Letter to the Editors The Aurora Banner (Tracy Kibble) and The Auroran (Brock Weir), November 17, 2015

Letter to the Editors – The Aurora Banner (Tracy Kibble) and The Auroran (Brock Weir),
November 17, 2015

Prepared by:
Dave Douglas
Aurora, Ontario

After reading Trash Talk: Aurora discusses possible changes to garbage collection contract  (Nov 12th, 2015, Aurora Banner) and Garbage bag limit to be considered next year (Nov 12th, 2015, Auroran) I was compelled to write in with the following comments, especially considering our firm – VisionQuest Environmental – was involved in the clear bag initiative this past Spring.

Aurora’s focus on increased waste reduction and diversion and lower capital and operating costs remain fundamental to the town’s goal of meeting zero waste targets, not unlike most municipalities across Canada and this is very noble. The most successful strategies offer the carrot over the stick approach.

The potential strategy now on the table to consider the implementation of a garbage-bag-limit reduction from three bags to two bags every other week collection combined with a bag tag (perhaps $2 per bag) cost for additional bags is certainly not a new idea to municipalities as numerous communities have gone down this road already.  Does it work? Sure, Is it the panacea? No.   For starters, residents often simply compact their garbage bags a little (or a lot) to stay under the bag limit without having to pay for additional bags resulting in reduced volume to the curb but not much of a change to the tonnage.  Is it not the tonnage that we are targeting?

Definitely, one factor that led to the demise of the clear bag initiative being considered in Aurora pertained to some Councillor’s concerns that they did not feel that they had enough information to support such a transition and that residents needed more information as well.  One Councillor commented that this strategy was good, but simply ahead of its time.

Through Stewardship Ontario, officials in the waste management industry recognized that there existed a need to provide municipalities with information to assist them to design such a program and address the need to provide key information, a game plan per say.  Now completed, this resource document has now been released to the CIF website at:  http://cif.wdo.ca/projects/documents/748-Clear-Bag-Toolkit.pdf.  Perhaps this is what Aurora Councillor’s required to make an educated decision.

The illusion of overwhelming opposition is easily misconstrued by a few letters to the editor of the local paper(s) while the vast majority remain silent.  Whether this silence is based on an indifference, acceptance or trust in others to speak for them only you (the reader) truly knows.  An on-line survey that receives a response of less than 200 residents from a community of over 30,000 should not be construed as indicative of the overwhelming thoughts of all.

I did participate in the community information session on February 9th 2015.  Interestingly, many of the residents who attended the session to raise objection actually warmed up to the idea once they had the chance to ask their questions and get their answers.

Ironically, when the final report (No IES15-014) was presented to General Committee (March 3rd, 2015) there were only two Aurora residents in attendance pertaining to this initiative, I being one (in support) along with one resident expressing reservation but not ultimate rejection.  Would one not think the Council Chamber would be full of residents in opposition if the entire Town was truly against it?

To gauge the effectiveness of a clear bag program for increasing diversion, one only has to look next door to the City of Markham where a similar program that the Aurora program was being modeled after was launched in April 2013.   Markham has now accomplished an astonishing 81% diversion of waste, considered one of the best successes across North America.  Ironically, Markham actually eliminated the restriction as to the number of garbage bags placed curbside as long as they were clear and contained minimal amounts of divertible material.

In August 2015, the Halifax Regional Municipality became the largest Canadian municipality to transition to a clear bag (garbage) program despite already having a very successful diversion program in place.  A recent article in the Halifax Herald (Oct 23rd, 2015) http://thechronicleherald.ca/metro/1318539-garbage-drops-31-recycling-increases-under-halifax-clear-bag-rules has indicated that garbage dropped 31% and recycling increases under the Halifax clear-bag rules.  Ironically, this achievement has been made despite the fact that residents are able to place up to six bags of garbage at the curb as long as all but one are clear bags.

An alternative option that some Councillors are now beginning to raise involves a complete program overhaul to large carts for automated collection – under the false illusion that such programs offer significant savings.  One only has to review the solid waste capital & operating budgets from the City of Toronto to want to pull the sheets over your head and shake with fear. Now consider the huge capital costs for these containers and who has to pay for them ….  you of course.  If you really wanted to use a container, wouldn’t you already have one that fits your needs for storage and mobility?

I do hope that my efforts here will also motivate those of you that agree with my position to also write in and illustrate that perhaps the “clear bag” option isn’t ahead of it’s time, but rather it’s time is here.

In closing, when you watch the evening news and here of the plight and hardship that so many around the world are going through, is the colour of our garbage bag really that much of a big deal.

Thanks, for reading my letter, I hope I’ve offered food for thought (and not the green bin) – the future is clear.

Dave Douglas