Hamilton’s already dismal waste diversion rate has gotten worse since council rejected bi–weekly garbage collection and instead increased bag limits. A key justification of last winter’s reversal was to stop illegal dumping but it has only declined marginally, and hardly any households have even requested the extra trash tags available to them.
A staff presentation to the public works committee last month acknowledged that the city’s diversion rate has dropped from 48 per cent down to 46 per cent since the less restrictive system began in March and that the amount of garbage going to landfill is up about 5 per cent. Staff also reported a 21 per cent jump in garbage in the first month after mailing the trash tags to each household, and a similar jump in July when bag limits were removed after a major wind storm.
In January 2012, waste management staff recommended shifting garbage pickup to once every two weeks to encourage more use of the green cart and to save the city $3 million per year. The change was supported by the citizen task force on waste reduction, but was turned down by most councillors who were convinced that the weekly one–bag limit for garbage was already too restrictive and causing more residents to illegally dump refuse into parks and natural areas.
Instead a decision was taken to give every household tags for 26 extra bags of garbage per year. Twelve of these trash tags were mailed out last March along with a notice that an additional 14 were available on request. But last month’s report says 6600 households have actually bothered to ask for the extra tags.
“This represents approximately 4 per cent of the eligible residential units, which means 96 per cent of the eligible properties have not seen the need to request the additional fourteen tags at this point,” explains the staff report. “The majority of the requests were received during April and May 2013, shortly after the distribution of the garbage and recycling guide to residential households.”
The report also provided only slight confirmation of council’s belief that the tags would reduce illegal dumping of household garbage. Complaints of dumping on city property are down by 13 per cent – from 732 in 2012 to 637 in the same period in 2013.
The city of Ottawa implemented the shift to bi–weekly collection that Hamilton rejected, and the first year results show a 17 per cent increase in waste diversion.
Hamilton councillors appear committed to making it easier to avoid recycling. Several pressed for better delivery of trash tags and allowing residents to use up old tags when the new ones are issued in March.
Lloyd Ferguson argued that despite the different colour and dating on the new tags, residents would be confused and continue to use the old ones. “Garbage is a very sensitive area,” he contended. “I don’t see a big downside if somebody’s got left over tags to let them use them up.”
Scott Duvall worried that the colour change will generate “thousands of phone calls” and wasn’t worth the trouble. Tom Jackson praised the end of the “very restrictive one–bag limit” and thanked staff for personally delivering tags to his residents when he was unable to do so himself.
Brian McHattie suggested the drop in diversion is “a concern” that should be monitored in light of the city’s official diversion target of 65 per cent by 2010. McHattie, Ferguson and Brenda Johnson cast the three votes in 2012 opposing the current waste collection system.
The city collects nearly a tonne of waste per household each year. In 2011 an average resident sent 208 kilograms (457 lbs) to the landfill and somewhat less to recycling programs. V