-weekly garbage pickup is actually non-punitive, in that it establishes a built-in incentive for residents to divert compostable waste out of the trash without the need for enforcement. Halton Region moved to bi-weekly pickup over a year ago and has already reached 60 percent waste diversion.

The only odorous waste that cannot be composted - diapers and dog waste - can easily be stored in a container with a lid, even in an inner-city home without a garage or a large lot.

Illegal Dumping

Given all of the media attention around illegal dumping, it may come as a surprise that there is no actual evidence that dumping has increased since the one-bag limit came into effect.

Staff note that the number of complaints related to dumping has gone up, but due to the way dumped garbage is cleaned, they have not been able to confirm an increase in actual volumes.

In other words, the illegal dumping "crisis" may be nothing more than an artifact of cognitive bias: people are more likely to notice events they're already thinking about.

What staff can report is that three quarters of the illegally dumped garbage they clean is not residential in origin, which suggests that rescinding the one-container limit will not make much of a difference.

Vote Breakdown

Here is the vote breakdown, according to the report:

Kudos to Councillors Ferguson, Johnson and McHattie for voting based on best practice rather than expediency.

Councillors still have to ratify this vote at a Council meeting, so this is your last chance to provide feedback on the plan.

Text of the Motion

Here is the text of the motion that the GIC approved yesterday, as stated in GIC Report 12-005:

Waste Collection and Procurement Processes 2013-2020 (Item 8.1)

That Project 3 be approved as the Preferred Waste Collection System as follows:

(a) That the City's Waste Collection System commencing April 1, 2013 Consist of the following-services:

(i) Weekly collection of Organic Waste;
(ii) Weekly collection of one (1) container of Garbage per residential unit;
(iii) Weekly Leaf and Yard Waste collection;
(iv) Weekly call-in Bulk Waste collection for curbside collection and weekly call-in collection of Bulk Waste for multi-residential buildings;
(v) Weekly two-stream collection of Recyclable Materials;
(vi) Weekly two-stream Automated Recycling Cart collection;
(vii) Weekly front-end Bin Service for Garbage collection;
(viii) Supply of front-end Bin Containers for Recyclable Fibres and weekly front-end Bin Service for Recyclable Fibres collection;
(ix) Multi-day collection of Public Space Litter Containers.and Public Space Recycling Containers;

(b) That the waste collection system in (a) include the following refinements:

(i) Collection of up to 26 containers of Garbage per residential unit per year through a curbside tag system;
(ii) Permit the use of alternative recycling containers to reduce escaped waste;
(iii) Supply of front-end garbage bin containers for garbage collection at municipal facilities;
(iv) Continue with Special Considerations for households with children, medical circumstances, home day cares and agricultural properties of up to three (3) containers weekly through a curb side tag system;
(v) Bulk waste reuse events as a pilot program; and
(vi) Phase in of smaller green carts;

(c) That the Special Considerations provisions in the Solid Waste Management By-law 09-067 be amended to allow for families with two (2) children under the age of four (4) to be eligible for Special Consideration;

(d) That appropriate amendments to Solid Waste Management By-law 09-067 be enacted to implement recommendations (a), (b) and (c);

(e) That GFL Environmental East Corporation, be selected as the Successful Proponent for:

(i) Project 3 of Request for Proposals C11-30-11 which is comprised of:

1. Weekly collection of Organic Waste in Zones B1, B2 and B3;
2. Weekly collection of one container of Garbage per residential unit in Zones B1, B2 and B3;
3. Weekly Leaf and Yard Waste collection in Zones B1, B2 and B3;
4. Weekly call-in Bulk Waste Curbside collection and weekly collection of Bulk Waste for multi-residential buildings in Zones B1, B2 and B3;
5. Weekly two-stream collection of Recyclable Materials City-wide;
6. Weekly two-stream Automated Recycling Cart collection City-wide;
7.Weekly front-end Bin Service for Garbage collection City-wide;
8. Supply of front-end Bin Containers for Recyclable Fibres and weekly front-end Bin Service for Recyclable Fibres collection City-wide;
9. Multi-day collection of Public Space Litter Containers and Public-Space Recycling Containers in Zones B1, B2 and B3; and

(ii) Additional Work identified in Request for Proposals. Cll-30-11 including:

1. A garbage tag system to supplement the curbside garbage collection program;
2. Collection of blue boxes with lids and larger blue boxes;
3. The supply of bin containers at municipal facilities; and
4. Bulk waste reuse events, at the discretion of the City;

(g) That the contract period be seven (7) years commencing April 1, 2013 with the potential extension of one (1), one (1) year term;

(g) That the General Manager of Public Works be authorized and directed to finalize the terms and conditions of the agreement with GFL Environmental East Corporation in accordance with the provisions of Request for Proposals C11-30-11;

(h) That the Mayor and City Clerk be authorized and directed to execute the agreement with GFL Environmental East Corporation, together with any necessary documents, in a form satisfactory to the City Solicitor;

(i) That Capital Project 5121294500 Recycling Program- Vehicle Acquisition and Facility Modification, which was parked duringthe 2012 Capital Budget process be withdrawn from further consideration and the 2012 Capital Financing Strategy be amended to reflect a lower reliance on Future Fund financing;

(J) That the Operations & Waste Management Division be authorized to increase the Waste Collection Operator staff complement by no more than twelve (12) full time employees commencing in 2013; and

(k) That the Outstanding Business Items referring to Waste Collection and Recycling Processing Procurement Processes for 2013-2020 as well as Activity Based Costing for Public Sector Waste Collection 2013-2020 be identified as completed and removed from the Public Works Committee Outstanding Business List.

On a Motion the following was added as sub-section (I):

(I) That staff be directed to report to the General Issues Committee on the performance of the tag system over the period of April 2013 to April 2014 by August 2014 including details of the performance of the program in general, whether or not there has been an increase or decrease in waste diversion, illegal dumping and the possibility of introducing a cost to the tag system.

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.

23 Comments

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted February 22, 2012 at 09:30:05

Wow, even if dumping is a major issue, for $1.4 million you can hire a lot of guys with pickup trucks to go around and clean up any "dumped" garbage.

I notice the contract is being renewed as part of this change:

That GFL Environmental East Corporation, be selected as the Successful Proponent... That the contract period be seven (7) years commencing April 1, 2013 with the potential extension of one (1), one (1) year term

Anyone have any idea when that contract was truly due to expire? I assume it would have gone back out to tender when it did.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 22, 2012 at 09:39:09 in reply to Comment 74619

It expires in 2013, which is why Council is under the gone to finalize its waste policy.

Nothing like locking into mediocrity for seven years.

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By Wasted (anonymous) | Posted February 22, 2012 at 09:36:08

I couldn't agree with you more here Ryan.
Thanks for spelling things out so clearly.

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By JasonAAllen (registered) - website | Posted February 22, 2012 at 11:21:37

Perhaps someone could arrange a media event where people very publicly shred and recycle their extra 26 tags to demonstrate how wasteful and unneccessary this motion is?

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted February 22, 2012 at 12:22:34 in reply to Comment 74628

Shred 'em? Sell 'em and donate the proceeds to Environment Hamilton or another ENGO who will do more for our local environment than council will.

These tags aren't going to have any impact on pro-social behaviour. As Ryan pointed out, they are a political reaction to public grumbling, not part of a wider diversion plan.

Tags are normally issued as part of Pay As You Throw schemes where a muni. is trying to motivate diversion.

Council did the opposite, offering lazy citizens enhanced free pick-up in exchange for nothing.

Comment edited by Borrelli on 2012-02-22 12:23:15

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted February 22, 2012 at 12:30:08

I'll put this in the other thread, but I'll repeat it here:

I don't understand where the 50% undiverted waste is coming from? Is it a matter of Hamiltonians not recycling properly? (i.e. Throwing food waste into the garbage)

Or is it something else, like commercial premises choosing not to recycle, or mutli-resident buildings which don't support recycling?

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted February 23, 2012 at 09:41:03 in reply to Comment 74635

Seems like no one else knows the reason for the low waste diversion rate either? That might be a problem...

We may be erroneously assuming that residents are to blame, and that bi-weekly collection will force them to "sort better".

Maybe the blame lies elsewhere?

We need to target our actions to address the cause, and it may well be that there are other changes we can implment to increase diversion 10% or 15% rather than trying to squeeze another 5% out of residential households through "better sorting".

My two cents, I really want to know more about this 50% undiverted waste, and what it is, and where it comes from.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted February 22, 2012 at 14:03:54

The 2010 Solid Waste Management Annual Report cites 49% diversion rates for residential. Not sure how they parse out multi-unit buildings, but apparently "99% of all multi-residential buildings in the City now have three-stream waste collection."

Obviously there's a problem with diversion buy-in--I see remarkably few green bins out on the sidewalks in my neighbourhood--and we can speculate at length at the causes. Regardless, I think public education needs to be a priority. Everyone can access diversion programs, now it's a matter of using public education combined with incentives to get regular folks to participate.

Earlier in this debate, some councillor chimed in that we need not worry about diversion rates among this generation, because, by golly, kids are better recyclers than their parents.

This take on human psychology is only completely misguided: Role modelling is arguably the most powerful teaching method there is, and most people immediately see the folly in "Do as I say, not as I do."

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted February 22, 2012 at 15:57:27 in reply to Comment 74640

Children of the '80s learned to love recycling because we had TV and educators beating it into our skulls that recycling was important.

We turned improper disposal of recyclable materials into a sin for the whole generation.

Somehow I don't see this happening with green bins, I don't see anything like that kind of educational campaign.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted February 22, 2012 at 21:20:03 in reply to Comment 74647

As a child of the 1980s, I recycle when I can, but don't feel bad when I can't.

Guess I'm rebelling against 'the man'.

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By TreyS (registered) | Posted February 22, 2012 at 18:47:28

Everyone is still free to put out one garbage bag every two weeks.

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By grahamm (registered) | Posted February 22, 2012 at 19:52:03 in reply to Comment 74659

We're also free to pay our taxes early.....

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By grahamm (registered) | Posted February 22, 2012 at 19:50:15

You would not hear about this kind of backwards steps in a "progressive" city (read 'city that is going somewhere'). Think this news would come out of Vancouver? Seattle? Guelph? Waterloo?

Its embarrassing.

I know my comment isn't helpful in the big picture, but simple things like this; things that seem so obvious, don't seem to get done in this city. And its depressing.

Onwards - at least 3 councillors are on the right side of the debate.

I wonder what Farr's motivations were...

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted February 22, 2012 at 21:22:48

Ya know what we need? A garbage strike. Every time it happens in Toronto I find a reason to visit, if only to remind myself what a modern city looks (and smells) like without garbage collection for even a few weeks. The amount of trash we pile up is atrocious, and it has to go somewhere. We've developed a costly and toxic way of putting the problem "out of sight and mind", but it really isn't any kind of solution.

What we need are some community-based waste diversion programs. Freecycle, Craigslist, Etsy and others are now showing that large amounts of this waste can be put immediately back into use, but that there's often a market for them and for those who'd work to repair and transform them. Between salvaging appliances/clothes/furniture, reclaiming useful materials (wood, textiles, plastics etc) and community-based composting, we could seriously reduce the load on all kinds of municipal collection while returning value straight to communities. Of course, no initiatives we start up could solve the entire waste problem, but that's not the point. As with the "Garbage Crawl", the best way to make a statement on an issue (trash) is to start doing something about it and hope others join in.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted February 23, 2012 at 09:37:04 in reply to Comment 74668

Between salvaging appliances/clothes/furniture, reclaiming useful materials (wood, textiles, plastics etc) and community-based composting, we could seriously reduce the load on all kinds of municipal collection while returning value straight to communities.

You're talking about something like an old fashioned ragman Undustrial... not a bad idea.

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted February 22, 2012 at 22:43:40

Why not charge a nominal fee for the extra tags? A dollar apiece, perhaps?

Consider that there are over 200,000 residences in Hamilton (203,806 "Private dwellings occupied by usual residents" were counted in the 2011 Census). Suppose 10-20% decide they must produce more than two bags of garbage every 2 weeks. Suppose that averages to a single extra bag, or the 26 "free" per year that will be offered. At $1 per tag, keeping the number of residences rounded, that would bring in $520,000-$1,040,000 per year.

That would put a nice dent in the difference between the "compromise" and the staff recommendation, wouldn't it.

This is not unreasonable, in my opinion. Then again, some people will do anything to save a buck, so I could be wrong.

Comment edited by ScreamingViking on 2012-02-22 22:47:12

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted February 23, 2012 at 12:28:18 in reply to Comment 74671

I think this is likely where this experiment is eventually going, but they wanted to introduce "free" tags first, and will eventually make people pay for them, and over time reduce the number of "free" tags being given out.

I foresee a future where all garbage bags will need tags, that cost $2 a piece, and no free tags at all.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 23, 2012 at 12:32:30 in reply to Comment 74708

Council backpedaled frantically from bi-weekly garbage pickup coupled with weekly blue/green pickup because they were terrified residents would see this as a 'service reduction'.

I can't imagine a scenario in which the idea of charging residents to pick up their garbage wouldn't trigger the same panic.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted February 23, 2012 at 20:32:32 in reply to Comment 74709

"Council backpedaled frantically from bi-weekly garbage pickup coupled with weekly blue/green pickup because they were terrified residents would see this as a 'service reduction'."

How isn't it? I believe that we currently pay for weekly garbage pickup, not bi-weekly.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 23, 2012 at 21:22:41 in reply to Comment 74714

We would receive weekly pickup of compost and recyclable waste and bi-weekly pickup of non-compostable and non-recyclable waste, which makes up a small portion of household garbage.

What we pay for is waste management. That includes curbside pickup, sorting and streaming, recycling, composting, and landfill. The more recyclable and compostable garbage we allow to go to landfill, the faster Glanbrook will fill up, and the sooner we will need to find some new place to bury our garbage.

Try to imagine how difficult and expensive it will be for the City to find some new place willing to take our garbage. Bi-weekly garbage pickup will look like a basement bargain in retrospect.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted February 24, 2012 at 07:58:52 in reply to Comment 74716

Why aren't we looking at incerating again?

To be honest, as I've said before, my condo building, as would others as well as apartment complexes, would have a hard time keeping garbage around for 2 weeks from many different units.

Our building puts out, as a guess, 40-50 bags a week. We're a 60-unit condo building. We barely have room for storage as it is. We put out 6-10 large blue bins on wheels plus 2-4 green bins a week. Halving the garbage pickup would cause our garage to smell like a dump, not to mention start to look like one.

Not everyone lives in a house and has places to store their trash and this must also be taken into consideration.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted February 24, 2012 at 09:50:10 in reply to Comment 74726

If they ever do decide to go to "two week" collection, I think they'll have to exempt multi-unit buildings for just that reason. One house has plenty of space to store their garbage for a week (typically outside or in a garage). An apartment building or condo has very little interior or exterior space for the quantity of garbage produced by their residents.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted February 23, 2012 at 17:36:35 in reply to Comment 74709

I suspect if it can be phrased properly it will get counsel's approval. Collecting garbage less frequently is a "service reduction". Charging to collect garbage is a "user fee", or "cost recovery levy" (or some other friendlier term).

It's preferable to council versus an across the board tax increase which would fall on people based on the value of their property, regardless of how much or little garbage they put out. We already meter water, garbage is a natural extension.

I see it happening in stages:

1. Now - 52 bags a year plus 26 free tags.
2. 5 years from now - 65 free tags a year, all bags need a tag. More tags can be purchased for a price ($5?).
3. 10 years from now - 52 free tags a year, more can be purchased for a price ($7.50).
4. 15 years from now - No free tags, but the cost/tag will be decreased ($2).

That's my thoughts on how it will happen. Consider where we are today, and where we were in 1987. If you had told council in 1987 that we would only allow collection of 78 bags of garbage a year per household (plus unlimited green/blue bins) they would have thought you were insane.

Similarly people may think I'm insane to suggest we'll be paying for each bag of garbage we put out, but I think it's only a matter of time. That's the power of the slippery slope. :-p

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