During the regional council meeting last Tuesday, the topic of garbage came up again on the agenda. There are recommendations from staff on modifying By-Law 0600, which deals with solid waste management. The biggest proposed changes is dropping the bag limit from 6 to 4, I support this change in theory. I believe that it is beneficial to help via policy to reduce our waste output and to further encourage increased composting and recycling. We were and one could argue still leaders in our waste diversion. However, there is always room from improvement. Changing people’s habits are hard, as we are wired to be creatures of habit. While, I think the proposed changes are positive, the plan needs a bit of adjustment to make a more substantive shift.
The proposed changes will limit garbage bags to 4 from the present 6. Initially, all four bags would have been clear, but with a motion from Councillor Fisher the proposal would allow one opaque bag. There were privacy concerns raised and that some residents would not want other residents viewing their undesirable trash. While, I respect that some things we toss out may be adverse, I feel we should have kept it at four clear bags. For most houses that I see, they have at least one garbage can with which they use to house their trash in between collection. If residents had refuse that they wish their neighbours not see, that clear bag could be placed in the garbage can. This would balance the needs of both the city and residents; having all four bags as clear would allow items that should be diverted into other collection streams from entering the landfill while ensuring privacy for residents if they so desire.
In addition to the four bag limit, there needs to be a prevision for when people may have more regular garbage that can’t be composted/recycled due to renovations, seasonal cleaning etc. Other cities employ a tag system, where people would pay for addition collection. However, I do not feel that in Halifax we should charge households for additional collection. This is because, I believe that the occasionally extra collection required can be offset in two ways. First, with a reduced bag limit collection costs would already see savings and that in turn would offset occasionally extra collection. Second, a strong education program for residents about diverting garbage that can be composted re-used and or recycled is required. I can remember as a youth, there was much more public education around reducing, reusing and recycling. I believe that programs like this need to come back to help remind and re-educate people about the “3Rs”. Also, I would suggest that the city take a larger role in providing educational support to residents who wish to compost at home. This is a benefit to collection cost, because less organic waste would go into the green cart.
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 from rooming housing, 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. I have lived in several multi-unit residences prior to becoming a home owner, and I can recall many residents who did not sort their garbage at all. The ICI sectors in Halifax (business/commercial/apartments) presently only divert 66% of all garbage produced from the landfill. There is room from a big improvement and better education coupled with clear bag use would help here to.
With a few tweaks of the staff recommendations, the amendments to this by-law will go a long way in helping to green our city and be part of the solution to ensure a better balance between residents and the natural environment.