The Garbage Project – the background to our family experiment

neighbourhood bags of garbage not mine

neighbourhood bags of garbage not mine

We live in The city of Red Deer, Alberta, Canada and recently the City of Red Deer has started to work toward passing a policy for “waste limit reduction”. The policy aims to reduce the garbage picked up at the curb from 5 units to 3 units with a unit equaling a 100L garbage bag.

The city indicates that they took a survey, a survey I was never aware of ( but that is besides the point….but possibly along the same lines as the bike lane survey….and we know how that went!), and 77% (taken from the City’s own press release) of those surveyed supported the initiative.

Now this may seem all well and good until you think about how a “one size fits all” limit on households does not make sense. Take a look at your neighbourhood, take a look at how many small households there are. For example on our block there are 11 households , 10 of which are small households.

Occupancy Per Household On Our Block

0 occupants – 1 (former heroin house)
1 occupant – 2 households
2 occupants – 5 households
3 occupants – 2 households (one multi-generational family, one communal living)
7 occupants – 1 household (ours)

Average this out and the 77% support rate makes sense as it is pretty easy for one or two people to meet the limits, or perhaps a family of three, but this is not the demographic that all Red Deer households are.

I wrote to the Red Deer City Council members voicing my concerns, the email reads:

Concern Over Waste Limit Reduction

April 13, 2016

Dear Sirs,

I am writing to voice my concern over the proposed waste limit reduction.

This proposal victimizes large families, multi-generational families and those who choose to live communally.

This policy is only feasible for small households which explains 77% of residents supporting the proposal. It is easy for 1, 2 or even 4 people to produce only 3 bags of garbage a week. However, how can a large family possibly be expected to live within the same restraints of garbage production as a single person? It is impossible.

Large families are already living more environmentally. Per person we use less fossil fuels for heating and electricity, fewer fossil fuels for travel as we always carpool, we consume less as we share items and use hand-me-downs, and we use less square footage per person for housing as it is 7 people in 1200 sq. feet compared to 1 person for 1200 square feet. We ARE doing our part, but expecting 7 people to produce the same amount of garbage is not feasible.

I think this policy needs to be fair. This policy needs to be based on household size (number of occupants). The city does a census so that they know the number of occupants per home. Base the limits on household size, otherwise you are discriminating against large families, multi-generational families, plus those who choose to live communally for social or economic reasons.

One size fits all makes no sense in this scenario. This proposal needs to be re-evaluated.

The short version is the limit, in my opinion, should be based on occupancy rather than one blanket limit. The city knows how many people are in each household, they take a census. Larger households stop urban sprawl, the city should support larger households rather than penalize them. Our neighbours,  three adult gentlemen, share a house of about 1100 sq. feet, they could easily be occupying 3 separate houses but instead share accommodation. A few houses away is a multi-generational home where again home sharing reduces environmental impact and urban sprawl. Our city should be encouraging larger households such as home sharing and multi-generational housing rather than victimizing it , and putting a blanket limit on garbage victimizes those who are already putting a smaller environmental footprint on our city.

neighbourhood garbage not mine

neighbourhood garbage not mine

Now let me continue. I sent the email to the City Council at 4:28 pm yesterday, and received a phone call from a councillor championing the reduction limits at 4:31pm. The message on the phone was to call him back to “talk me down from the tree”. Tied up with several commitments, my husband called back first and then I was able to join in on the call. While it is nice to have a conversation with an elected member of your municipality, this conversation left me with more doubts and concerns than I had before.

In explaining our concern with regard to household size, and mentioning we are a family of seven, the councillor responded with “you breed like rabbits” (this same councillor has expressed the same thought to me twice previously, it is a bias, not a joke). Well thank you very much for being scathing of our sexual identity, orientation and family values. My husband tried to explain it will also be hard for those sharing homes communally like our neighbours, and the response was to the effect that they wouldn’t care and would just pay the bill………this councillor has NEVER met our neighbours but felt free to make such a judgemental call. There was just no understanding as to the fact that Red Deer has a diverse range of households, in fact there was no respect for the diversity.

…..and then there was the councillor’s suggestion that neighbours should “share” garbage allotments. Yes indeed, after having a heroin house down the block from me (and the councillor truly knows about that house, trust me) why on God’s green earth would I dream of “sharing garbage”….yeah, I want to be implicated in that.

Now this response really made me start to think “What is the policy for a new waste limit really about?” or better “Is this just a typical left wing version of taxation in the disguise of environmentalism?”.….. you see, they allow you to pay $1.00 per extra bag……….

There are a few holes in the City of Red Deer’s garbage/recycling program that leaves me wondering about the true intent.

  1. garbage bags are not a standardized size, who is judge and jury on 300L of garbage?
  2. the City has expanded the recycling program but little information has been sent to households. If this situation was about reducing waste and saving the environment there should be posters and information regarding this in every school, grocery store and public building. Stickers of what can be recycled could be put on our recycle bins on pick-up days. Every time the city sends out an email, Facebook post or tweet there should also be the information and a link. The recycling information should NOT be buried deep in the City of Red Deer website. If they aren’t openly sharing the info and reaching out to the residents of the city, the policy for reduction is just a cash cow.

blog recycle

Here is the thing, our family is fairly “green” thinking. We compost. We recycle. We line dry clothes in good weather. We grow our own food. We don’t water our grass. We re-use. We use hand-me-downs. We walk to do errands. Our house at approximately 1250 square feet, houses seven people, that is 178.5 square feet per person, we are not the issue with urban sprawl. However even with our green tendencies, I do not believe a one-size-fits-all approach to waste limits makes sense. The limit should be based on household (note, household, not family) size.

Fact of the matter is most garbage comes from non-recyclable food packaging and unnumbered plastics from other consumables; items where consumption increases proportionately to household size. If the answer is a large family has to reduce use, which three kids are to skip a meal so that we produce less packaging “garbage”?

The other flaw in the whole blanket approach is that it is only the vast minority that will need to reduce waste. A single person can still pump out 300L of garbage a week, and they will, they do not have to make any adjustments to their lifestyle. I walk our neighbourhood a lot and often comment on how single people have more garbage bags than us. So small households will continue to pump out garbage at the current rate while larger households have to either alter the way they live or be fined…..because the charge is a fine. If the city wants to reduce the quantity of garbage reaching the landfill they need a policy that makes the majority reduce their production of garbage, and the only way to do that is based on household size. Only when small households are also required to proportionately reduce waste will the policy be fair and effective. If a household of 7 is allowed 300L of garbage per week, that means a household with a single occupant should only be allowed 42.8L per week and anything after that should be fined. That is what is fair. That is what would be effective. Isn’t being left and socialist, like our City Council is, about fairness for ALL? Well it should be about fairness for all. Any other system is simply an unfair cash grab.

The other factor City Council is failing to consider are young families and families with elderly members or family members with health conditions. I will be blunt here, but diapers, baby sized or adult sized, create garbage. If council members have never had children or been hands on with the care of their children they have no idea how much these life stages impact garbage production. Are we also to victimize young families, elderly people, those with health issues? And before we hear the crunchy words “cloth diaper”, let’s see the statistics on the environmental impact they create which includes a lot of electricity and water for washing, nothing is without environmental impact it is just how well you can hide it. I also highly doubt you will find caregivers to change and launder adult cloth diapers.

City Council is blinkered, they have no idea of their population and the diversity of households. Diversity is “not their circus and not their monkeys”; we are all to be 1-4 people living in suburbia with our matching tract houses, and our matching attached garages, and and our matching SUV’s ……basically city council thinks the only families that exist are the ones that exist in emoticons (which maxes out at two adults and two children).  City Council is out of touch. I strongly suggest the members of City Council take the time to get to know their neighbours, and get to know their electorate, rather than simply pass lefty loonie blanket policies because it makes them seem “progressive”. Fact of the matter, it is simply another fee, a cash cow, a way to meet budget in the disguise of being environmentally caring.


So what to do? We’ve decided to embark on a project to get an answer on the feasibility of this policy.

blog garbage compost

Yes, this IS MY compost container. Yeah me!!!

The Project

We have decided as a household to embark on a project tracking our garbage, recycling and compost production for the next few weeks. We are going to track our real production, not an idealized version in one way or another. Throughout the week I will track how many small compost buckets are filled, how many garbage bags we fill, plus our curbside recycling (cardboard, plastic, paper, glass, tin, etc.). Each Tuesday I will document our production with pictures (garbage/recycling day is Wednesday). I have no idea how much we produce, but this is one way to find out.

I invite you to check back next week for the first tally.

I will also share in future posts what we have encountered in other municipalities where we have owned with regards to garbage, recycling and how residents respond to “difficult” policies regarding garbage.


And just for those interested in what the City of Red Deer offers regarding garbage and recycling, here is the LINK. (I get a LOT of emails asking for information and opinions on Red Deer and what  Red Deer is “really like” so adding links helps the readers! 🙂 )









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4 thoughts on “The Garbage Project – the background to our family experiment

  1. Recycling and garbage disposal will continue to be an ongoing issue. We have just started organics recycling in Vancouver. It is a learning process. What I have found is that we have become more observant, especially about packaging, and purchasing food stuff. (I leave most of the packaging with the stores, which is prompting them to take a closer look as well) Our buying habits have changed considerably. Last year we went through a de-cluttering process, another eye-opening experience about purchase behaviours. It is all about simplifying, again a learning process.. I applaud your endeavours and look forward to updates

    • I think with the garbage/ recycling situation I am some what skeptical of true intent as to what the City of Red Deer is proposing because they are basing the limit on per household rather than per occupant of the households. I watch how households of one and two in our neighbourhood put out garbage, under the proposed limits they will not have to alter their habits. They are producing a lot of garbage for one or two people. Larger households, which are the vast minority of households in Red Deer, are the ones facing the impact of this policy; the city is expecting the minority of households to alter their output to reach their landfill targets. If a garbage reduction program is to be fair, all citizens must be faced with the task of reduction and the limit must be based per occupant of the dwelling. It seems ridiculous that a single person, heating a whole house for one person, lighting a whole house for one person, and occupying thousands of square feet for one person……so in effect one person creating a huge environmental footprint…..should get a break and be allowed to produce as much garbage as a whole family. Either this policy can be looked at as pro small household (which encourages urban sprawl and a huge footprint), or anti-large household/ anti-family. A limit per person is the only fair way. In the Red Deer 2015 census the population was 100,807 for a total of 42,034 households; that is an average of 2.4 people per household. Our family is 2.9 times the size of the average household. To put it into perspective, every time we cook dinner it is 2.9 times the waste created compared to the city average; each dinner, and we eat at home a lot, is like the average person preparing Christmas dinner, or having a dinner party. If our household at 2.9 times the average is expected to only produce 300L of garbage per week, it is only fair that it is applied proportionately and the average household is allowed 103.4L of garbage a week. I am not against waste reduction, but I am against unfairness and this policy is unfair. This policy burdens the minority while giving those creating the biggest environmental footprint (1 & 2 person households), a free pass…..and that is where the problem lies. And when a councillor tells you that you breed like rabbits, breed, not mother, but breed like a common animal, as if I just squat in the bush and pop out another one, that is when you know the policy, and at least one councillor is very anti-family.

      Now on to organics. You might know about this or you might not but it is a tale from the coast. They implemented the “organics rule” on Pender around the same time frame as Vancouver. Pender however has no landfill, and no municipal garbage program. We have a recycle depot open a few days a week. For garbage you can either have a private firm pick it up which is only feasible for full timers, or you can go to the drop off at the liquor store, pay per bag, get the key, and put your garbage in the garbage shed to be taken care of by a private firm where they transport the garbage by ferry to the landfill near Sidney. Yep, big island taxes, no garbage collection (this is almost worthy of an post !). Anyways, when they brought in the organics rule only the private pick up firm handled them, so it ruled out options for part timers and rentals.Then it turned out the landfill on Vancouver Island wasn’t equipped to handle organics in a proper manner. What ended up happening, organics from Pender were sent by ferry to Swartz, where they joined the organics on Van Isle, which in turn was shipped across to Vancouver so that they could be trucked to a facility that could handle organics in I believe Richmond (google it for the exact destination, I stumbled across the news story by accident). Think of the fossil fuels burned to manage the organics. I am not sure what the current situation is, I don’t have the heart to know, all I know it is epidemic how poorly thought out many of these schemes are. Now just to add to your entertainment, during this time they were also promoting other initiatives on Pender to handle organics. One was the “food digester” which would digest food, but eventually fill up, and then the whole huge contraption had to be disposed of at….you guessed it…the landfill. The digester also had to be partially buried at the bottom and in the sun……on a treed island made of rock (you get the picture). The second option was the Bokashi system, which was supposed to, over a certain time, compost down the organics and then you were to bury the compost for a certain time for it to finish. Now burying, even if you have a lot with dirt, not rock, is not possible year round on Pender. You are lucky with digging into the ground March to June, and then October and November. Summer is out as the ground is rock hard, and this year in December and January not a shovel would go in the ground. This “compost” would need to be buried deep enough that rats and raccoons would not be able to detect the smell. So how did we handle organics? Well mostly by eating out more as it was easier to gauge quantity, and guess what the take out comes in………styrofoam. Environmental value of organics voided by additional production of styrofoam waste.So there you have it, our “organics saga”. One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but what I do know is before any municipality implements any plan they had better have a clear picture of their elected area, the infrastructure, and make sure the plan is fair.

      (Stepping off soap box. 🙂 )

      • I love your soap box!!! By the way, Granville Island has just eliminated plastic bags. I agree about the footprint. We moved from a home to condo where we are able to walk to most places rather than use a car. Everyone needs to take a good look at personal consumption patterns.

      • Ah my other “soap box ” issue…city design, where I personally think each neighbourhood should be designed like a small village where all amenities are available at close proximity. I also believe municipalities should be forcing businesses to build up rather than the sprawling strip mall. The Vancouver area has some pretty interesting condo areas, the more time we spend there the more we love it. We joke that when we are empty nesters that we need a teeny pied a terre in Vancity! One day we are going to have to chat in person (in a coffee shop, with our ipads and iphones!) 🙂 .

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