There's been lots of trash talk around town in recent weeks. I've heard it in the coffee shop, I've heard it on the street, I've seen it with my own eyes, and on Sunday a number of Meaford residents took to Facebook to post comments and photos of a growing problem – overflowing municipal trash bins.
Let's face it, the last thing you want to see as you stroll along Meaford's beautiful waterfront on a sunny and unseasonably warm Sunday morning in October is plastic bags, food containers, and coffee cups overflowing a trash can with remnants scattered on the ground. Nor is it very pleasant to pass by municipal trash bins in the downtown core with garbage spilling out of them.
When faced with issues such as this, our knee-jerk reaction is often to assign blame, and after touring around to dozens of municipal trash cans for a few mornings myself, and after talking to municipal staff, and after seeing many of the comments posted on social media, it seems pretty clear that we've got a problem of people disposing of their household waste in municipal trash cans.
Many of us have seen it happen right before our eyes. There's a municipal trash and recyclables receptacle right outside our office on Sykes Street. Many a morning I have arrived at the office at 6:30 in the morning, and have passed the not yet full trash bin on the sidewalk outside of our office only to see a car or two pull up a little while later, idle for a minute and then drive away. I've stepped outside for some fresh air several times only to see the trash bin suddenly overflowing, often with grocery bags filled with trash jammed through the small openings in the receptacle.
All of these trash receptacles are checked and emptied every morning by municipal workers throughout the summer months, yet lately they seem to be overflowing in less than 24 hours. Beginning the first of October each year municipal staff shift to checking the bins every other day – a reasonable policy given that once the warm summer air dissipates, there are fewer people in our parks, and fewer families enjoying a day at the beach. If you have an unseasonably warm October as we've had this year however, the outdoor fun season is extended, and perhaps the municipality should have some flexibility in their policy in order to allow the daily trash bin checks to extend into October in years like this.
That's not to say that the overflowing trash can issue is the fault of a municipal policy – far from it. The problem is evidenced by grocery bags (and sometimes green garbage bags) filled with household waste being jammed into these trash bins. Whether it is people trying to avoid paying for a bag tag, or if it is people being just plain lazy, I'm not sure, but either way, it needs to stop. One of the bags I saw sitting atop a municipal trash bin this week very clearly told the story. Through the thin white plastic bag I could see food wrappers, tissues and paper towels, an empty tampon box and several coffee cups (I would note that purchasing one less coffee each week virtually pays for a garbage bag tag, but people don't like when I say things like that – people don't like to be reminded that given all the money we waste on other things, a $3 bag tag isn't really a life-changing expense even for the poorest among us, so I will refrain – oops).
Given the nature of the problem, some of the obvious solutions simply won't work.
The municipality could add more trash bins to our parks and sidewalks, but it seems they would simply fill to overflowing as well.
The municipality could step up the trash can checks to twice per day, but then we'd be paying more our of our property tax dollars for municipal staffers to keep on top of the trash bins, and it wouldn't lessen the problem of people disposing of household waste in municipal trash bins.
One step that might help a little would be the addition of more bins for the collection of recyclables. I've noticed in some of our parks, and particularly along the waterfront on Bayfield Street, there are seemingly adequate numbers of trash bins, but relatively few separate bins for recyclables. Perhaps additional recyclables containers would slow the filling of the trash bins, but again, it would be a small bandage on a larger problem.
I saw that some suggested that the municipality needs to play garbage cop and install some cameras in strategic areas. While it might sound silly, it might sound like overkill, but given the relative affordability of technology these days, it might not be a completely off the wall suggestion. It might serve the community well to catch a few of the trash dumpers on camera, but then what?
As simple as it seems, I suspect this won't be an easy problem to solve. The municipality should consider a messaging campaign to remind people what those trash bins are supposed to be used for, and they could pass a bylaw with some hefty fines for those caught in the act.
Additionally, while there will be an initial expense, the municipality should consider replacing all open-top trash bins with the type they have installed downtown – trash and recyclables side by side with small openings large enough for things like coffee cups and gum wrappers – you know, the kinds of things you would expect to be dropped in municipal trash bins.
All of that said, this issue comes down to one thing – people. To those that are responsible for filling our municipal trash bins with household waste – grow up, show some respect, and buy a damned bag tag. By disposing of your household waste in municipal containers, you might be saving yourself three bucks today, but you're creating the need for additional funds to be spent on new trash bins, or municipal staff time that you will end up paying on your property tax bill anyway.