Nfld. & Labrador

Clear bag pilot project boosts recycling blahs in Mount Pearl

It's not clear-cut by any means, but it seems residents in Mount Pearl are more recycling-conscious when forced to use see-through bags.

Mayor says curbside recycling rates are up since new bylaw enacted

Mayor Randy Simms says due to the pilot project, recycling rates are practically back to where they were pre-containers. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

No one can really explain it, but making Mount Pearl residents use clear garbage bags instead of the traditional black ones seems to be boosting recycling rates.

The city introduced a three-month pilot project in March, requiring residents to use clear garbage bags in the bins that are part of the city's automated garbage collection. 

"We are about two-thirds the way through that pilot, and it's going very well," said Mount Pearl Mayor Randy Simms.

"Our last two months of recycling numbers show that we are at about 15 per cent instead of nine per cent."

The three-month pilot projects ends in May. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

The percentage is based on total tonnage of all garbage collected at the curb.

Blue bag blues

After the city introduced automated garbage collection in the fall of 2013, less blue bag recycling was making it to the curb.

"Was it as a result of the containers? Anecdotally, you don't have empirical evidence, but anecdotally, you say yes, that's what's happened," said Simms. 

​"Our recycling numbers had gone down to 9.5 per cent, from a high of about 16 per cent."

Simms is quick to call automated garbage collection a huge success, praising it as "efficient and effective."

Mayor Randy Simms says since the clear bag pilot project started, the recycling weight to the curb is up and so are the number of blue bags. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

So the municipality enacted a bylaw, making it mandatory to put clear garbage bags in the containers.

Susan Mason, a longtime Mount Pearl resident, said she had been skeptical of the clear bags at first, but not anymore. 

"I think it's a good idea, to make sure everybody is recycling as much as they can. We all have to do our part," she said.

The only downside Mason can think of is the unsightly way the contents look when the time comes to start a new bag.

Mount Pearl resident Susan Mason says she has had no problems switching to clear garbage bags during the pilot project. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

"Yeah it's pretty gross. It's not a big deal. I don't change the garbage anyway. I let my husband do that," Mason said, laughing.

Garbage audits to come?

Simms also pointed out the city has, so far, gotten the desired result with the pilot project without doing garbage audits, which are essentially random spot-checks of people's curbside waste.

But, that might change.

"We are going to have to recognize that some enforcement is going to be required. We're going to start to take a look around, do a few garbage audits and things of that nature."

"I don't see us running around with garbage police chasing our citizens," added Simms.

Curbside recycling rates went down after Mount Pearl implemented automated garbage collection in the fall of 2013. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Ultimately, the pilot project got people talking, and Simms said that's why it's working. 

"As controversial as it was, I think that led to a level of awareness, if you will. That kind of drove this project for us." 

Despite the success, there's still a way to go, Simms said.

"We're not over the moon. We're back to where we were pre-containers and that's a good start."