The Garbage Project – The City Wants To Put MORE In The Landfill?…..when numbers don’t add up

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The more I look into this garbage situation with the City of Red Deer the more interesting it becomes. Now I will admit I find running numbers on projects strangely fascinating, and many a good evening has been spent creating spreadsheets on renovations, builds and business costings. It is interesting. I like to break down things into units, and then multiply by populations to see what the real picture is. I do this with everything……it’s interesting.

Over the last couple of days I have received emails with a bit more information on the garbage situation, and I truly am thankful for these emails. They are helpful.

This blog post is going to be quite short, mostly a “number run”, it is interesting.

But first a little background. 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. This policy is a blanket policy so that no matter how many people reside in your household the limit is the same. Personally we think garbage output limits should be based on occupancy. If scaling back what goes in the landfill is the goal,  the limits per household need to be based proportionately on the number of people residing in the dwelling (after all a census is done each year to provide that very information!).

Now on with the numbers (2015 census, plus info from Waste Management)…….

Population of Red Deer -100,807

Number of households – 42,034

Average occupancy per household – 2.4 people

Average output of garbage per household – 1.8 units (180 L)

Proposed limit for waste to the landfill – 3 units ( 300L )

Before we get started with the breakdown, I am just going to add a quote from a Waste Management email I received this morning just to give an idea of quantities:

” Thank you for your email. The average Red Deerian household sets out 1.8 units of garbage per week but yes, there are still those that set out four to five units of garbage per week. “

So Lets do the numbers:

Current quantities going into the landfill: 42,034 households x1.8 units = 75,661.2 units per week

Proposed policy to limit waste: 42,034 households x 3 units – 126,102 units per week

The proposed limit to REDUCE landfill waste would actually put, in theory,  50,440.8 MORE units in the landfill, or 5,044,080 L more, if households utilized their full limit allowed.

neighbourhood bags of garbage not mine

I have had two arguments with this policy, the first that it discriminates against large households.

As I wrote this afternoon in an email to one of our councillors:
“The current average of units per household is 1.8 units. The 3 unit limit only affects large households. I have to know, did the councillors have the 1.8 unit statistic? If they did, it is clear this policy is consciously discriminatory against large households as large output (4 or 5 units as per Waste Management) is an anomaly as are large households. This is smacking of the same mentality as Rachel Notley saying everyone should drive Fiat 500’s…..large families don’t FIT in Fiat 500’s……again discrimination against large families.”

 Let’s break down the average unit produced per average household.
1.8 units (divided by) 2.4 people = .75 units
Under the new policy any household with 4 or less people can continue to produce the same amount of garbage per occupant as they currently produce ( .75 units x 4 occupants = 3 units). Only households of 5 or more occupants are penalized.
If the Council knew of the average of 1.8 units per household, they knew the large outputs were an anomaly, just like large households are an anomaly. This policy then is unfairly targeting large households. It is a discriminatory policy.
You can’t expect major impact by targeting the minority of households.
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My second argument is that the limits on waste should be proportionate to household size. That everyone is responsible to reduce their own personal waste; everyone should do their equal share. That reduction should be FAIR.
So let’s run the numbers in that scenario:

average household output 1.8 units (divided by) average occupancy of 2.4 people = .75 units (or 75L or 1 regular Glad garbage bag)

(Now just an aside to Councillor Lee, as that amount of 75L cropped up in an email discussion we had regarding potential waste limits and waste limits being proportionate. I didn’t actually have the statistics at the time of the email, but it is interesting how the quantity aligned…I had suggested a system of on regular bag of garbage per occupant per week….75L)

Let’s carry on with the proportionate concept.

If each person was allowed .75 units x 100,807 people = 75,605.25 units per week , 55.95 units LESS than the current situation, or 50,496.75 units less than what the city is proposing.

Is anyone else scratching their heads yet?

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(gosh, I said this would be short, but it never is….)

Now Waste Management also wrote this:

“When the five unit limit was introduced to Red Deerians in 1999, we saw an increase of 8.4% in recyclable materials in the blue box and 33.7% increase in yard waste collected for composting. We hope to see something similar if the three unit limit is adopted.”

So I think, if we were to assess, the goal is less waste to the landfill, more recycling and yard waste, and eventually organics, diverted from the landfill portion of waste management. Great, a clear direction.

Now realistically, I think the City will only see minor changes in yard waste. Seeing this change is purely down to public education and communicating with the community.

With regards to recycling, again information and communication is key, information and education is grossly lacking, the garbage limit will not solve this. There is a lot the City can do to improve this, the limit isn’t it. (This one might be a future blog post of what should be being done.)

However if the City want to REDUCE what goes in the landfill it is only going to work with a proportionate decrease based on occupancy.

Here is the plan:

1. each year after the census is complete the bag allotment is issued per household for the year
2. the allotment is then divided by 12 for months and added to the monthly City bill information
3. garbage men just take a simple tally of bags per household picking up  – simple tally
4. the tally is fed in when doing monthly billing, any excess is charged out on the City bill
5. any surplus is carried to the next month as a gesture (this could also provide a small buffer if occupancy changes in the dwelling further into the year)
 So let’s say the City wanted to reduce quantities to the landfill by 20%. Based on the current volume going to the landfill it is roughly one 75L garbage bag per person per week. To meet that goal the residents shift their “garbage goal” to 60L per week or one 121L garbage bag every two week (Glad’s “extra large ” bag is 121L….so an easy visual way to work).
If we went with the proportionate system, this is how the numbers pan out.
.60 units x 100,807 people = 60,484.20 units per week compared to the proposed limits which could realistically and without penalty put 126,102 units per week. 65,617.8 units less.
With proportionate limits, and each person producing just 15 L less a week (or 3.75 large milk jugs to use one councillor’s measuring system) the City could actually reduce fairly what reaches the landfill.
Proportionate limits is the only way to fairly reduce waste.
neighbourhood garbage not mine
 It has been quite difficult to get people to understand where I am coming from on this topic of waste limits. Most do not hear what I am saying and think I am “against” reducing waste. I am not against reducing waste, I am against a policy that takes a blanket approach, a policy that penalizes the minority and lets the majority carry on with the same habits even though they are producing more waste per person. Proportionate limits are fair and effective, and easy to implement . It is time for fair and effective policies.
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(We still need to talk recycling and compost, the boat is being missed, but that is a discussion for another day.)
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