Among the many services that our city provides, garbage collection is one that impacts all of us and touches every household. Municipal refuse collection is an important service that helps to keep our homes and communities clean. As we have evolved our waste management systems, we can directly benefit our natural environment and lower costs for garbage collection. Lower costs in waste collection provides the potential for funds to be re-directed to other key services, such as sidewalks, transit, recreation programming and educational services.
This past September, Halifax Regional Council proposed changes to By-Law S-600, Solid Waste Resource Collection and Disposal. As stated on the Halifax website, some changes include:
· removing boxboard from the green cart, with the exception for use as kitchen scrap catcher;
· Garbage bag collection from 6 bags to 4 clear bags for residential homes, with the provision of one of the bags being black or opaque.
· using kraft paper bags for leaf and yard waste instead of plastic bags; and
· Banning grass clippings from curbside collection.
Halifax has been a leader in waste management and diversion for years. Since 1999, we have had a full green cart program that has helped reduce the impact of organic material on landfill cells. Despite earlier education programs about the benefits of composting, residential collection only has a 52% diversion rate according to a 2014 municipal staff report. Of the curbside garbage collected, up to 50% could have been recycled or composted instead of being sent to the landfill. Comparatively, the commercial, businesses, and apartments sectors in our city currently have a diversion rate of 66%. This rate is still nothing to rave about, but it is marginally better than the residential success. Each tonne of garbage that enters local landfills costs taxpayers $170, reflecting both capital and operational expenses. Excess weight caused by improper sorting adds additional costs to the city, which can add up quickly with even a small change in diversion rates.
Moving to clear bags makes sense to reduce costs, improve diversion rates, and help leave a healthier environment for our children and our grandchildren. However, to move forward and continue the success of diversion we all need to do more, including residents and governments. After fifteen years of composting and a strong recycling program in Halifax, it is a disappointing statistic that half of what ends up in our landfills should have been composted or recycled. It could be argued that we could attribute this stat to modern lifestyle changes and the shifting balance between home and work life may impact the time households dedicate to sorting their trash. Over the last fifteen it seems over packaging of products has invaded our store shelves. Stronger awareness of how to help reduce waste before a product even leaves the store shelf would be beneficial to all across our city. Combining awareness campaigns with the power of our consumer dollars would send a strong message to companies who make these products with abundant packaging that ends up in our landfills as waste. If we simply choose to buy fewer products with excessive packaging, retailers would have to take note. Opting for paper over plastic, or bringing reusable shopping bags are simple but effective ways to reduce excess waste in our homes. There are ways to help reduce waste at home as well. During the 1990s, there was an influential campaign that actively promoted the three “Rs”: reduce, reuse and recycle. Waste reduction could be achieved if we all were to better employ the “3 Rs” in our daily lives by making it a family affair and involving everyone in the home. For example, unwanted clothing could be donated to charity or traded with a friend; old newspapers could be recycled or saved for starting gardening beds; empty glass jars could be reused as containers for various items.
However, in order for any of the proposed amendments to successfully reduce landfill waste, the people affected by the proposed changes have to willingly adopt the changes. In addition to the four bag limit, there needs to be a provision for when people may have more regular garbage that can’t be composted or recycled due to renovations, seasonal cleaning etc. The current changes as they are now will not allow for this. There are other cities that employ a tag system where people pay a fee for tags that they place on any extra garbage bags for collection. However, I do not feel that in Halifax we should charge households for additional garbage collection. I believe that the occasional extra household garbage bag collection could be offset by the reduced household garbage bag limits. Savings in collection costs would offset the occasional extra garbage bag collection.
Lastly, as a region we must become more mindful of how all residents dispose of their garbage. Across the Halifax region we have a significant number of multi-unit residences, such as rooming houses, university dorms, apartment buildings and condos. If they are over 6 units, private collection occurs. However, they are still required to separate refuse as you would in a single family unit. To truly regain our progressive stance on waste diversion, clear bag rules should apply to all residences across the city. The current proposed changes will not apply to these types of residences. Having lived in several multi-unit residences prior to becoming a home owner, many times I witnessed other residents who did not correctly sort their garbage. As previously mentioned the non residential sector presently diverts 66% of all garbage produced from the landfill. There is room for improvement. Better education coupled with clear bag use would help reduce improper waste disposal in this sector as well. Waste reduction and better environmental stewardship can be a cause that all residents champion not just home owners. Positive change will benefit us all.
Reducing the bag limit and switching to clear bags for residential collection makes sense. The proposed changes are not about reducing the service the city provides, but about making the service more efficient and a better value for us the tax payers. Other municipalities in Nova Scotia that made the change to clear bags saw improvement in diversion rates from the landfill, even as soon as the first year. On Tuesday, December 2nd at 6pm, regional council will hold a public hearing regarding the proposed changes for bag limits and use of clear bags at city hall. For more information please visit: http://www.halifax.ca/recycle/contact.php