Garbage pick-up, or as it's identified on your water bill, sanitation services, is probably one of the more crucial services that the city provides - right up there with providing clean water and safe streets. If you've ever been in a city during a garbage strike, you'll remember how quickly the effects are felt. Andrea was in Toronto a few years ago during their last garbage strike, and she still remembers how public garbage cans were taped up, full of garbage, to try to prevent more garbage from being added, and how piles of garbage in public parks made things most unpleasant.
While we haven't had to suffer through anything like that, it doesn't mean that we should be complacent about our garbage system, or not try to make improvements. This is the first year in some time that we've actually reviewed the sanitation budget, and it's something that we should be doing annually, rather than just assuming that the status quo is good enough.
For starters, there are inequities in the system. Most residents have roll-out bins, with separate bins for garbage and recyclables. However, some older neighbourhoods (including mine), which still have back alleys, have large communal bins, two or three garbage bins for every recycle bin. One of the reasons that we kept with the communal bins several years ago was that some residents, particularly seniors, were concerned about their ability to manage rolling out a bin. However, their are a couple of major downsides to communal bins. One is that some people seem to think that they should be able to use these bins even if they don't live in the houses that they serve - more than once I've seen pick-up trucks dumping large amounts of garbage into my bin, and when it was full, move on to the next one down the alley. The other is that people seem to think that they can just leave garbage there, in or out of the bin, including broken furniture, bicycles, and boxes of clothing. These are not picked up during the regular runs of the garbage truck, so can hang about for weeks until finally getting removed.
We don't treat apartment buildings equally. Some are required to have commercial pick up, which they pay for themselves. Others, including the three buildings in the block behind my house, are allowed to use the communal bins. However, the cost per unit is much less than for the houses on the other side of the alley, even though the volume of garbage produced by the multiple units in each building is much greater than that produced by my house and my next door neighbour. And often, at moving time, anything left behind by the departing resident is just dumped into the communal bin by the landlord, at no extra charge. I think that we should move all multiple unit buildings to the same standard, rather than giving some breaks, which end up costing the city money, and requiring neighbours to have to do extra clean-up.
For me, the final straw was walking down the alley one afternoon, and finding a pile of hundreds of needles by a communal bin. It appeared as though drug users had been taking shelter between the bin and the fence of the home behind to shoot up, then just tossing the needles. That opportunity wouldn't be there if each residence had its own, roll-out bin.
I called city administration, but after waiting for two weeks for someone to call me back, I just went straight to council, asking to have individual roll-out bins for my block. Although I didn't get unanimous support, because apparently a couple of my colleagues don't agree that all residents should have access to the same services, it did pass, and my neighbours and I will be getting roll-out bins by the middle of May. The owners of the three apartment buildings will have to make their own arrangements. I'm looking forward to having room in my own garbage and recycling bins.
Recycling is another area where we could improve. I've mentioned before the problems with garbage being placed in recycling bins, both private and communal, which results in the entire recycling load having to go to the landfill. As well, we have the additional pick-up of clear bags containing leaves and other yard waste, which requires an additional truck with three staff. I think that we should do as Saskatoon has started doing - have a subscription service for recycling, with an additional bin, so that those who require the service then have three bins - black, blue and green. I think that it would also be quite reasonable to penalize those who, for whatever reason, don't understand how not to put garbage into a recycling bin. If garbage is found in your recycling bin, you should lose the opportunity, and have a surcharge on your sanitation fee, since the whole point of recycling is to reduce the demand on the landfill. And while we're at it, we could have different rates for different sizes of garbage bins, to encourage people to recycle as much as possible, and further minimize what ends up at the landfill.
I would be greatly encouraged if administration could investigate some of these options, so that next year when we look at the sanitation budget, it's more than just the same old thing. Garbage is not something that's going away, but there's always opportunity for improvement.
"Human society sustains itself by transforming nature into garbage." - Mason Cooley