Garbage grind

City to collect data on waste by looking through resident garbage bags

City workers are set to go through resident garbage as part of the audit.
City workers are set to go through resident garbage as part of the audit.

A City-run waste audit will evaluate if our garbage is, in fact, garbage.

The audit, started on Tuesday, aims to evaluate which recyclables end up in the trash. It coincides with Waste Reduction Week.

“If it’s garbage, they’re not concerned with it,” John Giles, the City’s solid waste manager, said. “They’re going through the garbage bags but they’re looking for recyclables.”

According to Giles, the goal of the audit is to determine the focus of the City’s promotion and education campaign, which aims to teach the public about lesser-known recyclables, such as plastic bags or styrofoam.

“The purpose is not to try to encourage people to recycle, because we know they do,” he said. “Even the people that are recycling aren’t necessarily recycling everything they should be.”

The audit, which is run by a third party contractor, looks at waste from 10 houses chosen from 10 neighbourhoods across the city, including the Student Ghetto. The neighbourhoods cover different types of communities, ranging from rural to suburban and affluent to less affluent.

The process first began in 2001, and was done again in 2007. It has been done annually since 2010.

The same homes and neighbourhoods are analyzed each year, with homeowners given no warning of the audit.

“The reason we don’t tell them ahead of time is so they don’t change their habits,” Giles said. “It wouldn’t be true data.”

If a homeowner has a complaint, the contractor will give them a letter from the City explaining the situation. So far, Giles said, there haven’t been any strong protests to the audit.

The audit collects recyclables from waste bins and from grey or blue boxes, weighs them and produces what’s called a “capture”. This reveals what percentage of recyclable material is being thrown out versus being placed in the correct box.

Giles said, the “capture” provides a diverse image of people’s recycling habits. All data collected is pooled together into one image that represents a sample of the entire city, he added.

After the analysis is done, the City will come up with objectives to meet in the following year. This has generally been successful, Giles said, as most of these goals are met.

In 2011, for example, box board saw a 67 per cent capture. The City aimed to capture 81 per cent in 2012, and exceeded it to 83 per cent.

Other materials, such as box board, heavy plastic and aluminum, saw similar trends.

Mixed plastics, however, did not reach its goal of a 65 per cent, falling short at 64 per cent.

It still exceeded the previous year’s capture by 10 per cent, Giles said.

He said the audit also aims to increase the overall capture rate, which went up from 75 to 82 per cent between 2011 and 2012.

The audit doesn’t take into account multi-resident homes or glass that’s returned to the Beer Store, Giles said, making it a limited image of the City at large.

“That’s just a snapshot of 100 homes,” he said.

“This just focuses on the homes we use as our control, to see how we’re doing.”

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