As part of our #OctoberRethink campaign to RETHINK our habits to reduce waste, let’s take a look at the bigger picture of waste reduction and management. Over the last few decades (and even more so in recent years) we have started recognizing the importance of waste reduction.
Waste Production in Hamilton
When the Master Plan was first developed back in 2001, they set a goal of 65% diversion by 2008, which means that when we break down curbside waste by weight, 35% of what is collected is landfill waste and the remaining 65% is “diverted” from the landfill into recycling and compost (Figure 1). Upon review in 2012, the target was maintained at 65% and the deadline was extended to 2021, which means that we didn’t achieve this goal. We are also not on track to achieve it this year. Our highest diversion rate to date was 44%, achieved in 2013 (Figure 1).
This means that there is a lot of room for improvement, BUT it’s also important to keep in mind that diversion isn’t everything. For example, reducing our landfill waste has a positive environmental impact. If we reduce our landfill waste AND our use of recyclable single-use plastic bottles, that has an even higher impact, even though the first scenario would lead to a better diversion rate. This is not what has happened in Hamilton over the last several years, but it’s worthwhile to keep this in mind so that our focus can stay on reduction rather than diversion.
The reality in Hamilton is that our landfill waste has continued to increase over time, and our recycling (measured by weight) has decreased, in part due to a transition from heavy glass to lightweight plastic. There is an area where we have improved over the last several years: we have gotten much better at sorting our waste into the correct bins! Audits of landfill waste have shown that in 2020, 74% of our landfill waste actually belonged in the landfill, compared to just 48% in 2014 (Figure 2). This means that in 2014, 52% of what we threw out with our landfill waste belonged in the recycling or compost. This is great news – proper waste sorting is essential to both waste reduction and diversion. In other positive news, while we Hamiltonians do produce just over 1kg per person per day of landfill waste, which adds up to a lot of waste, we are still below the national average.
Overview of the SWMMP
In 2001, Hamilton established its first Solid Waste Management Master Plan (SWMMP). This is a 25 year plan that has undergone regular review to ensure its effectiveness. You can find the most recent update here, which includes 11 action items to be carried out from 2021-2025. And in case reading long government documents isn’t your thing, we’ve included our TL;DR summary below, breaking down what this Master Plan and these action items mean to Hamilton residents.
For an action item to be presented to staff for inclusion in the plan, it must be supported by the public, be a program or policy that has been successful in another municipality, and/or be found to be an established or emerging technology. This means that we can influence plans like this that impact all of our futures by letting our representatives on City Council know what’s important to us. The City engages in public consultation when preparing something like the SWMMP, so watch out for opportunities to contribute to the process as this first plan draws to a close in 2025. The current SWMMP will also be reviewed once more when Hamilton transitions to Producer Responsibility for the blue box program, which is set to happen between 2023 and 2025.
We have provided a list of some current action items as well as the 11 new action items of the most recent SWMMP update at the bottom of this post. We have also provided a summary of what these action items mean to Hamiltonians.
A Few Last Thoughts on Waste and the SWMMP
Some of the language leaves room for interpretation
The SWMMP in its current form has the goal of reaching a diversion rate of 65%. When the plan was first released in 2001, this goal had a target date of 2008. The 2012 update maintained the goal of 65% but updated the target date to 2021. It also has the following three guiding principles:
- The City of Hamilton must maintain responsibility for the residual wastes generated within its boundaries. Inter-regional diversion facilities will be considered.
- The Glanbrook landfill is a valuable resource, and the City of Hamilton must optimize the use of its disposal capacity to ensure that there is a disposal site for Hamilton’s residual materials that cannot be otherwise diverted.
- The City of Hamilton must lead and encourage the changes necessary to adopt the principle of Waste Minimization.
The deliverable for many of the action items is to “update __________ so that it is more in line with the goals of the SWMMP”. This means that the SWMMP could make a really big impact… or not. The good news is that we have high level policy and diversion education programs in place that can have an impact. We can increase the impact of these policies by letting our City Councillors know that we care about waste reduction and environmental protection and that we want our city to make this a priority. Here is a great example of an environmental motion passed by Hamilton’s Public Works Committee to investigate a Zero Plastic Waste Plan and the detailed report that followed.
“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”
- Anne-Marie Bonneau
Selected Action Items in Progress from the Last Update to the SWMMP
New Development Design Requirements
The city is updating its design requirements for new developments to allow for efficient waste collection even with the current and expected intensification of development.
Multi-Residential Data Gathering
City staff did waste audits in 27 multi-resident buildings last winter. They are currently completing a pilot project in 14 of them, comprising educational brochures delivered to each resident and/or educational displays in the lobby. The goal of the pilot project is to increase green bin usage. The pilot will wrap up near the end of 2021, with follow up audits in January to measure the success of the program.
Strategy to Reduce Single-Use Plastics
The City is drafting its strategy to reduce single-use plastics, in alignment with the federal ban.The focus is on restricting or banning their use and distribution within City owned or managed facilities, but they will also provide guidance to residents and businesses.
The 11 Action Items of the SWMMP
Construction and Demolition (C&D) Waste
The focus as outlined in the SWMMP is to complete a feasibility study to look at expanding the type and quantity of C&D wastes that are managed by the city. Any changes made will be in response to the outcome of that study, and are not specified in the plan itself. The plan mentions that the focus may be education and partnerships with local commercial operations. The earliest time frame for the feasibility study is the end of 2022.
Development Options for the Resource Recovery Centre
This refers to the property that houses the City’s Material Recycling Facility and Central Composting Facility. The city will complete studies to assess various options to make sure they are using the space effectively in the long-term.
Existing Program Improvements: business recognition, waste diversion at special events, and school education
This action item is for city staff to review these programs to determine how best to improve them. The specific improvements will be determined by that review, but some possibilities laid out within the SWMMP include:
- Reintroduce the Business Recognition program in a way that gives it more recognition with the public
- Expanding the waste diversion program to include smaller events
- Holding event organizers more accountable for waste management practices
- Increasing the age range for educational programs to expand their reach
Staff have recently introduced a virtual classroom which was well-received at Council, and they are excited about the impact it will have on their virtual education programs.
This involves the development of internal policies around what constitutes a “green” product. The SWMMP says that staff will “recommend preference be provided to those products”, but at the moment it sounds like it will not be a requirement. That said, the city has in place a method of scoring competitive bid proposals that “recognize best practices from businesses and institutions meeting set environmental standards, including waste management”. This action item also states that staff can update that scoring method.
Increased Curbside Enforcement
Staff will examine the feasibility of implementing various requirements that would reduce landfill waste and improve diversion. Programs for consideration will include:
- Updating policies banning certain materials from the landfill waste stream (such as organic waste)
- Standardizing curbside monitoring between City and contracted collection staff through auditing, education, and training
- Transitioning to clear plastic bags for landfill waste
The use of clear plastic bags has been proven effective in reducing waste in other municipalities, but is often met with resistance from the public due to the lack of privacy. While it is true that collection staff would be able to see what’s in your garbage when clear bags are used (and this is essential to the success of this initiative), residents can gain back privacy from your neighbours by putting the clear bag into a garbage pail until pickup.
Policies on Inter-Municipal Partnerships
Staff will create a policy that lays out the parameters for City staff to pursue partnerships with other municipalities. Such partnerships would support the SWMMP’s guiding principles and could bring financial and environmental benefits to Hamilton.
Preparation for a New Waste Collection Contract
As of this year, we have a new collection contract in place. This action item addresses the next contract which will begin in 2028. Over the next few years, City staff will investigate:
- New collection methods including the use of carts for single-family homes and automated cart collection
- Residents’ opinions of these new methods
- Associated costs
Testing of new methods in some neighbourhoods will begin in 2025, following the investigation.
Support Community Reduce and Reuse Programs
This action item is to create a policy that will better support community groups and non-profit organizations in running programs focused on waste reduction and reuse. They are currently benchmarking and reaching out to other municipalities to identify what support they are providing and what that looks like. In 2022 they will use this information to determine how they will support community groups. Part of this support will come from the City Enrichment Fund, which provides grants for projects that benefit the Hamilton community.
Trash Tag Program
Staff will review the current trash tag program, which allows residents to put out additional bags of landfill waste. Reviews will be conducted in 2022 and 2023, and changes will be implemented as early as 2024 based on their findings. Changes under consideration include:
- The sale of bag tags
- Decreasing the number of tags provided to residents each year
- Providing a different number of tags for different types of properties
Update to Single-Family Waste Audit Methodology
Currently, waste audits are coordinated by Stewardship Ontario and generate data on the blue box program. This includes materials that belong in the blue box found in the landfill waste stream. The action item includes conducting a study to review the current audit methodology and then update the protocol to be more in line with the goals of the SWMMP.
Waste Performance Metrics and Related Policies
Staff will investigate new ways to measure the success of Hamilton’s waste management program so that the metrics will be better aligned with the changes to the program. This will include setting targets and defining what success looks like. The new metrics will have associated policies that will be communicated to the public to help ensure the success of the program. Some of the metrics and policies under consideration include:
- Providing the carbon footprints of different waste streams
- Banning blue box and green bin items from the landfill waste stream