Judging by many of the letters to the editor, and the latest poll run on TMI, it would appear that there are many folks who are unhappy with the changes the municipality has made to the collection of residential trash and recyclables.
It is no secret that I have been hugely supportive of both the implementation of the bag tag program and these most recent changes in collection frequency so I have found myself wondering what exactly has got so many people in such a dither. It doesn't really seem like such a big deal. Bags of trash that were collected weekly are now collected every other week, and those overflowing blue boxes which were picked up every second week can now be put to the curb every week.
Meaford is far from the first municipality to implement this change. All across this country from Halifax and Charlottetown in the east to Olds Alberta and Ladysmith BC in the west, communities are making the shift to bi-weekly trash collection and have been in this transition for the last several years.
So why are people here so bent out of shape? What has Meaford done wrong?
I think I know.
When the municipality started down this road toward overhauling the waste collection program, the stated goals were to increase waste diversion and over the long term reduce costs. The desire was to see an increase in the amount of household waste being collected in blue boxes and compost bins rather than in trash bags destined for landfills.
A noble goal, and certainly not impossible to achieve. But here is where the municipality has dropped the ball. In the public meeting last year when the consultant that had been hired by the municipality to conduct the waste study made his presentation to council, it was made clear that there would need to be an education and promotion component of any revision to the program.
So where is it?
The standard answer when residents have raised the trash issue, or suggested that they were unaware that the changes were coming during public question period at council meetings has been “We sent notices out with the tax bills”.
Sent a notice out with the tax bill? Is that what the municipality calls educating the public and promoting and selling a new concept in trash collection for the municipality?
When people complain at council that every two weeks is too long between trash collections as their garbage will smell they are told that they should be using the compost collection service provided by the municipality.
Hold on- before you can toss that answer at a taxpaying resident, let's not forget that every household was to be provided with a green bin for kitchen organics and compostable materials that would be collected at the curb each week. The new waste collection plan has been in effect for a month now, but where are these bins?
How does the municipality think they are going to get residents to buy in to the new collection program if they aren't giving them the tools required.
If you go to the municipal website right now to try and find information about the changes in waste collection it is impossible to find. What you do find is outdated information from the summer of 2009 when the bag tags were first introduced. Where are the revised collection schedules? Where is the information showing the reasons for, and benefits of the changes that have been made?
I think that Meaford councillors and municipal staff could have saved themselves a lot of angry email and phone calls if they had taken the approach that Ladysmith British Columbia did when they overhauled their waste collection service back in 2005 and introduced curbside compost collection.
What did they do differently?
According to the BC Climate Action Website, and the Ladysmith municipal website, the following activities were part of their campaign:
An information booth was set up at local events, with city councillors staffing and answering questions
A 45-minute presentation was created by town staff, delivered to all local elementary and high school students
Advertisements and news articles appeared in local newspapers
Media in Vancouver and Victoria provided news coverage of the program
Information flyers were mailed out with utility bills and the Town website offered similar information to residents
Posters announcing the program were displayed at various locations throughout the town
Local retailers distributed information flyers about the new collection program
The week before organics collection began every home was provided with:
A four litre under-the-sink container to collect food scraps and soiled paper
A 45-litre green bin on wheels with a secure lid to take to the curb
10 biodegradable bags to line the large collection bin
Printed information inside each bin included a collection schedule, a list of what could go into the organics bin, an explanation of why the town decided to begin the program, and a note explaining the costs to residents (an 85 cent increase in monthly waste collection charges).
That is how you educate residents and promote a change in municipal waste collection. That is how you get residents to buy in and become enthusiastic about change.
You don't do it by sending a notice home with the tax bills and having outdated information on the municipal website.
What was the result of all that effort in Ladysmith?
Well, the amount of residual garbage sent to the landfill fell from 71 percent of total waste in 2005 to 37 percent in 2006. 40 percent of what was previously collected as garbage is now being composted. Additionally, though Ladysmith had been recycling for years prior, the amount of waste being recycled increased by 14 percent likely due to the awareness raised in the promotion of the new compost program.
The Town of Ladysmith attributes the high participation rate to the public education efforts for the organics program.
I could be wrong, but I think we missed a step in Meaford.