Universal cart program hitting the mark

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One year after the Town implemented its mandatory curbside recycling program, the amount of materials diverted from the landfill has increased by more than 30 per cent.

In October 2016, all homes in Okotoks were provided with blue curbside recycling collection carts and green organics collection bins. Residents were given a one-time, three-month window to opt out of the curbside program. Less than two per cent returned their bins.

Paul Lyons, waste services manager for the Town of Okotoks, said the numbers are encouraging.

“I think we had a truly successful program based on the stats we saw coming through,” said Lyons.

He said the Town had a diversion rate of 45 per cent between October 2015 and October 2016. Between October 2016 and October 2017, 61 per cent of waste was diverted from the landfill, he said.

That amounts to more than 100 tonnes per month being diverted from the dump – 1,128 metric tonnes more than the same period the previous year.

The curbside recycling program saw an increase in 570 metric tonnes collected in the last 12 months, he said.

Organic waste collection increased by 49 per cent in town, said Lyons, compared to collection of grass and leaves and self-haul drop-off of organics the year before. The difference was an additional 964 tonnes diverted in the last year, he said.

A couple of new programs also made a difference in keeping waste from the landfill, he said. Since February, almost 6.5 tonnes was collected in the Clothing for a Cause bin at the Eco Centre, where residents can bring textiles of any kind, in any condition, to be repurposed and recycled by a company supporting charities in Haiti.

The Town also collected 1.5 tonnes of Styrofoam since the Eco Centre began accepting packing material in April.

“That’s a lot of Styrofoam,” said Lyons. “It’s not very heavy, so that really would have been good in terms of what we were able to do.”

He said a citizen satisfaction survey was completed by 520 households. Of those, 71 per cent were satisfied with the program as-is, 84 per cent confirmed they were using their blue carts and 76 per cent reported using the green carts.

“Those are fantastic numbers for a program in its infancy,” said Lyons.

There are changes on the horizon as the recycling program continues to grow, he said.

One option being explored is acquiring larger green carts for those who want them and continual evaluation of collection routes to ensure the waste management program is running as efficiently as possible.

The Town will also be exploring a move to bi-weekly garbage collection.

“There would be public engagement and definitely the bi-weekly collection would be a pilot program,” said Lyons. “We would consult with our residents and select a couple of communities to work with and then we will present our findings back to council.”

When the universal waste management program began a year ago, the notion of moving eventually to a pay-as-you-throw concept for garbage was discussed.

Okotoks CAO Elaine Vincent told council on Sept. 25 the idea isn’t completely off the table, but the Town has experienced some difficulties implementing it.

“The challenge we have is the level of sophistication our financial system has wouldn’t be able to support this type of system,” said Vincent.

She said the finance and systems budget will include a request to upgrade the software, which could provide an option for customized billing.

Lyons said in the meantime research will continue to be done on how effective the pay-as-you-throw concept would be as opposed to bi-weekly pick-up across the board.

“We have to fully investigate to see which one would prove more beneficial for the community without increasing costs, because the costs associated with utilities, we are cost-recovery,” said Lyons. “So if we have to increase staffing in order to make this work, that may not be the option.”

Another major step in the waste management program is having multi-family facilities around Okotoks implement recycling programs. The deadline given to facilities was Jan. 1, 2018, he said.

Currently, about 80 per cent of multi-family properties in town have a recycling program in place and the next step is to get an organics program rolling, he said.

“So far these properties have worked with their contractors to have a recycling program in place,” said Lyons. “We anticipate we will continue to see that kind of support from the independent contractors to work with these properties.”

Neil Fawcett, property manager for the Okotoks Mesa Condominiums off 32 Street, said the condo board implemented its recycling program early in 2017 and its organic program came into effect on Sept. 1.

“It was done in advance as a diversion strategy, knowing what would happen with recycling in town as a whole,” said Fawcett.

One of the greatest challenges faced at Mesa was how garbage collection was done. Each of the four buildings contain garbage chutes, which collect waste from the entire unit into a large bin picked up by an independent contractor.

At first, waste collection was handled by one provider and recycling collection by another, but once the organics component came on line he said it made more sense to streamline and have one contractor take care of all three services.

“The buildings are just physically not designed to have the various separate bins inside, so it has to be all moved around, hauled outside, pushed back inside,” said Fawcett. “When we did the organics program in September, we evolved it so one contractor would do the whole thing.”

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