Garbage and Recycling

Residents wary of biweekly garbage pickup

Fewer than half in favour of plan after public consultations

Despite public consultations that indicated more than half of respondents are against biweekly pickup of curbside garbage, that is exactly the policy city staff is recommending.

From late last year to early February, the city carried out "extensive public consultations," including a random telephone survey of 2,003 residents, to get feedback on various service options that staff was considering.

The result? Just more than 50 per cent of respondents said they found moving to biweekly pickup "unappealing," even if the green bin was picked up weekly. About a quarter of respondents were neutral or unsure, while only 22 per cent found the idea "appealing."

And yet, the city is going ahead with the proposed changes -subject to council approval -which are expected to save taxpayers $9 million a year over the six-year term of the new waste services contact. For individual homeowners, that would translate into savings of $29 a year.

Some councillors, such as Stephen Blais, say that's not enough. "I'm not convinced that the savings of 50 cents a week is worth the inconvenience of keeping your garbage in your garage for two weeks."

The Cumberland councillor said, "I'm not against the green-bin program -I think we should be doing everything we can to divert garbage from landfill -but I'm against the notion of forcing people to do it."

Biweekly garbage collection was supposed to be introduced at the same time as the green bin compostable program, but at the time, council found the idea politically unpalatable. Acceptance of the green-bin program has been somewhat underwhelming so far, in part, some believe, because residents don't have to maximize their recycling as long as there is once-a-week curbside garbage collection.

Whether the public will swallow the idea any more easily is uncertain given the response to the public consultation, which did not include details on the possible financial savings of the program.

And it's uncertain that the promised environmental savings may be sufficient to win over non-believers.

The proposed changes would take 25 trucks off the road every day from a current fleet of 135. The switch would divert up to 20,000 tonnes of organic material a year from the Trail Road landfill, but that would only extend the life of the dump by two years. In addition, the curbside residential waste diversion is expected to rise from its current 44 per cent to 48 to 53 per cent.

Barrhaven Councillor Jan Harder said her e-mail inbox is full of messages against the switch to biweekly pickup.

"How can we be surprised?" she said, adding that for a year she's been asking city staff for statistics on who is using the green bin and in what parts of the city. Harder said she's also asked to see numbers on how many people stopped using the green bin during the summer "maggot" months and whether they returned to the city's organics program when cooler weather returned.

"We have done such a poor job of implementing this program. As attractive as it may be to save money, I don't think it's the right thing to do now."

Both Harder and Blais would like to implement a biweekly garbage pilot project to determine whether the decreased curbside pickup would encourage residents to use the green bin more.

Indeed, of the 22 per cent of public consultation respondents who found biweekly pickup "appealing," almost threequarters were already regular green-bin users.

In an effort to address one of the major arguments against going to biweekly garbage collection, the proposed changes include a weekly service for those who use disposable diapers and incontinence products. Characterizing the cost as "negligible," Dixon Weir, the city's manager of environmental services, envisions an honour system where residents can register for weekly pickup via the city's Service Ottawa online system, which is currently in development.

A fee-per-bag concept was rejected after consultations found it to be very unpopular, and there is currently no plan to change the number of garbage bags allowed per household (three bags a week now).

About 70 per cent of respondents said they did not want to combine their blue and black box recyclables for weekly pickup, so the city is staying with its program of picking up black and blue box recyclables on alternate weeks. It is calling for the winner of the new contract to use trucks that can handle both green bin organics and either blue or black box recyclables -a halfand-half option that trims the number of recycling trucks on residential roads.

The program will also be extended to some rural corners of Ottawa that pay for, but do not yet receive, green bin service (although 44 per cent of remote rural respondents in the consultations said they were "not interested").

Now that the recommended changes are known, members of the public will be able to express their views at four open houses to be held next week, as well as at a special meeting of the environment committee on Monday, April 11. Full council will discuss and vote on the plan two days later.

A number of councillors voiced concern over what they said is a rapid pace of the process. Weir said that the new contract must go to tender in May, even though the existing contract doesn't expire for a year, because that's how long it would take for the service company to order new trucks and machinery. He also pointed out that "extensive consultations" were carried out.

But Gloucester-Southgate Councillor Diane Deans said "there's a big difference between hypothetical consultations and getting comments on actual recommendations."

Copyright © 2017 Stephen Blais