Friday, August 21, 2009

Examining the efficiency of The City’s garbage & recycling collection

The continued success of The City's Blue Cart recycling program has sparked discussions about potential next steps for Calgary's garbage collection - including potential garbage bag limits, pay-as-you-throw options, automating the collection process or potentially staggering collection weeks.

The City's Waste & Recycling Services group has examined each of these potential options and will be reporting back to City Council on potential implementation in early 2010.

Automated collection

In the fall of 2008, The City introduced a cart-based automated garbage collection pilot project to 15,000 homes in six communities: Deer Run, Dover, Mount Pleasant, Huntington Hills, Citadel and Cedarbrae.

Essentially, automated garbage collection reduces the number of operators needed - primarily one person per truck instead of two.

The automated system is safer for the garbage collectors as it prevents exposure to potentially overloaded bags and cans as well as hazardous objects in the trash, reducing potential injuries. To date there haven't been any injuries in the pilot related to the use of automated equipment.


Pay-as-you-throw is a system that charges residents based on the volume of garbage they produce. Bag limits, tag-a-bag and multiple cart sizes are all possible versions of a pay-as-you-throw system.

Bag limits would permit Calgarians to set out a specific number of garbage bags or particular size cart for each collection and tag-a-bag would allow residents to purchase tags for each bag of waste or for additional bags over that limit.

Okotoks has had a pay-as-you-throw system for several years and has introduced the voluntary collection of organic materials to further reduce garbage volume.

Alternate week collection

Some Calgarians have suggested that one way to increase the efficiency of Waste & Recycling Services would be to change the frequency of collection - potentially moving toward an alternate week collection system.

The problem is that changing the collection frequency doesn't change the volume of materials that are being generated by citizens, but simply reduces the level of service to Calgarians.

Residents would still produce the same amount of garbage as before but instead of getting it picked up every week, they'd have to store two weeks' of garbage and recycling in their garages or back lanes before it's collected.

If a household typically generates three bags a week that would become six bags in two weeks. Organic waste would start decomposing over those two weeks, presenting potential health, pest and odor issues.

As for recycling, many Calgarians fill their blue carts every week now. If collection moved to bi-weekly they would have to store the excess or take it to a community recycling depot.

Obviously, the capacity of the City's trucks can't change. As it stands now, The City's entire fleet of trucks is needed to pick up garbage and recycling every week. If collection occurred on alternate weeks, the only difference would be that each house would put out twice as much garbage on collection day as before so each truck would only collect from half as many homes before it is fully loaded.

Organics - food and yard waste diversion

About 40 per cent of residential garbage is organic - food and yard waste. In a modern landfill, organic materials produce greenhouse gases when they decompose.

Currently, The City subsidizes the cost of backyard composters sold through the Calgary Online Store and the Clean Calgary Association and provides seasonal programs to collect leaves, pumpkins and Christmas trees.

If Calgary is to achieve its 80/20 by 2020 goal, The City needs a plan to divert food and yard waste, and Waste & Recycling Services is currently developing recommendations for a city-wide organics program for the 2012-14 budget and business plan cycle (which will be The City's next three-year budget cycle, the current budget cycle is 2009-2011).

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