Special Report: Waste Management

Bi-Weekly Collection More Effective Than One-Container Limit

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.

In 2007, the city approved a controversial one-container limit (well, sort of) on household waste in an attempt to divert more out of landfill and into the blue or green bin.

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.

Cost Comparisons Summary - Net Cost (Millions)
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

Bi-Weekly Collection

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.

Illegal Dumping

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 January 9, 2012 General Issues Committee meeting received a two-part report (PW11127(a) [PDF] and PW11052(b) [PDF]) on the matter of illegal dumping, litter and escaped waste.

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.

Crisis or Artifact?

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.

Different Direction

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.

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 wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By red24 (registered) | Posted January 17, 2012 at 12:34:24

I am a Halton resident, and our system is excellent. Bi-weekly waste collection is great, no problem with diapers if you put them in a plastic bag.The compost bins we have are great too - large and on wheels. But the best things we have over Hamilton are unsorted recycling (yay!) And large waste days. I am completely satisfied with our system.

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By kiris (registered) | Posted February 02, 2012 at 09:53:50 in reply to Comment 73119

As a former Halton resident, I agree the system worked very well. They allowed for recycling of so many materials (collected weekly), I never had more than 1 bag of trash bi-weekly. When I lived in Toronto, they took diapers and pet by products in the green bins, not sure if that has changed but it was fantastic.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 17, 2012 at 13:00:40 in reply to Comment 73119

a little secret...I only half-heartedly sort my recyclables. I look at it like I'm helping keep people employed at the recycling centre. You know they have to go through everything and make sure it's sorted anyhow...why Hamilton insists on always dumping every little thing possible on the residents is a bit dumbfounding. Both of my boxes are a big mix of stuff everyweek and they get picked up.

Comment edited by jason on 2012-01-17 13:00:52

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By FenceSitter (anonymous) | Posted January 17, 2012 at 18:23:58 in reply to Comment 73121

From an old spec article, I remember the City saying they get more $$ per tonne for paper when using a dual-stream system.

On the other hand, single-stream may lead to increased diversion rates due to greater ease for residents.

I think Hamilton are one of the last areas to use two boxes.

Jason, in terms on providing employment for city staff, I guess we can look at the bright side of illegal dumping - more jobs!

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted January 17, 2012 at 13:17:45 in reply to Comment 73121

Ever known anyone who's worked in a recycling centre? I can't speak for Halton, but the conditions I've heard about through temp jobs at Hamilton facilities sound ghastly. In addition, be confident that anything unsorted you put in a blue box here is going to end up in a landfill - these folks do not have the time to sort through grams of materials with tonnes more coming down the line toward them.

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By TreyS (registered) | Posted January 22, 2012 at 12:43:30 in reply to Comment 73123

It's still a job, better than a no-job. Doesn't mean you don't stop improving oneself and looking for a better job, just because you have crap job. It's work, take it.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted January 17, 2012 at 13:41:37 in reply to Comment 73123

be confident that anything unsorted you put in a blue box here is going to end up in a landfill - these folks do not have the time to sort through grams of materials with tonnes more coming down the line toward them

Unless the recycling centre was putting a big Soviet-style Recyclers Paradise tour when they had the open house last Summer, it appears that the sorting is done remarkably well by the staff there. The largest pile of recyclables in the plastic/metal section was, in fact, paper and cardboard. But it got sorted out and then merged with the other waste.

I asked the staff about the mixed recyclables. I was told that as long as only a small fraction is contaminated (with non-recyclables or the wrong kind of recyclable), then the staff can manage it on the line as it is configured.

I highly recommend the tour of the compost and recycling facility on Burlington Street the next tine one is put on.

A few photos here ... Garbage Tour! - a slideshow from flickr

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 17, 2012 at 16:48:25 in reply to Comment 73125

from what I know from people who work there, they do sort....but I digress....I rarely allow my boxes to mix, but with a family of 5 it happens.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted January 18, 2012 at 09:55:21 in reply to Comment 73130

You folks have just made my point from another post as to why recycling is inefficiect and a waste of time.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted January 17, 2012 at 15:18:54 in reply to Comment 73125

The friend I'm primarily quoting here has done the entire city tour, on a personal invitation (unrelated to his temp work).

I could also quote other friends who've ended up working (and even managing) in the plastics recycling industry. The best quote I've heard to describe it would be "the plastics industry is extremely regulated for health and environmental reasons...until you put the word "recycling" on it, then nearly all of that goes away". Many of these companies exist mainly as speculators, buying, chipping and reselling warehouses full of plastic. Plastimet would be a good example here...

I'm passionately, even militantly in favour of recycling, but I don't like to have any illusions about the current state of affairs. We need to do a lot more. "Downcycling" just isn't enough.

(Click "website" for related blog post...)

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted January 17, 2012 at 12:38:35

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.

Thank you for saying what I was thinking. I find it a bit insulting that some of our council thinks that Hamiltonians can't accomplish what our neighbours in Halton are able to without much stress or complaint. If my constantly whining suburban father can learn to live with bi-weekly pick-up, surely the (much tougher and adaptable) denizens of this city can, too.

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By D. Shields (registered) | Posted January 27, 2012 at 12:18:26 in reply to Comment 73120

I don't know that it is a 'Red Herring'.(We deal with both adult diapers & pet waste)

Both diapers & pet waste Stink!, esp. in the Summer. If you store pet waste or diapers outdoors over a week, it really reeks to even get near the containers, even if you have a garbage box surrounding the lidded garbage tins. If you store them indoors, your house reeks, even if the garbage tins are tightly lidded.

Toronto does allow pet waste to be put into the Green Bins, but I'm not sure about diapers.

Hamilton does allow used disposable tissues to be put in the Green Bin.(Snot vs. Poop?)

So, why not make both pet waste & diapers recyclable-?

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By Lakeside (registered) | Posted January 17, 2012 at 13:38:53

When we talk about illegal dumping, does it make sense to group together household waste and construction waste, considering that construction waste is not ever eligible for curbside pickup?

It strikes me that, if you're looking for what causes people to dump (part of finding solutions, presumably), it would be wise to separate commercial dumping from residential dumping of household waste. The same for enforcement, and punishment.

Are we talking about someone disposing of a bag of kitchen waste in a receptacle in the park, or is it a dump-truck full of commercial waste being dumped in an alley?

The former situation could could be related to some real, or perceived, shortcomings in the collection regimen. In which case some adjustment of the program might be useful.

The latter case involving the truck is a simpler matter that can be addressed with increased enforcement and severe fines. (Temporary vehicle seizure, ala drinking and driving, would probably put a dent in it.) A scaled-down version of the surveillance program that was rejected by Council might be appropriate here.

Shouldn't our response to these different situations be tailored to the problem?

My point is that in the case of commercial dumping we can be sure there's no need to fine-tune the household program. These are clearly independent issues so let's not let the argument become muddied by this.

Personally, the program as it exists right now works for me, although I'd like to be able to put plastic films in the Green Bin, like in some other cities. It would be a real shame to roll back the program we have today for the sake of a few.

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By D. Shields (registered) | Posted January 27, 2012 at 12:31:10 in reply to Comment 73124

I agree that high volume commercial dumping is a different matter, & it should not muddy the issue.

I don't understand how Hamilton thinks it can with any effect 'police' these vandals. It's true that garbage begets garbage & if someone dumps garbage, another is likely to use the same spot for illegal dumping. But there are so many country roads, & highway allowances to police. I see no way that Hamilton could effectively stop illegal garbage dumping, even with surveillance cameras, & 'round the clock patrols. How do you prove the dumping happened if you don't catch the person(s) in the act? They are not likely to do this in broad daylight, on well traveled roads.(much like any other crime) I don't see the point of a token program, esp. after the 'Adventures with the toxic waste bins' Downtown, seemed so easy to prosecute, & resolve but it wasn't.

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By hshields (registered) - website | Posted January 18, 2012 at 09:05:09 in reply to Comment 73124

Lakeside - you're spot on. Thanks to Ryan for scratching below the surface when it comes to illegal dumping.

  1. City doesn't know what they don't know. By their own admission, they are going by a complaint-driven process instead of getting real numbers.

  2. Furthermore, by the City's own admission, even when they look at complaints only 1/3 of illegal dumping can be categorized as residential.

this leads me to conclude a few things:

a) The City doesn't know what they are talking about. I'm not being mean here, but factual. If they choose to run a complain-driven system, it dramatically reduces the way they can come up with effective changes.

b) Even if we agree with the assumption that about 2/3 of illegal dumping is non-residential, doesn't this beg the question about bulk dumping charges and other barriers to responsible waste management? Shouldn't the city look at both carrots and sticks on this front (e.g. hours of operation, dumping charges, amnesty programs, fines, surveillance, enforcement).

c) Either of these conclusions have nothing to do with diapers and pet waste. It doesn't have anything to do with urban/suburban divides. It doesn't have anything to do with apartments/houses divide. This is all about collecting some facts, analysing the trends and coming up with a range of options that directly addresses the facts.

I don't see a lot of facts - yet. Thanks again Ryan for at least giving us a starting point.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted January 18, 2012 at 09:56:53

Biweekly pickup? Remind me why I pay $3200 a year in property taxes for again?

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By kiris (registered) | Posted February 02, 2012 at 09:37:31 in reply to Comment 73140

I used to rant and rave about taxes, until I realized that if I was responsible for my portion of the real cost of using my streets, hospitals, libraries, schools, services...I could not afford it. My secret, I rent...absolutely unjust what renters get away with when it comes to property tax, school tax, but that is an entirely different discussion

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By D. Shields (registered) | Posted January 26, 2012 at 16:18:39 in reply to Comment 73140

I pay nearly $4000.00 (& this year it may be over that)for a bunch of things that I don't/can't use & can't seem to get a few relatively inexpensive things that are a "Given' in most urban areas.

Look for your taxes to go up again. The OMB has reinstated individual property evaluations again, after years of property tax respite. I'm still wondering why locally the City plows out roads & sidewalks leading to multi-national Billionaire Corps like Walmart. (Who have several snow removal units already on site.) The City also plows sidewalks for a street that is 90% commercial development. We also plow sidewalks that dead end, right to their dead end.. If the City was interested in making budget cuts, it has many ways of doing just that But It Won't. If I can cut our family's waste, I'm going to try, but I wish City Hall would stop doling out expen$ive favour$ to those who can most afford to pay for those services.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted January 18, 2012 at 10:04:03 in reply to Comment 73140

Are you joking?

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted January 19, 2012 at 09:44:00 in reply to Comment 73141

No. Are you?

My taxes go to pay for garbage pick up. If the city wants to go bi-weekly then I can expect a reduction in the amount of taxes that I pay.

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By slodrive (registered) | Posted January 19, 2012 at 11:51:45

Question about the waste diversion rates between Halton and Hamilton. Would the apartment vs. house residential mix not account for a solid chunk of this? I'd gather that there's a higher concentration of apartment dwellers in Hamilton than in Halton. And, I'd also assume convenience, or, recycling service in general, is far weaker in apartment complexes.

Been a while since I lived in an apartment down by the Hamilton GO station, but I remember recycling being a pretty big hassle.

I'm not saying that Halton can't be used as a 'best practices' potentially, but I'd be wary of making comparisons between two pretty different markets. I would also worry - despite Halton's example -- that increasing the limit to 3 bags over two weeks still enables you to produce more garbage. Living in a household of 4, with one 'power pooper' still in diapers, we've never had an issue with the one bag limit. Even two Christmas parties in one week didn't generate any more.

Overall, I'd hate to pander to the loud, lazy-ish minority if there really isn't an actual problem. I'd rather focus on diverting funds to making recycling/ compost collection easier for apartment complexes (edit:) and commercial/ construction compliance.

Comment edited by slodrive on 2012-01-19 11:53:14

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted January 19, 2012 at 14:07:54 in reply to Comment 73189

Yeah, that's probably a pretty big factor. When your trash isn't being quantified and goes down a chute and meanwhile your recycling must be manually dropped into the bins behind the building, I could see a lot more folks skipping the whole thing.

I often hit the one bag limit during spring cleaning - that's why I want some kind of convenient way to pay a surcharge when I want to go over - paying a few bucks on the rare occasions would be so much nicer than a trip to the dump or storing bags to top-up in the following weeks.

Parties are a non-issue though thanks to the fact that dirty paper plates go in the green bin.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted January 23, 2012 at 22:56:13

I live downtown, right near the GO, in a condo building. It's a converted apartment building, built in the 1960s.

Our building has had an ongoing issue with waste, blue bins, and green bins. Since our building was built in the pre-recycling days, we have nowhere to store our blue bins. Because we don't have any above-ground enclosed parking or storage, our bins go in the garage, along a wall. We've been told by our property manager that if the fire department did a tour of the building, we would probably be told that the blue bins used for paper would be tagged as a fire hazard, and we'd have to find another place to store them. We'd then either have to build a room to store them, store them outdoors, or convert some of the inside storage space into a room for collecting paper recycling.

When the green bins went in, they were barely used. Use has gone up, but not significantly. Most of the time we put out only 2 large bins per week, but they are completely full.

We've also been told by the city that we produce a fair amount of non-recyclable waste relative to the size of our building. I am not aware of the rules regarding waste for apartments and condos, but I would guess my estimate of one bag per unit per week (is this accurate) is still considered too much.

If the city does go to a bi-weekly pickup schedule, I know our building will have a difficult time with waste pickup. We already fill our very small storage/trash/cleaning supply area with waste on a weekly basis. Our condo board did investigate getting private waste pickup, but again, we have no space for a dumpster and don't want to have to put it outside near our garage entrance, then have to worry about people dumping their waste in it/breaking into it/damaging it.

I think that city council needs to bring back the bulk pickup days, or in lieu of that, make it easier to dispose of bulk waste (perhaps more temporary sites where you can drop off bulk stuff that gets picked up daily by larger trucks, or more organized pickup of waste like at the Dundas waste collection site). I tend to disagree that all waste can be reused or recycled - for example, if I have a couch that's threadbare, or a leather couch that's worn/cracked/ripped - how does one easily make that into a new couch someone else would want or break it down into it's components?

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By D. Shields (registered) | Posted January 25, 2012 at 03:05:43

I agree 100% with Downtown Hamilton!

I can't do any illegal dumping. I have a very small car & can do very little legal dumping..at the dump. I would not put my garbage in any other place except the dump or at the curbside. I think it would be better to have more frequent large item pick ups because their are some items that are well beyond their best buy date, & would not even be welcome as a donation.

I often see large heaps of furnishing left outside of apartment buildings for weeks in the rain & snow. Would it not be better for the City to pick up this material than to simply say, 'I'm sorry. You must wait 2 months for your next large item pick up, & there is a 3 item limit." This stuff is a safety hazard to kids waiting for school bus's.

(In the case of people who do not drive, how are they to get large items to the dump areas?)

However, I'd like to ask how many here live in apartments that do not have any recycling facilities?

How many work in a place that has "The Big Bin" out back, that host all manner of unsorted banana peels mixed with toxic waste? Then it is all dumped unsorted into local landfills..

How many have kids or disabled people in diapers @ home?

How many have pets?

It's pretty easy to brag about being able to have a 1 bag limit, once every 2 weeks if you don't actually have to accomplish it, or if you are 1 or 2 people living on the 8th floor, eat in restaurants frequently, & are not home that often.

One thing that I find odd in the GHA is the limit on garden waste collection. Is the area that is being used to compost this material a very small area? Is no one covering & turning it? This should work the material through into compost in a very short time, esp. during warmer months. Are the restriction on it simply because of the cost of the fuel & manpower to pick it up? I'm currently running 3 composters in my yard, & that's all I have space for, or frankly the need for. (& Some plants are simply not compostable.)

Another thing that I am questioning is why, every time this subject comes up, those people with day care & medical permits & other types of exemptions end up having their garbage left, or end up arguing with the collector about the fact that they have an exemption? It only happens once a year, when City Hall decides to give a thought to garbage. ( A sort of annoying tokenism.)

Comment edited by D. Shields on 2012-01-25 03:10:33

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted January 29, 2012 at 06:13:20 in reply to Comment 73303

With regards to your question relating to green box collection, I think there's been several stories in the Spec where they have said that there's too much waste being collected, not enough space to keep it until it completely decomposes, and that some was being shipped off to landfills.

Again, it's a case of Hamilton politicians putting the cart before the horse - we want to get rid of waste by simply saying so, but not giving the taxpayers alternatives to deal with it, aside from taxing us twice (1 bag to the curb, the rest to the dump, so you're paying twice for garbage removal).

People are creatures of habit. Those habits don't change just because the City says so. We need to ease into something like this, make sure all the support structure is in place, and then go forward.

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By D. Shields (registered) | Posted January 30, 2012 at 01:47:27 in reply to Comment 73465

Thanks for the information! It sounds like once again Hamilton did not plan things out properly before diving into compost. :D In saying "There is too much compost," do they really mean that they did not set aside an area big enough to accommodate it?

It's one thing to make a verbal commitment to an idea, but another to actually see it through & do the homework before setting it up.

Other cities give away or sell compost very cheaply to citizens several times a year, right from the site. "Bring your own containers". People line up to get the compost, & @ $5.00 or more for a medium sized bag from a plant nursery, 'free or cheap' is very welcome! ( I haven't seen any notices in the Hamilton media for this.)

Use whatever compost is needed for the City green spaces, & then allow citizens to have the rest.(It's better than dumping it in the land fill!!)

The compost should also be saving the City money in terms of City park gardens, lawns, tree planting & flower plantings in center road medians, etc.

Metro Zoo even sold 'Zoo Poo' at a profit. If the City added the horse dung from the police stables to the compost, it would probably get the composting process going more quickly, & save the taxpayers the bill of disposing of the horse manure.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted January 31, 2012 at 07:07:03 in reply to Comment 73485

I think the 'too much compost' issue was that people took to it more than Council thought and there was not adequate space to store it as the existing stuff in the facility was breaking down. I believe a lot of it was from grass clippings which was why the city has had a bit of a spring campaign saying 'leave a layer of grass clippings on your lawn, it will turn to mulch and help your grass'.

The idea of free or cheap compost is an interesting one. Could easily be pulled off and would probably have lots of people show up. However I don't know what the actual output of the facility is and if they have a surplus of compost. I think there have been some days such as this for wood chips.

As for the horse manure, the police seem to just let the horses go wherever they want without cleanup. A relative of mine lives near one of their routes near Hess and there's regularly manure ground into the streets there. He asked one of the mounted policemen one time regarding it and they said they don't collect it.

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By bloger1 (anonymous) | Posted November 28, 2012 at 18:51:43


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