It happens every election cycle: the matter of the garbage collection schedule is raised.
This year is no exception. Why don't we in London have same day garbage collection, meaning, why isn't our garbage collected on the same day every week?
There's a simple answer for that: because over the course of a year it costs more money to collect once every seven days than than once every eight days. And because there is such a thing as statutory holidays most—but not all—of which occur on Mondays. How do you deal with those fairly? And what about the overtime costs if you collect on the holiday or the following Saturday?
No matter how you look at it, adjustments have to be made. As a householder, you have to keep your wits about you to ensure that you don't miss out on your day, whether fixed or floating.
In London, the switch to a flexible pick up day started in 1979 when the city was looking for some savings by not doing Saturday pick ups to compensate for a holiday. Those pickups cost an extra time and a half over time; by eliminating them the city saved about $200,000 per year. It could have been more but, to sweeten the deal, the city introduced a green pick up program which proved to be very popular with those living in the suburbs who had to contend with falling leaves.
The current flexible six working day cycle was introduced in 1997 to save even more money. It meant adding an extra day after every pickup instead of only after a holiday. All you had to do was keep track of where you were in the cycle. The garbage calendar could help you do that.
More recently, the city has provided an automatic reminder of the impending collection via email. That was a handy service which, unfortunately, was interrupted by the introduction of the new city website. Fortunately, it's not too hard to to sign up again for the reminder.
Most of us, however, don't worry about reminders or calendars; we just look out onto the street and rely on our neighbours. Seniors seem to be particularly good about remembering the schedule despite the onset of memory deficits. Perhaps it helps that most are not distracted by work schedules or getting the kids off to practice. But if you really have difficulty remembering, you can always enlist the aid of a teenager who deals with six day rotations throughout the school year as a matter of course.
Still, there are those who are convinced that our current waste collection schedule is indicative of something terribly wrong. What other municipality does it this way? None!
“It's weird,” tweeted one citizen who aspires to becoming mayor.
Quirky, maybe. Unique, definitely. But weird?
That weirdness has saved London taxpayers $700,000- $1,200,000 per year since it's introduction, about $17 to $20 million over the past 17 years. Just think of what could be done with $20 million! Do you really want to spend that on garbage?
Few do. But there are other alternatives, some diehards will insist. Privatization, that's the key. Just outsource garbage collection. The private sector can do it more cheaply. Just look at all those communities that contract out the service.
The report that staff presented to the Civic Works Committee was interesting on that score. It contained the data collected by the Ontario Municipal Benchmarking Initiative and, in deference to those on council who want a more “conservative” analysis, the C D Howe Institute report on municipal services. While it is hard to do direct comparisons since municipalities vary considerably in terms of what is included in the service, both sources suggested that London is very competitive in its waste collection costs per tonne and per household with other municipalities whether city run or contracted out.
And no wonder. Private operators need to make a profit over and above the cost of wages and benefits of its employees; the only way to offer the service more cheaply is to cut wages. But wage-cutting reduces the loyalty of the employees who will quickly leave for a better gig thereby reducing the quality of the service. Since the employees live in the community, reducing their wages has a negative effect on the local economy and their ability to contribute to the tax base through home ownership or property rental. And, of course, the city has invested significant dollars in vehicles and equipment. If things don't work out, it will be hard to raise the capital to get back into the game.
But staff was not making any assumptions about what council might eventually want to do. Instead, it recommended some short term strategies to improve waste diversion via recycling: a couple of blue boxes to every new home, multi-residential rollout carts at cost, and adding used vegetable and motor oil to the list of items to be accepted a the Enviro Depots.
It was a modest list. Nobody could take exception to it. As for other ideas that might be out there, a public engagement strategy from January to April was recommended while staff continue to investigate other options that could help the city achieve its ultimate vision of zero. Not zero tax increase, but zero waste. After all, what isn't diverted goes into W12A, London's landfill site. Having it has been fantastic for keeping down our garbage costs, but it won't last forever.
So we need to keep looking for ways to encourage people to get on the bandwagon when it comes to recycling. Most of us are doing a good job, but about 15% of what we put into the garbage should have gone to the blue box. How do we get people to shape up?
Some weeks ago, Councillor Stephen Orser suggested a “gold” box program: give good recyclers a gold-coloured box to show the world what good little recyclers they are. They do it in Hamilton and it works great!
What he failed to mention—perhaps he didn't know—was that Hamilton has a one container limit for garbage pick up. That certainly encourages people to seek alternatives for dealing with waste. But London still has a four container rule! Count them. Four!
I am curious about how the “gold” box works. Who decides who gets one? Do you have to apply? Is there a committee that evaluates the applicants? Is your garbage analyzed to ensure that there are no recyclables included? Is it a lifetime designation or do you have to keep proving yourself week after week?
As councillor Paul VanMeerbergen noted in an aside, it's a lot like getting a gold star.
And that gives me an idea. Perhaps, instead of a gold box, the city could just issue a large gold star. Or a happy face. It could be sent out with the garbage calendar. Or perhaps Councillor Orser could deliver them around the city after checking out people's recycling habits. It would justify his gasoline expenses and they could be paid for by the trinkets and trash account which is about to be doubled.
But that's an issue for another day. Coming soon.
Right now, I have to put out the garbage. It's my day.