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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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.

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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.

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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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I was in the press again this week.

This is not a rant. Before you discard this post as being a specific municipal matter, take a look at what happened. It could happen so easily right next to your home.

blog newspaper article full cropped

A few of you probably wondered just what was going on in my post of February 20, 2014. You would not believe what the last week has entailed. The story is worth reading. It is something that could happen in any municipality. Think of it as a cautionary tale.

The best thing to come from it is we had the opportunity to meet and band together with some really great neighbors. Some that we knew for years and some that we met only a few days ago. There is strength in community.

The whole article can be read at http://www.reddeeradvocate.com , but I will also paste the article here in sections.

blog newspaper column 1blog newspaper column 2blog newspaper column 3blog newspaper column 4

42…or art imitating life at the moment

42……the meaning of life, the universe and everything

……….I always love it when I get a YouTube clip that sums up my last few days dealing with our city’s planning department

Anyone got a towel  !!!!!!???

(you’ll have to read the book to get the reference)

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(pre-game stretch)