Change is a-comin’ for New West’s garbage pickup. Sadly, it’s not text-message reminders on garbage day (I always forget!). Starting next year, New Westminster will begin replacing our aging fleet of garbage trucks with automated trash pickup – and potentially also begin integrating a kitchen waste collection program.
Trash, and what to do with it, is of great concern right now in the Lower Mainland as a whole. It’s not just a question of whether to bury it, burn it, or truck it to the United States. It’s a question of how to change people’s everyday behaviour.
The best way to deal with our trash is for each of us to produce less waste. The only way to achieve Metro Vancouver’s worthy goal of ‘Zero Waste‘ is to reduce, reuse, recycle, and recover more waste rather than keep sending it to the landfill. Our existing recycling programs now divert about half of our garbage from the landfill, but we still produce more garbage than we can handle.
To reduce our waste further, the region is targeting new programs and policies that will make it easier for everyday folk to reduce their contribution to the landfill. For example, the metro region recently signed a deal that will allow it to expand curbside yard-waste collection to include kitchen scraps for composting. Port Coquitlam was the first city in Metro Vancouver to implement such a program, diverting an estimated 1,400 tonnes of garbage each year.
Waste audits by Metro Vancouver and other jurisdictions, as well as a pilot study in Port Coquitlam, indicate that 16-26% of our garbage is kitchen waste suitable for composting. In the City’s study in February, participants produced about 2.5 kg of kitchen waste each week, and collection of that waste would reduce their annual garbage weight by 16.5%.
New Westminster hasn’t yet fully committed to doing the same, but city engineering operations manager Jon McDonald told me via email that the city is “reviewing the opportunity” and could add kitchen compost collection to the ‘clean greens’ pickup as early as spring 2010 (phase one of the new garbage truck rollout).
Unfortunately, kitchen waste pickup would not be available to our city’s many apartment-dwellers and restaurants, however. The city’s website says that no changes are proposed to garbage pickup for residents of townhouses and apartments or commercial pickup. I followed up with Jon on this, and he replied, “Unfortunately, we have no plans at the moment. I agree that multi-family is going to require assistance with composting and we will be tackling that, in some way, after we get the single family residential up and operating. I have a staff position in the 2009 budget that when hired is intended to devote much of their time to these initiatives.
Homeowners can easily compost without the city’s help (or via the $30 backyard composting program). It’s not as easy for condo-dwellers. I’d like to see something for our condo-living neighbours. Perhaps in the interim it could be a program to raise awareness and/or further lower the cost of the worm composting program, which currently costs $35?
To summarize, here are the ‘pros’ of the new system:
- More efficient – fewer trucks needed to cover same area
- Fewer workplace injuries as mechanized arms do all heavy lifting
- Lower staffing costs – only one person needed per truck rather than two (note: there will be no job losses at the city; vacant positions will simply remain unfilled)
- No need for large garbage bags in bins – or any bag at all for greens & kitchen waste
- Behavioural engineering: households that produce less waste could pay less (and get smaller trash bins) than households that produce more waste
- If/when recycling implemented (a potential phase two, likely starting in 2012), it would be a comingled system – means no more sorting paper from plastic! Instead, sorting would be done at the recycling depot.
And the ‘cons’:
- Slightly higher cost to taxpayers for garbage pickup – about $5-10 more a year than it would cost to continue the current system, plus a possible $130 one-time cost to homeowners to replace old garbage cans with standardized ones to accommodate the machines (note: it looks like the recommended approach is for the city to finance the purchase of the bins and amortize the cost over several years, rather than charging homeowners up front)
- When recycling included in automated collection (phase two), glass pickup will not be included – people will likely have to bring glass recycling to a central depot. This could reduce glass recycling compliance.
Overall, it looks like this change will introduce administrative efficiencies, however the city must be careful that it keeps supporting programs that make it easier for all New West residents to reduce waste, not just those of us living in houses.