Automated garbage collection discussed at meeting in Powell River

City will consider changes to solid waste pickup in 2021

City of Powell River councillors will be giving consideration to a proposed future bylaw amendment that will provide for automated garbage pickup in 2021.

At the November 26 finance committee meeting, manager of operational services Rod Fraser outlined a proposal for automated curbside collection, which would move to garbage collection being automated using specially designed carts for the purpose, being picked up using mechanized arms on garbage trucks, rather than manual handling by the truck’s operator. Another component is discontinuing the use of garbage tags. Enhancing recycling collection by increasing collection frequency to weekly is also being examined, along with laying the groundwork for full organics collection when a local processing facility is in operation.

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Fraser said the program overview focused on a few things. He said it reduces waste and maximizes recycling opportunities.

“It reduces the amount of garbage we put out but it also maximizes the opportunity for customers to put out curbside recycling, and also, in future, organics, when we have a local processing facility,” said Fraser.

Regarding recycling, Fraser said the operations department would like to launch a six-month pilot project to see how weekly recycling would work and the kind of participation the program would get. Fraser said a report on the pilot would come back to council to outline how the program is going, including labour costs. The plan is to implement the pilot in January.

Fraser said the lack of organics processing is stopping the city from embracing anything more than its pilot project with 400 local households because of the cost. The organics from the pilot project are being shipped to the lower Sunshine Coast, at a cost of $260 to $300 per tonne, as compared to a cost of $235 a tonne to ship solid waste to Washington State.

“There’s a big cost difference there and that’s the reason why, at the moment, we can’t do organics full spread, because we don’t have a local processing facility,” said Fraser.

Fraser said one part of the program will involve updating the bylaw to include automated collection – what it looks like, homeowners’ responsibilities, plus the city’s responsibilities.

There’s also the matter of the loss of revenue from the discontinued use of garbage tags, where the annual garbage levy would move in 2022 from the current $79 to $115 per year to make up the difference. Fraser said that translates to 16 bags with garbage tags per year.

Fraser said the plan would be for automated service to begin in September 2021. Carts would be delivered in August. Carts would be 120 litres in size, which would fit the vast majority of community members, said Fraser. If an upsized cart is needed from the default size for larger families, a bigger cart could be added for an extra fee.

Waste cart purchasing is a big program, said Fraser. That would be included into the city’s capital budget and be eligible for funding under the federal gas tax program. He said for the carts, there would be a request for quotations in February 2021 for pricing from suppliers.

There would be an extensive communications and engagement program, said Fraser. He said the program is a big change for householders.

“When I’ve done this in other municipalities, typically we have at least a six-month engagement program with the community,” said Fraser. There would be a media program, as well as efforts made through the city’s communications channels to educate the public about the new system, according to Fraser.

He said once a local organics facility becomes available, efforts can be made to move to the final phase, which is city-wide organics collection. He said if this comes about, it will result in a large reduction of material sent to landfill in Washington State.

Committee chair councillor George Doubt said in a previous report Fraser talked about the amount of garbage collected and with automation, there was the expectation the amount in pickup would go up about 30 per cent.

“Is there any way to contact the current garbage transfer site and see what happens to their household garbage collections over that same period to see if they see a similar decrease to the increase that the city saw?” asked Doubt. “If we see a drop in what Augusta Recycling is collecting, that would indicate that fewer people are driving their refuse out there directly and it would save some greenhouse gases.”

Fraser said he has heard reports that there are people who drive to Augusta to get rid of a bag of garbage, which is much more costly than curbside pickup. He said the city can connect with Augusta and review the data the company has.

Councillor Jim Palm said it would be nice to have a breakdown of the costs. He asked Fraser to outline what increases households would be facing.

Fraser said the proposal is there be no increase to the levy for 2021, but there would be an increase to the levy at tax time in 2022, which would be for removing the tags. The other expenses would be the capital pieces, in the 2021 budget, of procuring the carts. Going forward, if there is a local organics processing plant, there could be a similar process to move toward automated collection of organics, according to Fraser, including purchase of carts and a third automated truck.

“Needless to say, these increases are going to be substantial,” said Palm. He asked if eventually, there would be need to be two carts, for solid waste and organics, or if a third cart would be required for recycling.

Fraser said the thought is a cart won’t be needed for recycling.

“The reason we didn’t recommend a cart for recycling is that there wasn’t too many municipalities around that were doing it,” said Fraser. “We are not recommending recycling using carts.”

Councillor CaroleAnn Leishman said she was happy to see the prospect of automated service and a phased approach to solid waste management. She said there would be improvements to services, reduction of greenhouse gases and that it would be more convenient for people.

The finance committee directed staff to prepare an amendment to the city garbage collection bylaw for council’s consideration to implement automated garbage collection in the fall of 2021, removal of garbage tag requirements and adjustments to the garbage collection charges in 2022.

 
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