Solid Waste & Recycling

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Collection: Against the Wind

High winds, back alleys and the legacy of a failed 1981 experiment forced a need to develop highly customized solutions when the southern Alberta City of Lethbridge decided to update its curbside waste collection processes.In his presentation...


High winds, back alleys and the legacy of a failed 1981 experiment forced a need to develop highly customized solutions when the southern Alberta City of Lethbridge decided to update its curbside waste collection processes.

In his presentation to Canadian Waste Management conference by Insight Information (in Richmond Hill, Ontario, February 22), Lethbridge’s Waste and Recycling Manager David Schaaf said that the city (population 85,000) saw several factors driving its move to automated cart collection.

One was the drive to a clean community — traditional uncovered trashcans were often knocked over or had the contents blown out by the city’s frequent high winds. Also, Schaff said, like many Prairie cities, Lethbridge has many back alleys where residents place their trash for collection; with these locations out of public view, the tidiness of the waste enclosures sometimes left room for improvement.

Another factor was the need to protect employees’ health and safety from cuts and needle jabs from bags of waste, and from the stresses of frequent heavy lifting day after day.

Accordingly, the municipal government decided to introduce covered, wheeled trash carts that could be picked up by automated equipment (in particularly narrow alleys, semi-automated equipment).

This program would offer carts in the residents’ choice of sizes — three or five bags — with incentives for taking a smaller cart, with extra carts available. Residents would be responsible for their own carts. The program would be rolled out in stages, starting with some of the newer communities and culminating in the longer-established sections of the city.

Focus groups, open houses and the news media helped spread the message about the cart program. During the public consultation and education program, city representatives were frequently reminded of a pilot program of 1981 that involved bins picked up by automated truck-mounted systems. Although this program briefly put Lethbridge well to the forefront of technology for waste collection, it was discontinued. However, that program provided some valuable pointers for the current program.

The city did what it could to persuade residents to put their waste at the front of their homes rather than the rear, for easier and faster collection. Challenges included persuading them to leave at least a metre between the back of the cart and a wall — made more memorable by telling residents that they should be able to stand behind their cart, so that the automated equipment could make the pickup.

In the case of residents with special needs, city workers carried out site visits and met with residents to find an appropriate work-around.

Schaaf said that for employees, the change has been significant. They have moved from labourers who picked up and dumped trash to being technicians, equipment operators and problem solvers. Regarding health and safety, a workforce that had 97 loss time days and three injuries in 2004 to one loss time day and one injury in 2009.

Lessons learned included the importance of getting residents to “take the cart home” onto their property after it was emptied. This is partly because Lethbridge’s high winds mean that even though the carts are designed to be stable in windy conditions, they can still end up far from home some days.

Carl Friesen is a writer based in Mississauga, Ontario who specializes in helping business professionals build their profile through published articles. He is a Senior Associate with emerson consulting group inc. Contact Carl at 289-232-4057 or carl@thoughtleading.com


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