Policy

Waste Compromise a Cop-Out

By Ryan McGreal
Published February 21, 2012

Today's Spectator reports that Councillors Chad Collins and Russ Powers have proposed a resolution to the City's waste management controversy that they believe will break the impasse and win the support of Council:

A proposal from Hamilton councillors Chad Collins and Russ Powers to maintain the city's existing one-bag limit with weekly pickup is expected to win nearly unanimous support Tuesday at a special committee session.

As part of the pitch, Hamilton homeowners would annually receive some 26 tags free of charge to cover each additional bag of garbage left at the curb. As well, city residents will see weekly leaf and yard waste pickup extended year-round and would be able to book weekly bulk pickup on a year-round basis.

So residents will continue to have weekly pickup with a one-container limit - except that we'll also get enough tags to put out an extra container every other week, all year.

This compromise is a cop-out designed to avoid controversy, not to address the real problem of waste management. The best thing we can say about it is that it might not make Hamilton's mediocre 49 percent waste diversion rate any worse.

It also doesn't make it any better, which is the whole purpose of the City's Solid Waste Management Master Plan Review, the first Guiding Principle of which states:

The City of Hamilton must lead and encourage the changes necessary to adopt the principle of Waste Minimization.

Councillor Lloyd Ferguson has the right idea in arguing instead for a move to bi-weekly collection with a three bag limit and bulk pickup.

Ferguson said that plan would save an additional $1.2 million annually over the compromise plan and divert 6 percent more waste.

This approach would divert more waste than a one-container weekly limit, while reducing the cost of garbage collection and reducing the need for active enforcement. It sounds like a no-brainer, but several councillors have backpedaled from it like a garbage can filled with rotting food.

The reason Councillors are balking is that they're afraid some residents will see this as a service reduction. Diapers and dog poop have emerged as potent symbols of this fear, but the evidence from other jurisdictions - like Halton, which just accelerated past Hamilton's stagnant diversion rate - is that this is not really a problem.

The Solid Waste Management Master Plan calls on Council to "lead and encourage the changes necessary" to minimize waste. The best solution is as obvious for our decision-makers to implement as it is straightforward for residents to adopt, but Council is operating from timidity, not tenacity.

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 mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted February 21, 2012 at 10:08:36

The reason Councillors are balking is that they're afraid some residents will see this as a service reduction.

And because of this, their re-election prospects might suffer.

Interesting comment by Ron Corsini on Laura Babcock's 'Laircast' recently: within his first week of serving on Council, he was advised (by another councillor) that he should be tailoring his behaviour towards getting re-elected.

Comment edited by mystoneycreek on 2012-02-21 10:20:51

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By Wasted (anonymous) | Posted February 21, 2012 at 10:36:23 in reply to Comment 74571

I'm not sure how this threatens election prospects when solid analysis shows that the vast majority of Hamiltonians have no problem complying with the current waste limits and wouldn't have any trouble meeting the proposed bi-weekly plan.
What's missing are councilours with the jewels to explain why the bi-weekly plan makes sense and how the money saved thru it could be applied to improving other things. Sadly, we seem to have bobbled another one here.

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By @wasted (anonymous) | Posted February 21, 2012 at 13:56:50 in reply to Comment 74573

Solid analysis may show the vast majority CAN comply but solid feedback from those very same people is that they are having a lot of trouble complying and further cuts are not feasible in their opinion. To simply ignore voters wishes when they don't line up to what the facts are is very often threatening to re-election. What hasn't happened is an effective sales pitch of the idea to change peoples opinions and thus minimize the effect on re-election

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted February 21, 2012 at 10:46:53

Well, honestly, this could be a good intermediate step. The 26 free tags will get Hamiltonians used to the tag system and will get it running on the garbage trucks.

They can claw back the number of tags and start selling them by mail or at local convenience stores at a later date.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 21, 2012 at 10:54:13 in reply to Comment 74575

If this compromise is any kind of intermediate step, it's a step between the current status quo and the inferior state of affairs that preceded it. It's certainly not a step toward higher diversion.

The problem is that it's still weekly collection, which has Hamilton stuck in a diversion rut of around 49 percent. If we want to increase the diversion significantly above that, the evidence suggests we need to move to bi-weekly garbage pickup with weekly recycling and compost pickup.

The best part is that this move would simultaneously save the city money, money that must otherwise come out of tax revenues.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2012-02-21 10:55:40

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By Myrcurial (registered) - website | Posted February 21, 2012 at 11:12:01

Our last "garbage" day, a nice standard family of four was able to put out:

  • 1.5 cu ft compostable waste in our giant green bin
  • 2.5 standard blue bins of divided (paper / glass-steel-plastic) recycling
  • 1 "grocery bag" of other waste

The funny part is that the other waste was sitting very lonely at the bottom of the garbage can which meets the city's definition of "one bag" -- something that is really forgotten in this discussion - the standard is one bag/container and the container can be up to 135L or 30gal as long as it doesn't weigh more than 50 lbs.

If you can't keep your household waste per week beneath 30gal/50lbs, it's not me that has the problem - it's clearly you. Figure out how to change your lifestyle or suck it up and pay the ~$8 to drop off your garbage at the transfer station.

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By Jonathan Dalton (registered) | Posted February 21, 2012 at 18:51:58 in reply to Comment 74577

Thanks for pointing that out. 50lb of garbage a week - yikes, that's one hell of a 'bag'. If you're throwing out 50lb of garbage a week, how much junk are you buying in a week?

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By jorvay (registered) | Posted February 21, 2012 at 16:05:29 in reply to Comment 74577

I've got a baby and two dogs. Apparently people like me are the reason that a one-container limit is unreasonable, yet my output in a week is still about the same as yours. I don't understand how this is so hard for some people.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted February 22, 2012 at 10:41:31 in reply to Comment 74585

Yeah, I've got two kids and a cat, and that means a litter-box and diapers.

I'm perfectly okay with bi-weekly collection as long as there's a way to buy tags so I can go over the limit during spring cleaning and the like.

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2012-02-22 10:41:51

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted February 21, 2012 at 16:12:21

76% approval for the plan on the Spec poll last I checked.

Our councillors seem to understand who ensures they keep getting paid… and newsflash, it is not the most progressive among us.

So if the current "resolution" is lacking whose fault is that exactly? Council's or the citizens' of Hamilton? Sometimes in a democracy if what the majority (or sometimes just a very vocal minority) wants is shit, we all get shit. You can blame the system, the politicians who represent us or the people they're representing... take your pick, but it's probably a bit of all 3. I guess as a politician you could mandate a resolution that may result in a reversal of the poll results but you will not be a successful politician flying in the face of a 76% majority for your (short) political career.

I thought this whole issue was making a landfill out of a "grocery bag" of garbage from the very beginning... but what do I know???

Maybe a little more history on how all this came about might help a bit Ryan? We hear the catalyst for all of this was illegal dumping, okay sure, but how bad is the problem? Where is it happening? Is it even household waste? How many complaints about illegal dumping did it take for council to rewrite our garbage collection rules? I guess at this point that is all moot… but to me this whole things stinks as bad as the subject matter.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 22, 2012 at 08:34:18 in reply to Comment 74586

76% approval for the plan on the Spec poll last I checked.

An unscientific self-selecting web poll provides no meaningful or useful data. I still remember the Spec web poll right before the 2006 municipal election that put Fred Eisenberger at 3 percent.

Maybe a little more history on how all this came about might help a bit Ryan? We hear the catalyst for all of this was illegal dumping, okay sure, but how bad is the problem?

I was surprised to learn that there is no actual evidence illegal dumping has gotten worse since the one-bag limit came into effect. All we know is that three quarters of the garbage is not residential waste: it's bulk items, furniture, construction waste, yard waste and so on.

The number of complaints has gone up, but that may well just be an artifact of the increased attention the issue has received. Between the availability heuristic and confirmation bias, people are notorious for being more likely to notice things they've been primed to think about.

During the debate over setting a one-bag limit in the first place, Councillor Jackson and others insisted loudly and frequently that illegal dumping would go way up. That, in itself, may have been enough to get people more likely to notice it and more likely to report it when they saw it.

Again, staff can't actually say whether the total amount of illegally dumped waste has gone up. According to Pat Parker from the city's waste management division, "This is partly because a good deal of the material is cleaned up as regular operations maintenance."

Even if staff were to start counting the total volume of dumped garbage today, they would not be able to compare it to a baseline amount before the one-bag limit took effect.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted February 22, 2012 at 09:46:01 in reply to Comment 74613

An unscientific self-selecting web poll provides no meaningful or useful data. I still remember the Spec web poll right before the 2006 municipal election that put Fred Eisenberger at 3 percent.

I hear ya' Ryan, I just used it as an (admittedly weak :) example that councillors felt they had very little to lose from voting "yes" and they were probably right.

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By theOther (registered) | Posted February 21, 2012 at 16:33:03 in reply to Comment 74586

You know what they say about statistics, right Kiely? So if you are a ward councillor of long-standing in, say, Ward 6, where I happen to live, and 5 or 6 chronic moaners whose lawns you employ for your election signs every 4 years get wound up about garbage bags, here's what you tell them: Call in to the bylaw office and register a complaint every time you see some indication of dumping in your travels. With no knowledge of the baseline of complaints prior to this year or last, I'm thinking that in very short order you can make it look like a catastrophic increase. Anecdotally, though, based on my personal observations made walking along the brow and trail most days, there has been no noticeable increase at all. We need a Council with the stones to lead and educate, but we keep electing ward-heeling ciphers like Councillor Jackson. As you note, though, it's absolutely on us. Remember when Hamilton called itself 'Ambitious'?

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted February 22, 2012 at 08:19:50 in reply to Comment 74591

With no knowledge of the baseline of complaints prior to this year or last, I'm thinking that in very short order you can make it look like a catastrophic increase.

Exactly, this is what I'm wondering theOther, all of a sudden this issue got propelled on to some sort of crisis-fast-track and I have no clue what the real issue even is. Is it really the rampant dumping of household garbage? How many complaints were there?

And I do understand what you are saying about councillors who lead and educate but in this city a lot of them would be one and done just like our last mayor... hard to fault savvy politicians for knowing what sort of ground they're standing on. In Hamilton we may call them Ward heelers but that is not the definition of a politician that works on part of his constituents,(even to the detriment of the city at large), so that is becoming a bit of a misleading term. Some of them most definitely are ward-heelers but it is not for putting the concerns of their ward residents above the city's. This is "democracy" and most people that vote probably expect their elected officials to represent their wishes.

I am a believer that in general people get the politicians they deserve, this city is no different. Maybe it is simply too much to expect our elected officials to give much of a damn about anything that happens outside their ward when the people who elected them don't?

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted February 21, 2012 at 16:31:10 in reply to Comment 74586

There's been quite a bit of illegal dumping in my area on the central mountain - but oddly enough it's been bulk waste (sofas, mattresses, etc.) and not household waste.

Hopefully the revised bulk pickup rules will put an end to that. I hadn't looked at them in a while, but last time I did it seemed unnecessarily complicated.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 22, 2012 at 08:11:09 in reply to Comment 74589

oddly enough it's been bulk waste (sofas, mattresses, etc.) and not household waste.

That's also the message I'm getting from staff. Three quarters of the illegally dumped garbage is not residential.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted February 21, 2012 at 17:19:05 in reply to Comment 74589

Some excellent questions have been posed here in this portion of the discussion. They deserve to be answered.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted February 21, 2012 at 16:29:49

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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