Green City

Bi-Weekly Garbage Collection: Increase Composting while Saving Money

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.

Ten Year Review

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.

Bi-Weekly Collection

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.

Feedback Wanted

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, 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

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By Henry and Joe (anonymous) | Posted February 25, 2011 at 10:44:51

We could try out the biweekly collection through the winter, and let people get used to it at a time that is less likely to result in odors, grief, and illegal dumping. Eventually, it may work through the whole year. Recycling could also alternate between containers and paper (as they do in Ottawa).

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By MattM (registered) | Posted February 25, 2011 at 10:57:14

Bi-weekly collection is a good idea but as you highlighted, I can't see councilors pitching it. It's like charging people a toll for using congested highways. Instead of carpooling and using public transit, they'll just bitch and complain about it until you make it better. It's the ignorant citizen's way, and they just happen to be the majority of Hamilton's population.

It all stems of convenience. It's more convenient to hop in your car and drive to work. It's more convenient to throw all of your refuse into the garbage, instead of taking your time to sort it out and send it off to the proper place. Let somebody else deal with it...

Comment edited by MattM on 2011-02-25 11:01:48

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted February 25, 2011 at 11:34:50

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By drb (registered) - website | Posted February 25, 2011 at 12:05:29 in reply to Comment 60233

It's a simple decision-making process. It takes little time to decide which receptacle your waste belongs in; garbage, recycle, or green bin. If you are true to your moniker you'll give some thought to how much it'll cost you in taxes to pay to have your waste trucked to another community when we run out of landfill space.

Waste management and reduction is our problem. No matter how much you try you can't pawn it off on another.

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By GrapeApe (registered) | Posted February 25, 2011 at 12:23:09

I worry about the vermin that rotting garbage will attract. I think this would only be a real problem in the heat of the summer so maybe some compromise can be made there? Biweekly Sept - June, Weekly July & August.

Edit - however, the city had better be serious about enforcing bylaws against dumping, leaving bins on the curb, landlords with problem tenants (thinking of some of the student houses I walk past), and the people who will still carry their crap to the curb weekly.

Comment edited by GrapeApe on 2011-02-25 12:25:50

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted February 25, 2011 at 17:17:21 in reply to Comment 60235

If you separate your food waste, which will be picked up weekly, nothing will rot.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 25, 2011 at 13:16:06 in reply to Comment 60235

yea, I'm concerned about this 2 week idea. We have a household of 6 people and our green bin and 2 recycling bins are filled to the brim most weeks....ditto for our one garbage can. In the summer it gets nasty beside the house with the heat blazing away on the food bin. I wash it out every week after pick-up. 2 weeks of that would be horrendous. We should have done the sensible thing and had people leave their grass on their lawn (I had no idea that people actually rake up grass. seriously??). What a waste of money to be collecting a natural mulch that enhances the health of the lawn.
People always ask me how my lawn is so green and if I fertilize. I say, 'nope, some clover is interspersed and I leave the grass on it when I cut it'. That's it. Just a push mower, nothing fancy and my lawn is fine. Our lawns don't need to look like golf courses.

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By Andrea (registered) | Posted February 25, 2011 at 12:26:18 in reply to Comment 60235

Yes, but if you are separating your food waste into the green bin, then garabge is generally not materials that are prone to rotting. Most of my garbage is non-recyclable cello or food packaging, lids etc.

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By GrapeApe (registered) | Posted February 25, 2011 at 16:34:08 in reply to Comment 60236

You're right - I was thinking that green bin would be every 2 weeks. If they picked up GB every week still then I don't think there would be a problem.

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By trevorlikesbikes (registered) - website | Posted February 25, 2011 at 13:09:42

Aside from feminine hygiene products, diapers, razor blades and Walmart merchandise, what exactly can't be GB'd or recycled?

Oh, i remember $hit. Why do i have to put my mutt's compostable fecal matter in a plastic coffin?

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By highwater (registered) | Posted February 25, 2011 at 15:04:09 in reply to Comment 60238

You can put dog poo in your green bins in Toronto. that's why alot of the poo baggies on the market now are compostable. Yet another case of Hamilton exceptionalism.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted February 25, 2011 at 15:03:21 in reply to Comment 60238

Well, you could start dumping your dog's poop in the toilet, I guess. If it's good enough for your poop, why not the dog's? Then you've only got a flat plastic bag to toss.

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By Phooey (anonymous) | Posted February 25, 2011 at 17:18:05 in reply to Comment 60250

You stinking hippies will do anything for a laugh won't you.

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By trevorlikesbikes (registered) - website | Posted February 25, 2011 at 15:21:38 in reply to Comment 60250

In all actuality, i either toss it in the green bin anyways or i bury it in the back yard. Our monster is raw fed so the quantity to dispose of is greatly reduced.

Better solution than the guy down the street who once a month dumps a green bin's worth on top of the sewer grate in front of his neighbour's house! It's funny only in that he is a cop and the neighbour is a known drug dealer!

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By Andrea (registered) | Posted February 25, 2011 at 15:43:24 in reply to Comment 60255

I was using raw for our little dog and it was awesome! Truly environmentally friendly - the poop reduction was amazing.

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By Andrea (registered) | Posted February 25, 2011 at 14:48:04 in reply to Comment 60238

I hear ya! Dog crap comprises 50% of our waste. And it wrapped up in plastic and it makes me angry just thinking of it.

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By billn (registered) | Posted February 25, 2011 at 13:37:16

I have built a composter to deal with the waste from my dogs. It's a bottomless plastic garbage bin with holes drilled in the sides, sunk into the ground so that the lid sits flush with the soil surface. It's sited between some shrubs so is not noticeable. Composted material is released into the subsoil, not the topsoil (you shouldn't use this compost on your garden). It fills up in the cold months (2 medium sized dogs), but composts down as the weather warms up. I've been using it for 4 years with no odour or pest problems.

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By Andrea (registered) | Posted February 25, 2011 at 14:46:33 in reply to Comment 60241

Bravo! Great idea. Our yard is so small that I doubt I have a place for this ...but YEARS ago (probably in the 70s) my Dad had fashoined a dog crap disposal at the back corner of our very large back yard that was basically a very deep hole in the ground with a cover and worked like the outhouse at a cottage. Once in a while we made the organic mix that you mix with water to dump down it.

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By billn (registered) | Posted February 25, 2011 at 15:06:30 in reply to Comment 60245

You don't need much space. We have a tiny front yard 25' wide x 8'deep. The trick is to find a sunny enough spot.

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By Andrea (registered) | Posted February 25, 2011 at 15:44:02 in reply to Comment 60252

I am already trying to figure out where we can put this! Thanks for the inspiration.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted February 25, 2011 at 13:39:06

I'm kinda divided on this. On one hand, I often go three weeks before putting out a single bag of garbage, and it wouldn't be a problem for me. On the other, I can't see this going over well with my neighbours.

It really speaks to the way people receive these kinds of policies. No matter how enlightened or well-intentioned, it's still 'handed down from on high', and people have learned to be very sceptical of that. It doesn't help when these policies are also impositions, or felt to be. This leads to many problems, from governments 'sugar-coating' policies at the expense of effectiveness to grassroots groups being written off as Big Brotherish (the environmental movement feels this a lot). Not to say we shouldn't ever try to change policy, but always something to take into account.

Will the city's strategies reach 65%? Probably. But to go much beyond that, we need a strategy which reaches out to people and allows them to be part of it. There's a large chunk of "garbage" which really shouldn't be thrown out at all, or scrapped through the blue-box program ("downcycling"). Sadly, the only item we really see handled effectively is beer bottles. Community-based recycling initiatives - whether for appliances and furniture, useful raw materials, containers or other goods, could not only divert waste but represent a serious stream of useful products very locally.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted February 25, 2011 at 14:56:07

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By drb (registered) - website | Posted February 25, 2011 at 15:56:11 in reply to Comment 60249

A calculator, a search engine, and ten minutes.

Your pit is 914,400,000 cubic meters.

In 2002(StatsCan numbers- person in Canada produced 971kg of garbage (these numbers include all solid waste- residential and industrial). That averages to 90 garbage bags per person. Each bag averages 67 litres. That's 6.03 cubic meters of garbage per person per year. Canada's population in 2009 was 33,739,900. That's 203,451,597 cubic meters of solid waste per year.

You'd have to get out your shovel and start a new pit in about four and a half years.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted February 25, 2011 at 17:08:01 in reply to Comment 60259

drb >> That averages to 90 garbage bags per person.

From the web site you noted...

Household garbage

30 - The number of green garbage bags this represents, per person.

>> Each bag averages 67 litres.

Let's assume that garbage bags are compressed by a factor of 3X before and after hitting the landfill, that leaves us 22.3 litres per bag.

>> You'd have to get out your shovel and start a new pit in about four and a half years.

If you use the numbers that StatsCan cites and remember that garbage is compressed in the landfill, your probably looking at more like 9 * 4.5 years = 40.5 years.

If you used an area the size of Hamilton, it would take, 1117.1 km2 / 30km2 = 37.24 * 40.5 years = 1,508.2 years to fill it to capacity.

If you were wasteful and decided to use 1% of Canada's total land area, it would take, 9093507km2 / 100 = 90,935km2 / 1117.1km2 = 81.4 * 1,508.2 years = 122,767 years.

Then we have to consider the half life of what is in our garbage bags. Here is a list I found from a conservation group...

· Paper towels 2-4 weeks
· Cardboard box 2 months
· Waxed milk carton 3 months
· Plywood 1-3 years
· Painted wood stick 13 years
· Styrofoam cups and dock floatation material NEVER!!!
· Aluminum cans 200 years
· Plastic bottle 450 years
· Monofilament fishing lines 600 years
· Glass bottles could be forever

Who thinks that after 1,500 years, Canada won't be able to solve the issue of a landfill, that contains almost totally degraded waste, that is only 1.23/10000 of our total land area?

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By Participant (anonymous) | Posted February 26, 2011 at 09:11:39 in reply to Comment 60261

Great call, A., let's assign this bothersome little task to our descendants. Hey Capitalist, where did you leave the remote? I think 'Biggest Loser' is on right now.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted February 26, 2011 at 10:46:03 in reply to Comment 60293

There may be an upside to making an area inhospitable to humans...

"I have wondered if the small volumes of nuclear waste from power production should be stored in tropical forests and other habitats in need of a reliable guardian against their destruction by greedy developers"

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By drb (registered) - website | Posted February 25, 2011 at 17:40:40 in reply to Comment 60261

The household waste numbers cited in the Statscan numbers don't include total solid waste. (per capita household-383kg, per capita including all waste-971kg) That waste has to be included. If you scrolled down you'd find the total that I used. I'll give you the compression ratio. I hadn't thought of that.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted February 25, 2011 at 23:24:59 in reply to Comment 60264

Even if we could fit all of Canada's garbage, for million years, down one three-foot-wide hole, it'd still be a bad idea. This garbage isn't just a nuisance to rid ourselves of, it's a huge repository of valuable materials.

We never see the vast majority of the resources or time which go into these products - or most of the garbage they produce. Every step of this journey exacts social, economic and ecological costs, of which the eventual disposal is only a small fraction. The longer we use something, the more we spread out these costs and the better value we get for our expenses. But the more we throw out prematurely, the more simply goes to waste.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted February 25, 2011 at 15:07:01

I have two kids and a cat. Even with diapers, litter, and normal household garbage, I basically produce half a bin per-week if I'm off cloth diapers for some reason (like when the kids are sick or we're behind on the laundry).

The only time I go over 1 bin is when I'm doing some housekeeping.

I could manage with half a bin... although I'd like to see the city provide an easier mechanism for handling overages - some cities let you buy stamps or special bags to allow you to put out extra garbage - that would be preferable to a trip to the dump.

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By TnT (registered) | Posted February 26, 2011 at 09:13:15

Another issue I heard about on the radio was that theBeer Store was only going to accept empties with a receipt. Isn't this just picking on the poor?

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By d.knox (registered) | Posted February 26, 2011 at 21:49:00 in reply to Comment 60294

I'm fairly sure that the change is at the LCBO, not The Beer Store. The change is that now, to return alcohol for a refund, you will need a receipt. I think this is intended for large events which might have over-purchased and have some unused alcohol. You can still exchange alcohol - return a 16 year-old scotch for an equivalent value of wine, for example- without a receipt.

But the entrepreneurs can still clean up our parks and get money for it.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted February 26, 2011 at 16:34:08 in reply to Comment 60294

That'll teach those horrible hobos to clean up our parks!!!

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By Shane (anonymous) | Posted February 26, 2011 at 20:22:17

Empties with a receipt at the beer store is not true, I don't know where this rumor started?? They are going to require a receipt to get the 50 dollar deposit back on kegs as they where being stolen from the back entrances of bars and restaurants, this has become a real problem in recent years

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By Goin'Downtown (registered) | Posted February 26, 2011 at 23:27:42

At a public budget meeting that I attended a couple of years ago, it was suggested by a citizen that recyclables pbe picked up bi-weekly, but we were told that the City has minimum quotas that must be attained weekly or a surcharge would apply (from the recycles purchasers). In other words, we were told that bi-weekly p/u would not be financially feasible.

I also think that the laws surrounding packing need to be made WAY more stringent. Take-out coffee cups and dollar store crud show are serious offenders to the environment and our waste reduction efforts; perhaps a sur-tax should be applied to those who don't package responsibly. Ideally, every packaging material should be recyclable and/or bio-degradable. I'm stating the obvious, but it's time for us to apply proper focus and pressure on these issues.

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