Ever notice that when you need a garbage bin to get rid of that coffee cup or package of gum, there’s never one around?
This is an issue that many people seem to have as they walk around our city, and yes it definitely has ‘first world problem’ written all over it.
Does HRM have a shortage of public garbage bins, or are we just too lazy?
“I think there could be more,” said Mark Butler, policy director at the Ecology Action Centre. “But I’m not sure that will be a lasting solution or solve the problem of litter
“More garbage bins can only help,” Butler says. “But at the same time a lot of the people who litter aren’t even thinking about what they’re doing. We could triple the number of garbage cans and still have a problem.”
The level of litter in HRM fluctuates depending on a multitude of factors including pedestrian traffic, weather conditions and maintenance schedules for receptacles.
Though it’s always discouraging to see a Starbucks coffee cup rolling around in the wind just metres from one of Halifax’s new solar-powered garbage bins which compact trash inside to make more room.
The Big Belly’s, as they’re called, don’t come cheap (between $6,000 - $8,000), but the advantage of needing less maintenance, or taking out the trash, is seen as a cost-benefit. Currently these receptacles are only located in high traffic areas, but HRM is trying to increase the presence of source separation with its garbage bins – dividing garbage into waste, recyclables, organics, etc.
Jennifer Watts, councilor for Connaught-Quinpool says the challenge of providing more waste bins is that the cost of maintaining them is far greater than the initial price tag.
"Regular pole-mounted waste receptacles are about $175, but to maintain it for a year is about $1,200,” said Watts. “So say you put up 10 cans on a street, that’s around $12,000.”
HRM has a system in place where citizens can request the placement of new waste bins in certain areas, but it needs to meet the municipality’s criteria before it is installed.
The criteria requires that new bins can not be placed in areas already served by private waste facilities, within park areas that are already served by HRM, within residential neighbourhoods (receptacles are only provided within business and mixed business areas), for the sole use of one business, for the sole use of disposal of dog feces, or near mail boxes to throw junk mail.
Residents can call HRM at 490-4000 to see if they can get a spiffy new garbage can in their area.
“I do hear often from people ‘can we have more waste receptacle units?’ and it often comes down to that criteria,” Watts says. “People can always request to have a garbage can put in, so if people feel that there is a dearth of public waste receptacles, they can call that in to request one.”
Christopher MacGregor was waiting for the ferry to Dartmouth when I asked if Halifax needs more garbage bins. “You can’t find any bins around Quinpool Road, the hospitals, Robie Street, Summer Street. I think having more would help keep the streets clean and promotes good health and a good image for the city.”
Leah Ziegler sat on a bench on the Halifax boardwalk when I asked for her thoughts. “When you see all of these cigarette butts around here, it makes me think that we are sadly lacking in cigarette receptacles and sadly lacking in the policing of it, handing out fines for littering. It’s abhorrent that the place should be allowed to get so filthy.”
“When the time comes to get rid of your cup, you’ve got to go quite a distance to find waste buckets,” Cheryl Abbass said while walking her dog. “Even in front of some businesses there’s no place to put your coffee cup or wrapper.”
“I think there needs to be more flyers, commercials on TV, awareness, posters around the city, specifically targeting our cigarette butt problem,” said Abbass. “Maybe our garbage bins could use a flash of colour, with more noticeable signage.”
Neil Bailey, program coordinator with Clean Nova Scotia says he’s not convinced that more garbage bins is what’s needed.
“Our big goal is getting people to talk about the root cause of waste, implementation and enforcement of waste management isn’t enough,” said Bailey. “For me the biggest part of the problem is the fact that we are buying and selling and promoting things that have a very high content of disposable material.”
“Look at the most ubiquitous things – coffee cups, bags, candy wrappers, cigarette butts are everywhere. Then the question becomes, why are we buying those things?” said Bailey.
“We’re not going to properly deal with waste by focusing on the diversion of what we produce, that’s just the band aid on a bigger problem.”
HRM’s Public Waste System
Approximately 2,600 Receptacles
1,200 for streets
1,400 for parks
13 different styles of receptacles, some with alternate sizes
Program costs $1.8 Million per year
20 people employed to manage system