Cities that collect garbage bi-weekly are more successful at diverting waste out of landfill than Hamilton's approach of weekly collection with a one-container limit.
By Ryan McGreal
Published January 17, 2012
Garbage is spilling out all over as Council grapples with a controversial review of its solid waste management program. Yesterday, the January 16, 2012 Public Works committee received the Solid Waste Management Master Plan (SWMMP) Review - Draft final report [PDF] that recommends a move to bi-weekly garbage collection.
Back in 2001, faced with the impending sunset of the Glanbrook Landfill, Hamilton city council adopted an ambitious Solid Waste Management Master Plan [PDF] that committed the city to divert 65 percent of solid waste away from landfills by the end of 2008, a dramatic improvement over the 17 percent they diverted in 2000.
When the SWMMP was adopted in 2001, the Glanbrook landfill was expected to reach capacity by 2015 and require the city to find a new destination for its solid waste.
As a result of changes made since 2001 in the city's collection and diversion programs, the city's diversion rate has increased from 17 percent to 49 percent and Glanbrook Landfill's fill date has been pushed back to 2040.
A range of options presented in the Draft Review promise to extend that closure date further, to 2044, 2048 or 2053.
|System Option Scenario||2012-2036 Total Cost||Est. Glanbrook Closure Date|
|Diversion & Collection Programs|
|1) Status Quo||$756M||2040|
|2a) Enhanced Diversion||$886M||2044|
|2b) Enhanced Diversion + bi-weekly garbage collection||$814M||2044|
|3a) Maximized Diversion||$941M||2048|
|3b) Maximized Diversion + bi-weekly garbage collection||$868M||2048|
|4) Glanbrook Landfill||$391M||2044|
|5) Alternative Disposal Technology||$435M||2053|
One of the more controversial recommendations in the review is to move to bi-weekly garbage collection coupled with weekly blue- and green-bin collection as a further incentive for residents to sort their garbage while saving some public expense.
Several councillors regard bi-weekly collection as a service reduction, and it looked like a non-starter earlier this year. Even now, council remains stuck on what to do about diapers and pet waste - a detail that feels more like a red herring than a deal-breaker.
In the past year, Halton has managed to achieve a 59 percent waste diversion rate by converting to bi-weekly garbage pickup with a six-bag limit - and nary a nappy or stoop-and-scoop crisis in sight.
Hamilton city staff argue that a move to bi-weekly collection with a six-container limit would similarly result in more waste diversion than the current policy of weekly collection with a one-container limit.
Meanwhile, Council's support for the one-container limit that took effect in 2009 is crumbling under the weight of complaints about illegal garbage dumping. The number of annual complaints about illegal dumping has increased steadily: from 307 in 2007 to 1,360 in 2010.
The report proposes an 18 month pilot project to combat illegal dumping through an enforcement-based "zero tolerance" policy. Under the plan, the city would hire six environmental enforcement officers, a supervisor and a by-law clerk, and purchase three unmarked vans fitted with video cameras and other surveillance equipment.
The pilot project would consolidate the current array of fines - $275 under the Yard Maintenance By-Law, $105 under the Parks By-Law, $100 under the Solid Waste By-Law - with a flat fine of $500 that would also apply to waste dumped on the street.
Overall, the pilot would cost $990,000 over 18 months, with any fines generated by the enforcement officers paid back to offset the cost.
Councillors shied away from the recommendation, citing concerns about the $1 million price tag. Instead, they approved 12 additional "amnesty days" a year, in which residents would be allowed to throw out three containers of garbage once a month.
While the number of complaints about illegal dumping quadrupled, it remains an open question whether this actually reflects a real increase in the number of illegal dumping incidents, or simply an increase in exposure and public attention to a pre-existing situation.
So far, the evidence we have received indicating a surge in illegal dumping has been mostly anecdotal. When you're on the lookout for dumped garbage, you're much more likely to find it.
According to Pat Parker, director of support services for the city's waste management division in an email to RTH:
With regard to illegal dumping, the number of complaints has increased over the past few years, although we don't have data verifying if the actual amount of dumping has increased. This is partly because a good deal of the material is cleaned up as regular operations maintenance.
Parker goes on to note that the composition of illegally dumped material "is fairly evenly distributed among construction waste, bulk items, leaf and yard waste and household garbage."
This seems to weaken the argument that illegal dumping is associated with the one container limit, since about three quarters of the dumped waste falls into other categories.
Indeed, one alternate argument has it that an increase in illegal dumping has more to do with increased charges for bulk dropoff of waste at transfer stations, coupled with the elimination of bulk garbage days.
Environmental advocates argue that a move away from a one-container limit, even if it is coupled with a move to bi-weekly pickup, is a step backwards. However, we have to consider the possibility that a one-container limit is not the most effective way to achieve higher diversion rates.
Asked whether city staff have investigated other cities that implemented one-container limits to see whether there are any common patterns that follow, Parker replied, "We were the first municipality to go to a one container limit so we don't have information from other municipalities."
We do, however, have information from other municipalities on the effects of bi-weekly collection: it is cheaper than weekly collection, less invasive and heavy-handed than "zero tolerance", and diverts more waste out of landfill than Hamilton's one-bag limit.
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