When it comes to getting rid of your garbage it has become rather frustrating for some people to understand how to fully manage their waste, so that it has the least amount of impact on the landfill. There are two types of landfills; municipal landfills which are governed and operated by the municipality; and, there are private landfills; which are governed by the Ministry of Environment and operated by private operators. Generally speaking any waste that goes to a municipal landfill was generated by residential waste and some institutional, commercial and industrial(IC& I) locations. Additionally, waste collected for a municipal landfill is generally collected by the municipality either through their own equipment or a contracted service. Private landfills generally deal with waste generated and collected outside of services provided by a municipality. An example of this would be your local mall, while they may have a multi-stream bins for the consumer to deposit paper and another container for glass bottles, the total non-diverted waste collected generally ends up in a private landfill.
Municipalities set different diversion targets; Hamilton wants to achieve a 65% diversion by the year 2013, today we are at approximately 44% diversion rate. However, this diversion rate only speaks about municipally collected waste targets. Hamilton is one of the few communities which offers two-stream (or multi-stream) recycling in place of a single-stream recycling, in other words we prefer to separate our fiber or newspapers from our containers or bottles and cans. There is some argument that if Hamilton were to move to a signal-stream recycling program that our diversion rate would increase significantly. Perhaps that might have been the truth back in the late 1990s when curb-side recycling became part of the regular waste collection cycle and there was some resistance to change, so the argument was that if you put all of your recyclables in one container you'd be more apt to participate in a diversion program. Hamilton has offered multi-stream recycling for quite some time now with great success. Our current diversion rate as of 2009 is 44%. While that's a far cry from 65%, it's high enough to be recognized by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM). To further support our success, Hamilton was one of nine communities across Canada that was recognized by FCM's Green Municipal Fund in a report released not too long ago. Interestingly enough, what I found most confounding is that a Hamilton City Councillor was pictured with a Hamilton resident presenting a "Gold Box" for their diversion efforts. This is the same Councillor who has publicly criticized Staff for being too aggressive in their waste management efforts.
As of April 5, 2010 Hamilton implemented a one-bag limit (or one-container limit) for non-diverted waste. Those opposed to the one-bag limit, cited that illegal dumping would again rear its ugly head and that perhaps if Hamilton was to offer a single-stream recycling program (versus a container limit), our diversion rate would fare better. It would appear that we have a couple of red herrings being used as excuses for those who struggle with how to manage their waste. While I wouldn't profess to be the best at diverting my waste, I will say that I have implemented a couple of subtle changes in my household waste management practices that have enabled me to realize a single container of waste (sometimes less) each week. To start with, I essentially have no waste containers. In the kitchen I have a split garbage can with half being for garbage and the other half for compostable waste; all of my paper recyclables goes into a bin of its own; in the washroom and in the bedrooms I have very small containers for waste, with the regular receptacle now used for either recyclables or compostable waste. At the end of each week I take the bag that's in the kitchen and I go to all the other receptacles in the house and add the smaller bins of waste, that plus kitty litter equals about a half a container or bag per week. The $64,000 question would have to be if Hamilton was to change its recycling methods from a multi-stream to a single stream operation, would more Hamiltonian's recycle more. It's been stated that roughly 85% of Hamiltonian's who receive curb-side collection are already complying with the one bag limit. The concern by some is that just because 85% of Hamiltonian's are only putting out one container doesn't necessarily mean that they are complying with the one-container limit; they could be dumping illegally. I can only say that if that is what certain individuals believe in, then that would imply that they do not have faith in the citizenry of Hamilton that they are doing what they can to manage their waste.
Certainly when you look at the FCM report, Hamilton has some very lenient programs intended on controlling or managing our waste diversion. Other municipalities who have a higher diversion rate also have more strict guidelines with respect to how waste is managed at the curb-side. Those guidelines include bag tagging, more restrictive collection practices, as well as greater recycling options. While Hamilton may not be all the way to bright, they are a North American-wide recognized municipality with respect to some of the programs and initiatives which have been put into practice, including the aforementioned Gold Box program. With the great accolades, how is Hamilton going to achieve 65% diversion rate? Well for starters, they're now going after multi-residential properties where they do have existing curb-side collection or municipally controlled container collection. Recently with the introduction of green carts added into multi-residential buildings, the anticipation is that our diversion rate will increase significantly as the program succeeds. I believe that Hamilton has done enough from a residential curb-side collection program. Making further changes to the curb-side collection program will only create further confusion and resistance to divert waste. Hamilton should continue to focus on where the greatest amount of waste is generated, and that is in the IC&I area. To give you an idea of the impact of this area: 13,000,000 tons of waste was generated in Canada from residential collection, while 22,000,000 tons of waste was collected from non-residential locations. Of the total 35,000,000 tons of waste collected, only 7.7 million tons was diverted; that means that 27,000,000 tons of waste ended up in a landfill. Using 50% and beyond as a benchmark, the FCM identified four keys to success:
- Partnerships and collaboration: in other words, they are looking for buy-in from citizens and companies in the formation of policies and practices on how waste is collected.
- Convenient options: essentially this is the foundation of any waste diversion option, the more convenient you make it the greater the success.
- Policy and legislation: obviously this one is an integral piece to ensure the sustainability of any program or practice that is adopted. It also sets the foundation for other municipalities across Canada to adopt.
- Education and promotion: without it any of the above keys to success would fail. When you look at the policies, practices and the ideas that are being discussed and put into action today: without education and promotion they would certainly fall by the wayside without consistent messaging. There's no question that the success of a waste management program is hinged on behavioural change.
"As municipalities become comfortable with the basic elements of waste diversion, they are innovating and expanding on their strategies to reach higher diversion rates. A number of trends are emerging across Canada: zero waste communities; economic instruments; green procurement and consumer education."
Hamilton has demonstrated the above basic elements of waste diversion, continuing to be a responsible recycler will go a long way in helping Hamilton achieve its 65% diversion rate. We cannot afford to be distracted by the few who vocalize their displeasure in policy aimed at responsible waste practices. We must look at the many who have discovered and embraced proper waste management practices, and who have not only reached a one container limit but perhaps exceeded, (and I mean by less than one container) per week. One only has to drive in any one particular neighbourhood on garbage day to observe the number of households who adhere to the policy. If Hamilton indeed has an illegal dumping concern, then we need to address that and not get distracted by blaming our current waste management practices. There's no question that people hate change, but there's also no question that people who choose to be ignorant will continue to do so regardless of what the law says.