Nova Scotia

Halifax council to discuss switch to plastic carts for garbage, recyclables

The Halifax Regional Council is expected to discuss the switch to a cart-based recycling system on Tuesday that would eliminate the use of plastic garbage bags.

'I think carts would offer us a lot of advantages,' says Coun. Sam Austin

The new system would introduce two new carts, one for garbage and one for recyclables. (Pat Fogg/CBC)

Halifax Regional Council is expected to discuss the switch to a cart-based waste system on Tuesday that would eliminate the use of plastic garbage bags.

"Back when the plastic bag ban was under consideration by council, one of the things that came in as feedback to a lot of my colleagues and myself was, 'Well, aren't you being a little hypocritical where you're looking to ban plastic shopping bags, but you still require us to use plastic bags to put out the garbage and recyclables?'" said Coun. Sam Austin.

With that feedback, Austin suggested the council put together a report about what a cart-based system would require and how it would work.

That report was released in March.

Halifax city councillor Sam Austin suggested the idea for a cart-based waste system when he received feedback about banning plastic shopping bags. (Jill English/CBC)

Now, Austin has proposed that the council consider the system.

"I think carts would offer us a lot of advantages, but I think it's worth thinking about them in the whole overall context so that's what my motion's doing," he said. "It's seeking to carry on that analysis and to do an overall look as to what's next for waste in Halifax."

Halifax's current system is based on a coloured-bag system for recyclables and trash, but organics are placed in a green cart.

Austin said the new system would introduce two other carts, one for recyclables and one for garbage.

Costs

The report said the purchase and distribution of a cart system would cost between $26.3 million and $30.5 million, with an additional $1.2 million dedicated to annual operating costs, which also includes the $465,000 dedicated to the existing green cart program.

Austin said the carts would be purchased with taxpayer dollars and would be collected through the city's capital budget, possibly as a one-time fee on tax bills.

But he said an average household that stops buying plastic bags would save over time. "It would pay for itself within six years so that's pretty darn good payback," he said.

Limited environmental impact

Despite the desire to eliminate plastic waste, Austin said the implementation of the cart-based system would yield similar amounts of plastic.

He said the amount of plastic required to build one cart is equivalent to about 12 years of plastic bags.

"So with a life expectancy of somewhere between 10 and 20 years, the environmental side of just the pure plastic of the cart versus the bag — that piece seems like a bit of a wash," he said.

Even still, Austin said there are other benefits to the cart system.

He said cart-based collection is more efficient and safer for garbage collectors.

"Most cart systems are automated where someone's driving the truck around and the truck sends out the arm, picks up the [cart], so you don't have you don't have people potentially injuring themselves."

Austin also said if garbage is placed in bins, there's less risk of garbage bags being swept up in the wind or being taken advantage of by hungry animals before pickup.

What happens next

Austin said before this system can be implemented, the province must determine whether it will be participating in Extended Producer Responsibility.

EPR makes manufacturers responsible for the costs of product recycling, putting the onus on them to create less packaging waste.

This is just one of the reasons why a cart-based system could take years to implement, Austin said.

"At this stage, all I would say is that we're not going to suddenly have carts tomorrow or next year," he said. 

"It's a really complicated thing that HRM is looking at here and exploring so there's a lot of a lot of work still to be done. It's not going to be tomorrow or anything like that."

The report said further assessments and strategy reviews will need to be completed before the system is implemented.

Council is expected to discuss Austin's proposal on Tuesday.

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