Rural pickup not catching on?

Rural Wellington residents appear so far unexcited by the opportunity to have their garbage picked up at the end of their driveway or farm lane.

As if that wasn’t fairly obvious to anyone touring local byways on pickup days, a staff report presented at the Sept. 28 Wellington County council meeting bears it out.

The report shows that throughout rural areas where collection began last July, 22 per cent of residents are putting out garbage and 43% are recycling. Those figures differ little from a report issued last September indicating the same number, 22% using the newly available garbage pickup option, and 46% recycling.  

In  Mapleton, 21% of rural residents are using the waste service and 48% recycling. The same number, 21% were using the waste pickup service as of the study period last fall, but the current number of recyclers has dropped from the 64% participating in September 2016.

The most recent study shows 15% of Minto residents put out garbage and 38% used the recycling pickup service. That’s down in both cases since last fall, when 27% were putting out their garbage and 52% were recycling.

The overall numbers for the areas of the county where the service is new fall well under the numbers in Erin and Guelph-Eramosa, where rural collection has been in place longer. Currently those areas have a 52% participation rate on waste pickup and 69% for recycling.

With both staff in the county’s solid waste services division and committee chair Don McKay predicting a gradual increase in the new service areas over time, it should be noted that neither Erin nor Guelph-Eramosa has a landfill or waste transfer station within its boundaries, providing residents of those municipalities with extra motivation to use the rural collection service.

Figures detailing the number of garbage and recycling stops on routes by Waste Management do show a monthly increase in garbage and recycling collected, which staff believes suggest the study’s participation numbers are understating actual participation in the program.

Also, figures do indicate the recycling program is the more popular of the two services and any measure that gets people recycling is generally good News.

You can also see why the county felt there was support for the move, as a telephone poll of Wellington residents conducted prior to implementation indicated 84 per cent of respondents were in support of expanding the service.

 Still, it’s worth wondering what a complete financial analysis would show about the cost/benefit ratio of this new endeavour.

Projections provided by the county last spring indicated that while it would cost $107,800 to implement bi-weekly rural collection, the move will actually result in annual savings of $41,200 once increased user fees were factored in. However those figures are a bit misleading if you accept that reductions in overall expenditures aren’t really savings if their driven by increased revenues. Whether residents pay on their taxes or by the bag for garbage pickup, they are still footing the bill.

While many factors will have changed, a pilot program involving rural pickup carried out in Minto and Guelph-Eramosa was ended in 2008, after it was deemed too expensive, although it was ultimately continued in Guelph-Eramosa and Erin was later added.

At the time though, a study showed that over two years, there were 533.4 tonnes of garbage collected, and 486.5 tonnes of recyclable material. The total cost was $654,256.

By comparison, the study indicated if that amount of material had been collected at a transfer station, the total cost would have been $55,162.

“The pilot cost 11.9 times as much to manage the same material … which we knew all along,” said Bob Wilson, solid waste committee chair at the time.

One has to wonder how much the basic math has really changed.

Such deliberations may ultimately be rendered moot as the province implements its recently-approved Waste-Free Ontario Act, which will put more responsibility for waste and recycling collection on producers, rather than municipalities.

That strategy, if successful, will also greatly reduce the amount of waste reaching landfill sites as well. A total ban on sending food waste to landfill is even under consideration.

In the meantime though, we need to ensure our waste is being handled in the most fiscally and environmentally responsible manner possible.