By Ryan McGreal
Published February 25, 2011
Back in 2001, Hamilton city council adopted an ambitious Solid Waste Management Master Plan that committed the city to divert 65 per cent of solid waste away from landfills by the end of 2008, a dramatic improvement over the 17 per cent they diverted in 2000.
To achieve this goal, council went on to establish a waste-reduction task force and launch a number of progressive initiatives, including city-wide green cart waste composting, significant renovations to recycling facilities, and a one-bag garbage limit per household (sort of).
Overall, progress has been steady. Hamiltonians are recycling and composting extensively, and the lifespan of the Glanbrook Landfill has been extended two decades to 2036.
By 2008, we had achieved a 44 per cent diversion rate, which fell below the 65 per cent target, but was still much better than the provincial average of 24 per cent. In 2007, council voted to revise the timeline to aim for 65 per cent reduction by the end of 2011.
Unfortunately, it looks like we're going to slip this deadline as well. Waste diversion increased to 47 per cent in 2009 and 49 per cent in 2010, which is still significantly short of the goal.
Today, while the city undertakes a 10-year review of the Solid Waste Management Master Plan, council appears to be more interested in achieving a zero per cent tax rate increase than achieving 65 per cent waste reduction.
Civic advocacy group Citizens at City Hall (CATCH) reports that the Public Works Committee has the $30-32 million waste management budget in its cost-cutting crosshairs.
Committee members spent quite some time on February 7 debating whether or not to save $23,000 a year by rejecting grass clippings from the green waste stream. Ward 4 councillor Sam Merulla suggested they focus on bigger cost-saving opportunities.
Here's a simple suggestion: switch garbage collection to a bi-weekly schedule and maintain weekly recycling and green waste collection.
This cost-saving measure also creates an incentive to compost more aggressively. Food waste in a garbage bag would sit around for up to two weeks, while food waste in the green bin would be picked up weekly.
According to a recent story in the Hamilton Spectator, only 55 per cent of compostable waste currently makes it into green bins. The rest goes into the garbage and ends up in landfill.
A number of municipalities, including Halton and Gatineau, have already moved to bi-weekly garbage collection. Others, like Ottawa, are considering it.
Given that it achieves a higher diversion rate while reducing the waste collection budget, it should be a no-brainer for councillors looking to save money without sacrificing city objectives.
Unfortunately, councillors tend to shy away from this option, not because it lacks merit, but out of fear that angry residents will complain.
The City wants your feedback on its ten-year review of the Solid Waste Management Master Plan. I encourage you to review the materials presented at the January 24 public workshop.
You can complete an online survey or send your comments to city staff via email at email@example.com, or via snail mail at: City of Hamilton, Operations & Waste Management Division, 71 Main Street West, Hamilton, ON L8R 4Y5.
If you want to receive updates from the Hamilton Waste Review, send an email with the subject "Add me to the mailing list".
This blog entry was originally published on OpenFile Hamilton